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A reader writes:
My company is going through some difficult financial times, and employees are feeling stressed, burned out, and anxious. Being fairly new to HR, I think that more fun activities (such as cook-offs, cookie decorating for Valentine's Day, and maybe even a bean bag toss tournament in the summer) should be introduced to the staff to help relieve some of the tension. I was thinking about having at least one fun activity every other month.
Shouldn't employees be able to have fun at work? Do you think this could be an effective way to improve morale? I'm thinking about maybe showing a short movie at lunch time in a week, then another employee is scheduling an activity two weeks after that, and then April Fool's Day is approaching and I was thinking about having an activity for that holiday. Does that sound like it would take away too much productivity?
Fundamentally, employees are there to get things done. You've got to think about what the mission of the company is, and how using their time in the ways you propose contributes to that.
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 that doesn't mean that organized "fun" is the way to do it.
For most people, morale and quality of life at work isn't about having a series of fun planned activities, but rather about having a boss who is fair and effective; being offered clear expectations, useful feedback, and recognition for good work; fair pay and good benefits; and having the resources they need to do their jobs. 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 an outing or social event.
In your case, that's especially likely to be true. Employees who see that the company is going through difficult financial times are going to wonder how it can spare the time and money for all of these activities, and will wonder whether the company truly expects them to turn their attention away from what sound like very real problems.
What's more, 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.
Of course, it's not that organized fun never has a place at work. Many workplaces organize periodic events that most employees enjoy, from birthday celebrations to company picnics to hot pretzel day. But aiming to use these sorts of activities to alleviate people's stress and anxiety without addressing the sources of that stress and anxiety is likely to read as tone-deaf at best.
Clearly, your motivation is in the right place: You want happier employees. But I'd encourage you to think about different ways of achieving your goal. It's not about entertaining them, but about thinking about what they really want--see the list above--and finding ways to deliver that to them instead. It's much harder to pull off, but it's a far more effective path to your goal.
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