A few days ago, I saw a headline on the BBC that expressed something I had long been trying to articulate. It read: “The Tyranny of Mandatory Fun at Work” and I found myself sitting back to enjoy a rousing round of mental applause. Could there possibly be anything less enjoyable than over-organised, strained attempts by management to cultivate camaraderie? Is there anything more spirit-draining than corporate efforts to rally up team morale?
Don’t get me wrong here. I think it’s a beautiful thing when a group of people who work together get along well and want to hang out after they clock off. That’s usually a sign that management has done a good job in hiring complementary personalities that bounce off each other well. And I’m all for Christmas parties, birthday festivities, and having a few drinks to celebrate a job well done/the end of a long week/Tuesday evening etc.
What I distrust is the kind of ‘casual Friday’, office social, network with the higher-ups kind of forced jollity that no one really enjoys but feel they have to attend for the sake of appeasing their managers. The BBC writer relays a tale of one employee’s experiences of these types of events: “Forced fun, as the events are referred to in the office, are “strongly encouraged” for all employees of the firm, even though they have nothing to do with actual work — and might not be all that fun for everyone.”
While it may be true that the foundation of all careers are built on relationships, there is nothing less likely to bond people together than forcing them to partake in some prescribed activity. If people are going to hit it off, they will do so anyway without the external pressure of a grand corporate scheme to aid them.
Mandatory events can see some people having to complete extra work out of hours in order to catch up on time lost while they were ticking boxes for the powers that be. For managers, the best way to encourage morale may be by treating people as the human beings they are instead of as an unruly band of kids on a school tour.
One of the great joys of adulthood is the ability to choose who you hang out with, and how you spend your time. By simply treating inter-office friendships as a completely normal aspect of work life and allowing for them without forcing them, management will serve their employees a lot better than creating specifically allocated times in which people are allowed to kick back and be themselves. But not too much themselves. Let’s be reasonable!
Cultivating a social atmosphere at any company comes down to the core culture, and how the leaders behave with each other, and with their employees. By treating staff as peers, and not trying to control the natural flow of work relationships, you are far more likely to create an atmosphere in which people are happy to spend a little extra time hanging out. They’ll probably have fun, too!