Employees playing pool

Why forced fun at the office is never a bundle of laughs

Your work and personal life don't always have to mix

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Employees playing pool

Our workplaces are full of strange, weird, senseless or illogical goings-on but the rise of “forced fun” is among the most absurd of workplace absurdities.

We all have experienced mandated office fun.

It starts with an upbeat email inviting the entire team to join in a “fun” activity that has been designed to boost morale, bolster teamwork and bond colleagues.

It might be a three-legged race, a scavenger hunt, a game of lawn bowls, a ping-pong tournament, a car rally or a karaoke night.

Sometimes the “fun” is not quite so organised.

Loosely arranged, mandatory fun might include anything from a Friday afternoon happy hour in the staff room to drinks at the local watering hole or a company picnic.

The problem is that a single email from the boss inviting you to join your colleagues for a “bit of fun” will most likely have you wanting to slip quietly out of the nearest emergency exit.

So why does sponsored fun often backfire so badly?

The fact is many simply do not want to be forced into having fun or making friends. They come to work to work and prefer to keep the boundaries between their work and non-work lives firmly intact.

No amount of greasy pizza, stale cupcakes or cheap wine can compensate for having to engage in guarded chit-chat with the office gossip, chew the fat with the ill-mannered receptionist or endure a conversation with a spaced-out supervisor.

This is especially the case when employees have busy jobs or sit within stressful, dysfunctional workplaces where team building is typically touted as the go-to solution to create a more productive operational culture.

Some workers also feel that sessions of regulated joy during working hours are a distraction from getting their jobs done.

And when these same activities are held outside of office hours, forced fun can make some feel they are being robbed of valuable time with family, friends and personal pursuits.

Let us also not forget that forced fun often assumes managers know exactly what employees will find pleasurable and enjoyable – and that is rarely the case.

Finding the balance

The truth is many people come to work to work – not to socialise – and employers must respect that.

Those who try to buy employee loyalty and commitment in an attempt to offer a mirror of their social lives might find themselves having to face the brunt of some backlash.

People cannot be made to have fun – it must come naturally.

When workplaces are more relaxed and provide some latitude for playfulness to blossom naturally, the benefits of free-range styled bonding far outweigh any that might arise from the contrived kind.

While the odd staff lunch, happy hour or celebratory event might serve a particular purpose like thanking team members for their efforts, those in charge should always work to identify the types of fun workers actually enjoy.

These are the activities employees will show up for because they want to – not because they have to.