Having Fun or Forced Bonding?

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I was speaking with someone the other day about “fun events” at work. She was talking about how these events were not meeting the intended purpose. First of all, they were mandatory – if you didn’t show up, they could fire you. That certainly spells fun with a capital F! Second of all, you were to show up with a smile on your face and make sure you were having “fun” regardless of how you really felt. And third, all of these events were after hours and everyone was still expected to attend, even if it meant missing a child’s baseball game or school event.

In the case of this organization, they are missing the point of a fun event. Forcing people to take time away from their families to bond with people they see each and every day, while threatening their livelihood is not an ideal way to put fun into the workplace. People do not take this seriously and will not actively participate if they are forced into it. And of course, these organizations are not promoting an atmosphere of community and positive morale. In a few fun events I have experienced in the past I had come to the conclusion that fun is organic – it just happens and takes on a life of its own. Fun cannot be forced, even if you threaten someone’s job.

This made me think about the ways in which organizations try to promote fun at work but sometimes miss the mark. They establish committees who oversee the “fun” activities, publish these events and then senior leadership shows up and stands in the corner feeling good about doing something positive for their employees. Unfortunately in many cases, this becomes a colossal waste of money, as you end up with a room full of people who simply don’t care – they are not there to bond with their fellow co-worker, they are just there to have a free beverage and keep their job.

People argue that fun events are meant to build morale and bring team cohesiveness. In some cases, this can be true. I have had experience with organizations that promoted events that brought everyone together while still having fun. For example, I participated in a habitat for humanity house build that the organization was sponsoring. It was eight hours of hard work, but we all had a great time doing something worthwhile and I got the chance to bond with people I normally didn’t work with. It wasn’t kitschy; it wasn’t silly, we all worked together as a team toward something larger than ourselves, and everyone there had a great time. It was not a mandatory event, but the response was overwhelming, as everyone wanted to take part in something meaningful. Isn’t that what an organization should stand for – provide meaning for their employees?

Are you creating fun for your employees, or just forcing them to bond?

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