Say No to Mandatory Fun

I keep encountering managers and consultants who want to make work “fun” for people.

As a goal, “fun” is a bunch of hooey.

Before I was a consultant, I held various Director-level positions at local companies. Each organization had mandatory fun days.

In one organization, we played softball. Yes, everyone—especially the managers—had to play softball as part of a team. The management team expected me to play softball even though I was six months pregnant. I was supposed to “model the behavior.” I declined.

In another organization, we had holiday celebrations. We had to:

  • Dress in costume for Halloween
  • Get each other presents for Christmas
  • Participate with our families at all-company summer outings

There was more, but I'll spare you.

I don't find these activities fun. I found the “fun” a source of additional pressure. I had to spend a ton of time preparing for these activities. My management role suffered because I wasn't managing. What did I do?

  • Find work-appropriate costumes.
  • Find presents in the $5 range for someone I didn't know.
  • At the event, attempt to manage my children's behavior in a strange place with strangers. And, those strangers wanted to talk to me about work. (Yes, at a holiday party or at a summer outing, with my small children.)

Even worse than mandatory fun is mandatory “team-building” so a team has fun together. I've written about fake team building before and how much I hate it.

Fun is not the point. Neither is happiness. Fun and happiness are byproducts, the results of working towards real outcomes.

When we work in an environment that's mostly congruent, where people use integrity to make decisions, we can create an environment of joy in the work. Organizations (and managers) are not parents. They do not have to create fun (or happiness) in the organization.

Stop imposing fun on people. Stop creating mandatory fun.

People are happy and they have fun as a result of the environment and the work.

If we can create an environment where:

  • We know about and agree with the purpose behind the work—and I would add that the purpose energizes us.
  • We have sufficient autonomy to work as a team.
  • We have the time to master our jobs, to improve on our proficiency, just a little every day.

That environment will allow us to create our fun and happiness.

And, we'll get a great product or service—while we have fun.

8 Replies to “Say No to Mandatory Fun”

  1. Excellent article and much needed these days. In fact, I might go a step further and say that evidence of mandatory fun is likely compelling evidence of a toxic culture. Healthy cultures have no need of such Enjoyment Edicts.

  2. I agree that the real fun is in alignment on purpose, in team autonomy, and in growing mastery. And I’m opposed to fun being mandatory. But where I am now, I have budget to take my team out once a quarter for something fun. We talked about it and the team thought a quarterly outing would be a nice break. Now, personally, after 30 years I’ve done every outing imaginable and am kind of over it. But they want it and so we do it — with one major caveat: you don’t have to play if you don’t want to, no harm, no foul. Last quarter we went to the zoo and had a lovely afternoon together.

    1. Jim, it’s lovely that your team wants to get together and socialize. And, what’s great is that there is no harm, no foul, if someone doesn’t want to. The zoo is a great place. I wonder how many problems they fixed while they wandered around the zoo. (Hehe)

  3. I once had to participate in a mandatory paintball outing. The problem is that management thinks what is fun with them must be fun for everyone (whippings will continue until everyone has fun). Oh yes, there was the disaster of a camping trip once too.

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