Why forced fun doesn’t work

Posted in Business and entrepreneurship.

A happy team is a productive team, or so it goes. Furthermore, team synergy is often important for getting tasks done efficiently and with quality. Many workplaces thus see it fit to raise morale and teamwork through work events. Of course, if workers aren’t already into things, how else should they be enticed to join these events? That’s why the invites to these are often laden with implicit or explicit mandates. Fun work events and team building exercises are often compulsory. However, this sort of forced fun can backfire.

For teams to function well, members need to feel a sense of camaraderie. While many coworkers may not interact outside of work, team building events are an excellent way to build that sort of connection. These kinds of social events can actually have a positive effect on the work outlook of employees. But there is another key element that defines whether these events are well-received or not, and that is consent.

Workers generally dislike compulsory events

Given two similar work events, the biggest difference in perceived enjoyment between them is whether there was a choice. People typically enjoy their freedom. Workers are 3 to 6 times more likely to enjoy team building exercises if they had the freedom to choose to attend. Team Building exercises only get a bad rap because they are often compulsory. In fact, more than half of employees would actually opt-in to these events if given the choice.

If workers already have a positive view on work, compulsory events can actually disrupt that. If workers are already enjoying themselves and connecting with their coworkers, the least helpful thing is to be forced to attend a fun team building session. Managers and team leaders can often get caught up on the idea of optimal employee wellbeing without understanding what actually leads to that. Forced fun is a holdover from rigid views about the workplace.

Additionally, work events typically cater to the more extroverted. What one might find fun, another might find horrendous or boring. One is never going to be able to cater to everyone in a business. The idea that everyone has a monolithic interpretation of fun is false and forced fun aggravates the situation further. Some even find there to be ulterior motives with issuing mandate fun. What is so bad about the work that people need to be lead by a leash to enjoy themselves?

Compulsions appear in other forms as well

In trying to build a great workplace culture, managers may instead build one that is conducive to stress and implicit mandates. Wanting to be happy at work is one thing, but being forced to is another that adds quite a bit of stress to workers. Furthermore, many confound a need for fun, a break from mundane work, with other things such as a need for gratification, purpose, self-expression or satisfaction. In these cases, fun is a band-aid slapped onto the skin to cover up underlying problems.

When generating a workplace culture that revolves around workplace events, regardless of how optional those events are, they start to become mandatory. This may not be in the official sense, but think about it. If the workplace culture revolves around it and workers choose not to participate, are they still part of that culture? There are times when workers look down upon each other for not attending or staying late at these events. The nonparticipants become the “others” and that is counterproductive to generating camaraderie.

The best thing to do is to create an environment where workers don’t feel mandated to participate in these activities whether they actually are compelled or not. Create an environment in which they feel fulfilled, inspired, and gratified. Workplace fun is one way in which to brighten up a dull day, but it is by no means the only way to boost morale and ennui is definitely not the only issue affecting employees. But if a workplace event is happening, they do say food-related events are the most successful…