In which I oppose mandatory fun…

Mandatory fun is bad. I don’t mean it’s badly intentioned. I’m sure whatever powers that be inflict mandatory fun on the rest of us probably think they’re doing something positive, if not exactly something wonderful. It just seems to me that the forced joviality of people who work together pretending to be the best of friends feels awful in just about every possible way. Consider, if you will, when was the last time you had an unadulterated good time at the office Christmas party or the company picnic? For the record, I don’t consider going because you need to “make an appearance” or because it’s slightly better than spending those hours at your desk to qualify as fun in this instance.

Most people make at least some small effort to have a firewall between what they do for fun and what they do to make a living. Maybe there was a time long ago, before everyone was an easily offended, uptight stick in the mud, when these official organizational celebrations were good times. Today they mostly feel like a formality – just a small nod to that bygone era. Most people will go along with it, of course, because making waves is rarely the best tactic to endear yourself to whatever bosses you serve. Go along. Get along. It’s one of the oldest stories in the working world. 

If you insist on mandatory fun, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Make sure there’s lots of food, back up a beer truck, and maybe hire a band. Let people self-select with what and who they choose to engage. That’s probably about as good a situation as you’re likely to manufacture. There are ways to screw that up, though. You could overlay the lukewarm pay as you go food with several mandatory training events and dispense with the beer truck, thus ensuring that even the illusion of a “fun day away from the office” is shattered completely. 

It’s easy in cases like this to blame the planners… but I can reasonably assure you that they want to deliver a better product than the specified and implied guidance allows. Experience tells me that the real fault in these cases lies in the realm of leadership and the good idea fairies that dwell with them. I mean if someone really was all that interested in boosting my morale, all they’d have to do was give me a couple of hours off and point me towards the closest used book shop. I don’t expect there would be a line for that, but then again I don’t subscribe to the idea that a good time necessarily has to be a team activity. 

The year without a Christmas (party)…

This time of year my social media posts are usually well represented by comments about an upcoming office nondenominational winter holiday party. In recent memory these events have mainly consisted of an office pot luck lunch or if the power that be were feeling more expansive, heading out to one of the nearby food service vendors. These activities weren’t so much festive as falling into the broad category of just being better than being in the office. Their highlight, as often as not, was that after lunch and the requisite amount of socializing with coworkers, we were able to punch out a few hours early.

I didn’t always participate in these functions. Some years meetings interfered and during others I just didn’t have the mental energy to devote to small talk or other mandatory niceties. What I did enjoy, though, was having the option of “buying” a few hours of time off for the low, low price of going out to lunch. 

This year, it seems we’ve decided that it’s not worth the effort to even pretend to be interested in morale and dispensed with the holiday lunch altogether. I’m not here to shed any tears over the demise of forced employee social functions, but I do hate to see the fine and noble tradition of those couple of extra hours off fall by the wayside. Some traditions are, after all, worth preserving.

It counts for a lot…

It’s that time of year again when officially sanctioned near-mandatory fun events lurk around every corner. The annual office Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon, a team building pot luck lunch, the rush to decorate the door in a manner to acknowledge the holiday season but also ensure that there’s no way anyone might accidentally be offended by anything on it. They’re all on my mind as we rush headlong into December. There isn’t one of these things that sounds like either a good idea or something I’d enjoy. Those two categories are not mutually exclusive, of course, knowing full well that there are plenty of things that are a bad idea, but that I find perfectly delightful.

That being said, I know I can’t stop anyone from making me attend town hall meetings or award ceremonies. I know full well that I can’t waive off just because of my fundamental distrust of anyone who calls a meeting that isn’t absolutely necessary. I also know that there’s no requirement that I cook or otherwise prepare food for my colleagues. I can’t be mandated to attend the Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon and pretend to be rapt by small talk with strangers and feigning an interest in the ugly sweater contest. As a former boss of mine so eloquently put it on so many occasions, “Look Jeff, I can be friendly, but that doesn’t mean I have to be your friend.”

Some people would surely find that offensive. I found it refreshing. Maybe some people come to the office to get their social fix. Maybe their life outside cube farm walls is devoid of other human interaction. Me? Well, I’ve got a Facebook, a blog, and unlimited text messages so there’s 90% of whatever interaction I’m looking for most days. There’s also the same bunch of friends I’ve had largely for the last 15 or 20 years… and they never ask me to pay $20 to pretend to enjoy a lukewarm lunch while surrounded by people I don’t know… and that counts for a lot.