Oliver Burkeman, self-described “curmudgeon” and author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, took to The New York Times today to pen a sharp critique of the notion of workplace fun (“Who Goes to Work to Have Fun?”).
Mr. Burkeman notes (correctly) that phony optimism and imposed employee exuberance are superficial at best, and downright detrimental to workplace happiness and productivity at worst. He recommends that rather than try to create an environment of fake cheer to mask workplace misery, companies to instead give their employees autonomy, and treat them fairly.
While his overall premise might be on point, tt would appear that Mr. Burkeman has spent too much time at his computer sifting through research studies, and not enough time with actual employees in the workplace.
As the owner of a corporate entertainment and team building company in New York City, I spend a good deal of my time “in the trenches” with knowledge workers of all stripes and managerial levels. From this unique perch which truly allows me to be a “fly on the wall” at everything from staff motivation events to holiday parties, I can say with absolute confidence that people desperately want to have fun at the office, and have a more fun, engaging work relationship with co-workers.
While Mr. Burkeman is correct that you cannot force miserable people to be happy just by declaring “Crazy Hat Day” or throwing them a fete, what he fails to recognize is that rank-and-file employees and bosses alike who get up and go to work each day want more than just The Grind and a paycheck; they want to feel important, feel valued, and enjoy their waking hours as well. You can’t take a handful of superficial gimmicks such as quirky titles and silly posters and hold them up in The Times as prime examples of what companies are doing to make workplaces “fun” – instead, take a look at the innovative hiring and team building approaches companies such as Shake Shack employ to create workplaces in which employees are genuinely happy, and actually have fun at work.
As a fierce defender of making workplaces more fun, I am absolutely convinced that enjoyable workplaces make for happier employees, who in turn produce better, higher-quality results – and loyal customers.
From his office – which is no doubt cold, dimly lit and full of gargoyles – Mr. Burkeman is clearly enjoying his work. Why can’t the rest of us?