Forcing Fun in the Workplace? Funny How It Can Fail

If you’re like me, you’re laughing while cringing at most scenes of the hit show “The Office.” That’s because whether it’s a company outing, a holiday party or even just an impromptu pep talk in the middle of a sales call, oftentimes the only person not rolling their eyes when forced to participate in so-called “fun activities” at work is the quirky, clueless boss.

I’m sure at some point in our professional lives we’ve all faced the dilemma of secretly dreading it, but still putting on a brave face and participating in what I’ll call forced or manufactured fun at work. This could run the gamut from team-building activities or company outings to gamification or other complex, rigid systems that don’t yield desired results.

I’m not a grinch, nor do I think all of the above options aren’t fun — a lot of times they are. But it all depends on the context and your corporate culture. And trying too hard or forcing fun can actually backfire.

Here’s a checklist for you to consider before you rush off to propagate fun in your workplace.

  1. Do keep it real. If you’re being disingenuous, be sure your employees can sniff it a mile away, so don’t kid yourself that they’re buying it. If the boss doesn’t show his face when there are decisions to make or issues to resolve but is suddenly interested in taking everyone on an outing before an engagement survey, that’s sure to be a red flag for employees.
  2. Don’t just copy everyone else. Let’s face it — we’re all not Google or Facebook, so don’t not try to replicate everything others are doing on the outside without understanding what your employees want. That leads me to my next point.
  3. Do regular pulse checks of your workforce or team. This goes much deeper than planning an event or activity. It involves finding out what gets your employees up in the morning and what makes them tick — and, quite honestly, whether their goals are in alignment with your company’s goals.
  4. Do your homework before choosing an activity. Nobody wants to go to a company golfing event if they don’t golf. Don’t plan a happy hour if most of your employees don’t drink. You see where I’m going with this.
  5. Do it regularly. A random act of fun once or twice a year strung together doesn’t necessarily make your company a fun place to work.
  6. Don’t make it feel too engineered. In other words, don’t invent a complex system or a rigid schedule for having fun in the workplace when it really isn’t necessary or won’t accomplish what you want it to accomplish. It’ll mean extra work on your plate for no good reason. Sometimes spontaneity is best.
  7. Don’t force fun down anyone’s throat. Nobody is going to have fun simply because you have demanded it. Not everyone may want to go to a karaoke event or pizza party or happy hour or bowling, so it might be best to make these voluntary instead of mandatory. If you’re afraid no one’ll show up if you don’t make it mandatory, you have a much bigger issue on your hands.
  8. Do try to keep fun activities during work hours whenever possible. Hosting a happy hour from 9-10 a.m. isn’t reasonable, obviously, but see where you can integrate fun activities into the workday. Make a meeting double up as a pizza party, for example. You don’t want the employees who have children, pets or other obligations to feel guilty or left out if they can’t meet outside of work hours
  9. Do work at fixing your corporate culture first. If you’re trying to manufacture fun as a façade to cover up a corporate culture that at its root is unhealthy or even poisonous, may the force be with you. It won’t work — not long term, at least. It’s like wearing an entire perfume bottle to cover up the fact that you haven’t showered in a week. Work on uncovering some of the real issues employees are facing and make sure you’re addressing that first.
  10. Do make your employees proud to work for you. Having fun at work goes far beyond a simple activity or event. At the root of it, you want to make sure your employees are truly proud of where they work and that they are invested in the success of the company as a whole. They did choose you over a competitor; find out why and use it to engage them.
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