Fun at Work – Do We Really Have to?

by | 18 May 2023

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Do you dread team building days, weekend drinks & bowling, or the karaoke doo with colleagues? We’ve all had times when the thought of participating in a work social activity felt tedious and redundant. But do we have a choice?

A recent court case in France covered by the New Yorker, saw French employees fight for the right to not to have to participate in employer-driven fun activities. The French high court ruled in their favour, decreeing that businesses cannot force their employees to participate in supposedly ‘enjoyable activities’.

While some might joke that the French are simply allergic to fun, it does pose the question as to whether or not fun at work is as beneficial as bosses and managers might have us all believe.

So what are the pros and cons of fun at work? And how can businesses conduct social activities in a way that benefits everyone?

The Pros:

On the positive side, team building activities and fun events can help to improve workplace culture and foster better relationships between employees.

According to a study by Trickle, a UK-based HR and employee engagement software company, having fun at work can lead to increased productivity, better teamwork, and a greater sense of job satisfaction. By engaging in activities outside of work tasks, team members can get to know each other better, build trust, and improve communication. This can result in a more cohesive team and a more efficient workflow.

Additionally, these activities can help to reduce stress levels and create a positive work-life balance and better retention rates.

The Cons:

Given many of us spend eight hours a day, five days a week at a desk, it seems justified for employers to assume adding a little fun is a great way to break up the monotony, build teamwork and boost morale. But not everyone is keen get involved in the fun. So why exactly do employers persist in trying to force fun?

In some instances, mandatory fun activities can prove to have the opposite affect of what is intended; a decrease in morale. Research into these forms of ‘forced positivity’, have revealed that it can lead to resentment, pushback and burnout.

But why is that? Social activities, particularly those outside of work, eat into free time and are generally not paid. While some employees live and breathe for these occasions, for others it can feel tedious and unnecessary. Even the appeal of free drinks, food and activities isn’t enough for some to sacrifice their precious personal time.

For example, an introverted employee may not want to participate in a company-wide scavenger hunt, while an employee with physical limitations may not be able to participate in a physical activity like rock climbing. Or, for people struggling with sobriety, unlimited free drinks may prove an uncomfortable situation. Research from Fast Company has also indicated that over-optimising for fun and experiences may sub-optimise performance and productivity.

There appear to be clear differences in the degree to which employees want and need fun at work, so how can businesses create a positive workplace culture without mandating fun? An article into Fun at Work in the Harvard Business Review notes that the key is to give employees autonomy over their own fun.

By giving employees the choice to participate, or even to plan them themselves, employers can create a sense of ownership and investment in the company culture without being forced. This can lead to greater enthusiasm and participation in activities, as well as a more positive attitude towards work tasks.

Aside from fun activities, offering flexible work, providing opportunities for professional development, and recognising employee achievements can go a long way towards creating a positive work culture. These types of initiatives can help to foster a sense of autonomy, purpose, and belonging among employees, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and retention rates.

While there are certainly benefits to compulsory company team building and fun activities, there are also drawbacks to consider. By providing opportunities for your employees to have their input and be involved in activity planning, and limiting the activities held outside of work hours, employees are likely to be more involved and willing to participate.

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