Friday, December 13, 2013

Don’t Try Too Hard to Have Fun During the Holidays

If it’s not coming naturally at your office, forcing the festivities only makes morale worse
As we mentioned last week, office parties and Holiday mirth are in full swing this time of year. Go ahead and enjoy yourself and make sure your staff, colleagues, vendors and strategic partners do too. Just be sincere about creating a jolly atmosphere. Nobody likes to have fun forced on them--especially if you’re in a miserable environment the other 11 months of the year. 

I once worked for a high-pressure, Israeli software start-up that coerced every employee (and their families) to attend every company social event on the calendar—or else. The food, music and venues were always top-notch, but how much fun do you think was had when 70 percent of the faces from the prior-year’s Xmas party photo were not there the following year? Dogs and casual dress were allowed. But even with foosball, how much fun do you think the engineers and developers were having when every other cubicle had a poster of an Egyptian pyramid-building team with the caption: “The floggings will continue until morale improves”?

Maybe that’s why 66 percent of American workers change companies or job functions every year, according to the
Sales and Marketing Institute.

Now is not the time to avoid making decisions

Also remember to keep your eye on the ball because if you let the next three weeks slip by you without making any real decisions, the empty chill of January will be on you faster than the piles of dead Christmas trees by the curbside.

As Oliver Burkeman noted in the New York Times this week, “fungineering” is in full swing right now. “Despite the sobering economic shocks of recent years, the Fun at Work movement seems irrepressible. Major companies boast of employing Chief Fun Officers or Happiness Engineers; corporations call upon a burgeoning industry of happiness consultants, who’ll construct a Gross Happiness Index for your workplace, then advise you on ways to boost it.” 

Sorry to be a buzzkill right now, but, as Burkeman explains, “fungineering might have precisely the opposite effect, making people miserable and thus reaffirming one of the oldest observations about happiness: When you try too hard to obtain it, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.”

You might as well tell people: “If you don’t start having fun, you’re fired!”

Still not convinced? A study by management experts at Penn State and other universities, published last month, found that while “fun” activities imposed by bosses might slow employee turnover, they can diminish productivity. Another study concluded that “gamification”—a NextGen invention that turns work tasks into contests, with scores and prizes — reduced the productivity and job satisfaction of those workers who didn’t go along with it. In a 2011 study of workers at an Australian call center, where bosses championed the “3 Fs” (focus, fun and fulfillment), researchers found that many experienced the party atmosphere as a burden, not a boon.

Wrote Burkeman: “Instead of striving to make work fun, managers should concentrate on creating the conditions in which a variety of personality types, from the excitable to the naturally downbeat, can flourish. That means giving employees as much autonomy as possible, and ensuring that people are treated evenhandedly.”
A recent Danish study found that lack of fairness is a strong driver of depression at work. On the flip side, if bosses are fair and workers feel appreciated for their efforts, then even heavy workloads won’t bring people down.


Don’t forget to get an early start on those New Year’s resolutions we talked about last week. Have fun with your friends, family and co-workers—but remember those tough decisions you’re avoiding now will be waiting for you—like that bulging envelope from your credit card company—come January. The longer you avoid dealing with it, the worse it’s going to get—like forgetting to throw out that egg nog at the back of the fridge.

Tags: Oliver Burkeman, Sales & Marketing Institute, Forcing fun for the Holidays, fungineering


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