Is it fun at work, or is your WORK fun?

Turino, this ain’t.

So, with the Office Olympics themed work break at my current job over with, I can reflect on the whole “let’s have a fun activity” at work thing. Obviously, there is value in the idea of team building. Obviously it’s fun to let off a little steam from time to time. But I can’t help thinking that Douglas Rushkoff, and his new book, might not be so off base: “By making the “fun” at work extraneous – external and unrelated – to the boring and dull work that people are actually doing, it only exacerbates the problem.” “The reward just reinforces the notion that the work itself is not fun.” And even though the post makes Rushkoff sound a little like a wet blanket (I think I’d have to read the book to get a better perspective), to be fair I think there is something to that statement.

Now don’t get me wrong: Fun is fun. Done right, a great distraction at work can ease tensions, and create a better sense of shared experience. Shared pleasant experience, no less. We’ve known this for as long as there has been a water cooler. Done right, taking the mood to a more casual level can help build a more trusted atmosphere.

Heck, even the fact that your workplace management might consider “letting it’s hair down”, is probably a good sign.

But then there’s that whole “canned frivolity” problem. What a bummer. Mandating fun is never gonna make everyone happy, and often only makes most people uncomfortable. And the idea that the very act of work should often be made more interesting or engaging, resonates nicely with me. Rushkoff is a pretty bright guy. He’s got several well received books out, and an NPR radio spot. I should probably trust his instincts. I mean for all I know there are papers on the subject. Supporting studies. Charts & graphs. Man hours.

I probably have given this topic about an hours thought.

Total.

That being said, it seems pretty clear to me that this doesn’t apply globally. How much “fun” can you make something like trash collection? Digging ditches, or answering calls in some call center somewhere are probably not great candidates for “work as fun” efforts, right?

Maybe I’m just being naive… Certainly, some comments on the post take Doug to task for glossing over this point. Maybe it’s just another case of my mental model being wrong, so I’m not gonna press too hard: I bet somebody can figure out how to make cleaning public bathrooms exciting.

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