Friday, August 19, 2011

“Fun” at Work

With all due respect to Google, Zappos, and these guys, here are 11 real-life examples I’ve seen managers try to force their employees to lighten up and have some “fun” at work:

1. Creation of a “fun committee”. There are a few committees that I would recommend avoiding if you can: safety, quality, employee satisfaction, social, and the dreaded fun committee. I’ve seen plenty of these, and no one EVER seems to be having any fun. If you are a manager, and you’ve chartered one of these things, you’ve taken the lazy way out of doing what you’re supposed to do as a leader, that is, create an energizing environment. In fact, you’ve made it worse for those poor “volunteers” that are forced to serve their sentence, errr, term on the fun squad. BTW, I’ve seen managers pick these committees….it’s usually payback for something bad they’ve done. Betcha didn’t know that.

2. Funny hat day, fake nose and glasses day, ugly tie day, or any other stupid costume day. Yes, while it may look like everyone’s having fun in that picture on the company website, I’ll wager that for every employee that enjoys playing dress-up, there’s another one that’s trying not to vomit. I, for one, will not wear a hat.

3. Silly ice-breakers at meetings or training sessions. Are there still trainers out there that are doing these ridiculous pre-school birthday party games in the name of “loosening up” a group? It’s always amazed me how willing grown adults are usually willing to do anything they are told in a work setting.

4. Ping pong, foosball, pool, or air hockey tables. Nice try, but who’s got the time? Don’t you feel like slacker playing games while everyone else is working?

5. This one hits close to home…..having your management team dress up like cheerleaders and perform a cheerleader routine in front of the whole department. Seriously, I’m not making this up. Turnover went up 30% that year, and I’m still emotionally scared.

6. Picking on others. It’s not funny if the “fun” is at someone else’s expense. This kind of fun runs rampant in “good old boy” executive meetings. When the boss does it, everyone has a good laugh of course.

7. Inappropriate, sexual, racial, or crude humor. Although I feel like I’m losing the battle to Jersey Shore on this one.

8. Rampant cynicism or sarcasm. OK, so there’s a wee bit of both sprinkled thought-out this post. But at work, too much of it is a buzz kill, especially if it’s coming from the manager.

9. Bring your dogs to work day. Hey, I love dogs – but not everyone does. How about being inclusive and opening up the office to all pets? Farm animals?

10. Hiring a masseuse. I’m sorry, but this trend is just plain weird. Watching your co-workers get a rub-down? Yuk. But then again, I admit, I’m not really into the whole spa thing.

11. Hiring a fun consultant. The outsourced, more expensive version of the fun committee.

So what’s a leader to do to create an energizing, motivating work environment, where people can come to work, have a few laughs, and feel good about themselves and their work?

In addition to these ideas from a previous post, a leader can:

1. Lighten up

2. Smile

3. Be energetic

4. Maintain a consistent, positive attitude

5. Keep calm under stress and a crisis

6. Poke fun at yourself

7. Bring goodies to work. Food is always fun.

8. Be happy

9. Enjoy your work

10. Be a team player (don’t throw your peers under the bus)

In other words, take care of yourself first. Be a role model – if you’re enjoying yourself at work so will others – it’s contagious. And if you’re miserable, the best fun committee in the world won’t be able to lift the dark cloud following you around.

A word of caution: just don’t overdo it, or you can come across as flip, unconcerned, or clueless. As with everything, it’s all about moderation.

You can’t force “fun” on someone – it’s phony and intrusive. However, you can create an environment where a natural sense of fun is allowed to emerge on its own.

What do you think? What are some of the “fun at work” horror stories? What does it mean to you to have fun at work? 


Christian Fey said...

Dan, I must disagree with two of your points. Offering games for people to play in their breaktime (like foosball, ping pong, etc) can help give overworked individuals an opportunity to do something during their break than sit and stare at the computer screen or go smoke a stress-filled-nicotine stick. I'd argue that most people don't feel like a slacker if they're using these devices in moderation. The other is those silly ice-breakers at meetings. The simple fact is that especially in training meetings with large departments or companies, employees don't know each other. I would say not to go overboard on the idea, but at the same time, networking is a key skill for the working world of today, and what better way to encourage networking than to actually give everyone some common ground on which to network that happens to be... fun?

Aside from that, many of the things you suggest are just ludicrous, but even a fun committee, perhaps to simply setup the annual bbq or quarterly enthusiasm-building parties can be good for morale, as long as you don't take it overboard.

Just my thoughts :) Thanks for the post!

michael cardus said...

"fun" at work that is committee led is generally a disaster. As a team-building consultant I have attempted to take work that focuses on team processes and putting systems in place. Although I still do my fair share of "we need some fun in here programs" where people are forced to be present...It is tough and generally the teams that have fun have a manager that fits what you described. The ones that become hostile, are hostile because they were tricked or not fully informed of what was going on. Or the "fun commitee" in the face of lay offs and working weekends has invited me in for a mandatory Saturday Team Building day. Thank you for your insight and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, Dan. Thanks for posting and let's hope more managers read it and take your advice on what they *should* be doing.


Dan McCarthy said...

Christian -
I'm expecting that half of my readers - or more - will strongly disagree with at least half of the items on my list. I admit, when it comes to this stuff, I may be an outlier. But I'm sure I'm not alone. Seriously, one of the guys standing next to me during the cheerleader routine leaned over to me and said "that's it - I'm outta here". And sure enough, he was.
You are absolutly right - any of these are OK, in moderation, and particpation is not forced.

