Alison Green of Ask a Manager's recent blog post: Should Managers Organize "Fun" at Work? is so relevant to my current work situation, I have to blog about it.
Alison's reader is fairly new to the HR industry and is thinking of organizing at least one fun activity at work every other month to build morale. She asks if Alison thinks this is an effective way to improve morale or if scheduling too many activities could actually take away from productivity.
Alison responds with:
Yes, there's such a thing as too many activities impacting productivity. Fundamentally, employees are there to get things done. So really, every activity you plan that takes them away from that impacts their productivity. Of course, presumably your thinking is that by increasing fun at work, you increase people's morale, which ultimately leads to higher productivity. And it's true that higher morale tends to equal higher productivity. But is "fun" the way to do it.
For most people, morale and quality of life at work isn't about having a series of fun activities, but rather about having coworkers you like, a boss who is fair and effective, the resources you need to do your job, recognition for good work, clear expectations, and so forth. In fact, without these things, planned activities can really backfire; it can be infuriating to work somewhere that doesn't put much effort into these fundamentals but then expects employees to go wild over a fun outing or social event. Also, many, many people will resent having their work time used on non-work activities. Show me an office organizing a cookie-decorating session and I will show you a bunch of people wondering why they can't instead just go home an hour earlier if you don't need them doing work during that time. Lots of people want to have their fun on their own time, in the ways they choose and with the people they choose.
Well said. I couldn't agree with her more:
My Company's HR manager is attempting to increase our company’s morale by arranging a “fun” potluck every month. At first these events were okay, but now employees from every department are beginning to resent them. They are no longer fun and feel like work. Plus, cooking for a group of forty can be expensive and wasteful; there is almost always too much food. When it’s time to clean up the HR manager (who is part-time) is gone for the day; employees who should be working (they are billable) are wiping tables, washing dishes, packing and throwing out uneaten food. Almost everyone has begun to dread these events, but no one wants to be the one to tell her, “Enough Already”. If you don’t participate she singles you out implying you are not a team player.
In these difficult economic times, many of our employees are working harder than ever before; the last thing they need is the additional task of lugging a crock pot to work. The latest consensus around the coffee machine is that everyone does enjoy getting together, but future lunch events need to be catered. The employees who wish to participate will pay their portion. And if you really want to improve morale, turn up the heat. It’s winter in Wisconsin and its cold in here. Haven't you noticed some employees are actually wrapped in blankets?
Also, be sure to check out the comments on Alison's post. No one was in favor of mandatory "fun" and many included examples of events that went bad. It was also pointed out the potential of eating something prepared in unsanitary conditions. Do you want to eat something prepared by the co-worker who doesn't wash their hands?