When “Mandatory Fun” Isn’t Fun

Each month, I answer a few fascinating questions from readers about work and psychology.

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3. I’ll pick a few questions to answer each month. All topics are fair game, but if you’re looking for shampoo recommendations, I can’t promise I’ll be all that helpful.

I would really love your perspective on this growing practice of ‘mandated corporate fun’ – the company trips to the bowling alley, escape rooms, wine tastings after work, etc.  I quite like my co-workers, truly enjoy tackling the problems we face in our business and feel like we have a great, team-oriented, problem-solving culture.  What I want to focus on when I come to work is … call me crazy … work!

However, my company puts on periodic ‘play/fun’ events (once or twice a month) where employees are strongly expected (but not forced) to attend.  When these are held during the work day, I feel like they are a distraction from getting our jobs done.  When these are held or extend to after-work-hours, I feel like these are robbing me of time with my friends, family and personal pursuits.  How can I tell my company that I come to work to work … I’m not coming to the office for a social life?

Corporate Curmudgeon

You’re not alone: Ethan Mollick and Nancy Rothbard ran an experiment at a tech company suggesting that mandatory fun backfired, and Steve Fineman has reviewed a number of other studies along those lines. I’m not sure you want to raise those studies, but you could try introducing your colleagues to Dan Coyle’s distinction between shallow fun and deep fun. For example: I don’t love goofing around at social events, but I really like you all and I have a blast working on solving hard, important problems together. I hope you won’t take it personally if I miss some of the escape room and bowling alley trips—I promise to make up for it with my contributions and collegiality in projects. (And if you don’t support me, I might be forced to leave you in the escape room.)

Another approach would be to talk with them about Nancy’s studies of integrators and segmentors. I have a colleague who approached her team one day and said, “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we have a clear norm of blurring the lines between work and the rest of life, and I’m actually more of a segmentor—I like to maintain boundaries.” It turned out there were a few others who felt the same way, and they had a thoughtful discussion about the right number of social events to build cohesion without overwhelming segmentors. An integrator later thanked her for teaching him to set some boundaries.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.adamgrant.net/wondering
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