Michael -
I once had a manager ask me if could do paint ball as a team building event.....I turned it down. (-:

Mark -
Thanks! No funny hats for you either?

anna smith said...

Dan, don't be a party pooper.

Dan McCarthy said...

Anna -
Bah, humbug!

Liza said...

I think it really depends on the industry. I work in video games and I have to say that we have people who complain that our company does not have a Foosball table and does not allow dogs at work when our competition does. Our social committee is generally appreciated and, fortunately, not appointed. In my industry, wearing a funny hat or shirt tends to be spontaneous and individualistic. We had one guy show up in a Samurai outfit one day and he got lots of compliments.

I guess that goes with your follow-on point about leadership loosening up. We can show up in Samurai outfits because our company culture doesn't care about what you wear (as long as you're not in senior management or seeing clients that day).

As for the rest of your points on both lists, I whole heartedly agree. Though, when the whole company culture is cynical and sarcastic, it's hard not to succumb once in a while.

Mark - Leadership501 said...

Even if you add everything (well other than sarcasm, crude humor, etc.) on your list to a horrible work environment, you won't make it fun. On the other hand, a few well chosen items from the list could bring some fun to a good environment. You can't force it though.

Oh and the "fun consultant" is usually a way to have someone external to blame if the effort falls flat. Which generally means management doesn't understand their employees in the first place.

Arkadiusz Dymalski said...

The above "Which generally means management doesn't understand their employees in the first place." perfectly sums it up. There are no rules, universal do's & don'ts in that matter except focusing on people's needs. Even 'food is always fun' isn't universal rule.

Billy Kirsch said...

Dan - I'm glad you posted this. I agree that 'forced' fun is anything but fun. Fun has to be two-way interactive. We can provide opportunities that are catalysts to fun and that's important. But forcing cliche activities on groups is counter-productive.

Wally Bock said...

I love this post. "Fun on command" is not fun. On the other hand, most people who describe a great working relationship use the word, "fun," but they're not talking about any of the things you've mentioned. They're talking about the natural fun people have doing good work with people they like. Some of those work groups develop their own "fun" rituals but they don't look like what a fun committee would come up with. I remember the weekly "Flashlight Award" for the person most in the dark that week and also the group who gave an "Unsung Hero Award" to the person whose great deed wasn't properly noticed. In case you're wondering, after giving the award, the team gathered around the winner and sang his or her name.

Jpuullman said...

Yes, I agree with most of your ridiculous "fun enablers". I believe i creating an environment, as you mentioned, that is focused on the task at hand, yet balanced with a commitment make the work enjoyable. Moderation in moderation, as occasionally you, as leader, need to show some vulnerability and get carried away. I find that this improves influence.

Anonymous said...

"Fun" on command is awful, and that even (if I can borrow your "bah humbug") goes for mandatory Christmas party. Fostering a culture where people win by boosting one another up rather than tearing one another down goes a long way in the right direction in my book, though.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks, sounds like what you're describing is genuine and works for your industry.

Thanks, good point.

What, there are food is no fun cultures!!?? I do get your point, thanks.


Thanks. Right, when people like and respect each other, fun naturally emerges.

Thanks, I agree!

Tim G said...

Thanks for the thoughts Dan - it's interesting to see the various perspectives on the topic.

If I might add my two cents: I see workplace fun as similar to other areas like engagement, morale, and team atmosphere - they are all the byproducts of culture (which I define as the collective sense of "the way we do things around here").

To try to address these things directly through specific isolated initiatives (or committees, or team building) rarely works, because these things rarely address the root causes that create them.

As you (and others) have pointed out, creating a "fun" atmosphere is more about identifying what excites or energizes people about coming to work and doing more of that, not about forcing narrow definitions of childish "fun" into people's workday.

Susan said...

A fun committee would be okay if there's a company party or event, but they shouldn't be charged with coming up with "fun" stuff for any regular work day--and yes, those costume days are just trite and terrible. A relaxed attitude has to be part of the company culture, otherwise "fun" will seem nothing more like regulated merriment.

Dan McCarthy said...

Tim -
Thanks, I love the diverse opinions on this post as well! It's one of those where the comments have swayed me to re-think my position....well, just a bit anyway. (-:

Susan -
No funny hats for you either? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, 'forced/regulated' eats up productive hours & leads to putting in extra hours later to wind up the calender. If it leaves the employee with no time to spend the money they earn, see the daylight & see the sunset, what’s the point anyway?

Dan McCarthy said...

Tinsel -
Right - there are so many hours in the day, and "fun timne" sometimes comes with a price. Thanks.

Elena Stanila said...

For me Fun means spontaneous act. If you try to direct this act will not be anymore spontaneous and for sure no Fun.

I totally agree with you!

Teamwork in the Workplace said...

This is similar to one of the posts I read in one of the blogs in your blogroll, about the different kinds of attitudes in the workplace. That for every 1 happy "fun" and effective employee, there are 6 other different personalities, mostly negative, that can greatly endanger the 1 positive employee.

Dan McCarthy said...

Elena -

Teamwork -
Yikes, the endangered happy employee. (-:

David said...

Bottom line is we have to get work done.

The other bottom line is that we're all human and like to enjoy ourselves - and that includes when we're at work.

No-one produces their best work when they are unhappy or troubled.

Unless they are a poet ;-)