Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fun in the Workplace

It's called Fun but is it Motivation or Brainwashing?

There is a perturbing resurgence towards 'fun' in the workplace - something we saw in the 1990s and only accidentally before then. It came from America but it's spreading again like a flesh-eating bug. Any management type I meet these days seem to have just come back from a weekend ‘fun workshop’ at either a beach resort, golf club or a hill station.

The ‘fun’ secret, apparently, is to work like a slave but you are not supposed to know that, you are supposed to 'discover' it by “trial and error” with lots of (shudder) teamwork. So whereas I; for instance, might say ‘Listen you morons, this is the way to do it', the serious contender for higher management would say, "Hey everyone, what Ross just said has given me an idea. Why don't we try it.?"Anyway, every good urban parent is now sending their children on these fun workshops, because they feel it is clearly, an essential career skill.

But these new employers are making things darn difficult. Fast-food chains especially, those with absurd names take would-be Waiters and Managers to such training workshops to test their "fun" potential. Fun apparently consists of doing improvisations, making board games out of food cartons and answering nightmare questions such "You are Moses. Come up with 10 new commandments", (Commandment One: Thou shall not work for such restaurants or any other employer with a silly name.). And then there is this big supposedly eco-conscious company who make natural cosmetics, believe in "compassionate capitalism" and have something called a "Joy Club" led by a "Grand Messiah of Joy" whose job is to ensure that all employees dress up as Animals on Animal Rights day. For God’s sake, is this fun.

Recently, a letter sent to the staff of a leading international courier company by their executive director that was leaked, read as follows: "Really, folks, no big deal but Fridays in all our offices, from now on, are casual dress days - meaning, if you wish to dress down that day, you just go right ahead and do that. You may wish to wear more formal clothes on a Friday if you have a meeting or lunch with a client, vendor or whatever - but that's for you to decide.... As for me, I'll enjoy not having to wear a tie that last day of the working week”. What this actually means of course is "wear a tie from Mondays to Thursdays, you idiots or you're out".

This seems a perfectly reasonable demand for an employer to make, though probably unwelcome. But by couching it in "Really, folks, no big deal" lingo it manages to add several degrees of insult- first, the insult that employees will be too thick to understand, and second, the outrageous insult that they might be flattered to be addressed as "folks".

Make no mistake: management ideas of "fun" are nothing more than brainwashing, a creepy attempt to control employee attitudes by eliminating the negative - not letting you realize you are getting paid peanuts, not letting you feel the dull sameness of your office. But being negative, of course, is what makes - work enjoyable - complaining about one's bosses, mimicking their inane walks or accents, circulating their dafter emails, spying on their sex lives (if any) and generally maintaining the proud tradition of office politics, bitching and selfishness which is a great asset of any office. Reinforcing artificial “fun” is no substitute at all.


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