The “Fungineered” Workplace

January 30th, 2014 by Andrea Bennett

Should employers impose fun activities on employees, or is trying too hard just oppressive?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

A recent editorial in the New York Times by Oliver Burkeman on “fungineering” in the American workplace sounded eerily familiar to me. I once worked for a company at which fun was not so much encouraged as mandatory. For example, we all spent Thanksgiving together at a long table – with a post-dinner weigh-in contest; free candy and soda was everywhere, encouraging us to feel peppy at all times; and those who preferred quiet, solitary work were pegged as misanthropic. I’ve never felt so unproductive in an office environment in my life.

According to Burkeman, however, my distaste for a “fungineered” environment is not evidence that I am a hater of all things joyful and fun. In fact, he writes, work environments that impose fun on their employees might, instead of creating comfortable working situations, have “precisely the opposite effect, making people miserable and thus reaffirming one of the oldest observations about happiness: When you try too hard to obtain it, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.”

Burkeman points to a recent study conducted by management experts at Penn State that found that while “fun” activities like productivity contests, social events and team-building activities might decrease employee turnover, they can actually damage overall productivity.

Of course, all of this is not to say that work should be constant drudgery and a space of no fun. Naturally, happy employees are likely to be more productive that discouraged ones. But “fungineering” the office environment denies the possibility of more than one personality amongst a group of employees. As Burkeman writes, “Instead of striving to make work fun, managers should concentrate on creating the conditions in which a variety of personality types, from the excitable to the naturally downbeat, can flourish.”

What do you think of fun being imposed on workers? Does it motivate you, or irritate you? Weigh in here.