Fran Zeuli knows he needs to be careful when bandying about the “F” word in this climate. But he remains all about fun. Zeuli is co-founder with St. Paul Saints owner Mike Veeck of Fun Is Good, an employee engagement consulting firm that offers seminars and workshops, lunch-and-learns and keynotes. At Fun Is Good, irreverence is welcome and laughter is encouraged. Zeuli, a marketing and communications professional, found his way to this fresh chapter after some frustrating years taking himself and his work too seriously. Now he’s all about promoting positivity and passion in others. Here, Zeuli talks about why a fun-focused workforce is good for employees, clients and the bottom line — even now.
Q: Is it kosher to talk about fun right now?
A: Absolutely. We view fun as an umbrella under which stories about respect, kindness and gratitude reside — and we need all those things right now. So many of us are going through difficult times. We believe fun, laughter and personal engagement is the best way to get through uncertain times.
Q: One of your mainstay presentations is “Thriving in Times of Change.” Are you shooting that presentation with steroids?
A: Even reading Stephen King and watching “Black Mirror” didn’t prepare me for this. Yes, we’re learning so many innovative ways people are dealing with the crisis and we’re building them into our “Change” session as best practices. It’s good to see that our core components still resonate: Communicate early and often; increase transparency; hyperfocus on listening to employees and customers and, above all, respect what everyone is going through.
Q: How do you define fun? More than happy hours and bowling?
A: Happy hours and bowling can have positive outcomes, but it’s more than that. We view fun as a giant umbrella that includes self-awareness, creativity, trust, kindness, gratitude, curiosity and passion. When we can learn these skills (yes, they can be learned) and apply them in our work and personal lives, we get healthier and our environment improves. We think of fun as both the cause and effect of happiness and success.
Q: What were you doing before you became a champion of fun?
A: I held senior leadership roles in marketing, communications, customer care and sales for telecommunications companies in the Twin Cities and across the country. I learned the importance of fun as a leader and when I incorporated it well, culture and performance soared. But when I lost sight of it, things tanked.
Q: And you tried stand-up comedy?
A: Big emphasis on “tried.” I heard many crickets chirping that night, but I learned a lot about fear, risk and failure in the process. I broke my neck in a serious bike accident a few years ago and stand-up was a perfect way for me to virtually get back on the bike and test myself. We often use comedy as part of our sessions but it’s best delivered in the hands of our pro, Cy Amundson.
Q: You canceled a Fun Is Good seminar April 3. Why not do it remotely?
A: So much of the magic of our sessions comes from the attendees; using video didn’t feel right. We’ve rescheduled for June 26 at Summit Brewing Company, (funisgoodteam.com) following health guidelines.
Q: Is it possible for teams to have more fun remotely?
A: Yes. And with the stress we’re all under, we need remote fun. We’ve recommended clients include fun elements into video calls like “match the pet photo to the owner,” followed up with “bring your pet to the video call” day — lighthearted stuff like that with the intention of inducing some smiles.
Q: Are businesses still interested in fun or are they shying away just trying to survive?
A: Surviving is critical right now. Saving a business and supporting employees to safely serve their customers is the main focus of every business leader today. I so respect the challenges everyone is facing — those still working on the front lines and those suffering without paychecks. I want to help in every way I can. The world will be very different when we come out of this but I believe the need for human connection will be more valued and more needed in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Q: I’m seeing a lot of funny memes and videos on social media: dogs complaining about their owners, moms singing “I will survive,” an illustration of Vincent van Gogh where he realizes he can’t wear a face mask and says, “damn.” Is gallows humor the humor du jour?
A: During this extended time working at home, my wife recently said, “How about a little space? Our vows are for better or worse, but not for lunch.” OK, I laughed a little. I’m a fan of these funny social postings. If they’re not hurtful, this humor can help us heal during tense times.
Q: How do you respond to people who think having fun at work is a waste of time?
A: I love converting naysayers to the power of fun. When I share the performance data about productivity and bottom line performance, then follow-it up with the personal health and happiness benefits, they usually jump in.
Q: What’s one fun idea everyone reading this should try today?
A: Trade out a photo in your house with a very silly picture and see how long it takes your family to notice it.