12/27/11

The "Fun" Oppression

The clenched fist and raised arm are typical of a "happy" employee.


Across your typical fiscal year, how many pot-lucks, holiday parties, company morale-boosting meetings, birthday gatherings, Secret Santa gift exchanges, baby showers, engagement celebrations, and other fun team-building exercises do you have at the office?

How many inspirational emails do you receive from your CEO, whose frequent Mother Teresa and Gandhi quotes make you think you're going to end world hunger by sorting that Excel data sheet and shipping it off to some corporate wig?

Do you get stopped in the hallway, on your way to get that repressively foul cup of coffee from your hopelessly depressing employee lounge, and get told to smile more? Or worse, that your work is appreciated and that you matter?

This is precisely what hit my mind when I stumbled upon this The Economist article called "Down with fun." It is about the worst kind of fun: forced fun. It assails the growing "fun at work" culture, and at the same time notes that:

"While imposing ersatz fun on their employees, companies are battling against the real thing. Many force smokers to huddle outside like furtive criminals. Few allow their employees to drink at lunch time, let alone earlier in the day."

Yes, corporate fun doesn't tolerate any other kind of fun except its own. The article also makes an interesting little observation about Walmart's invasion of Germany:

"The merchants of fake fun have met some resistance. When Wal-Mart tried to impose alien rules on its German staff—such as compulsory smiling and a ban on affairs with co-workers—it touched off a guerrilla war that ended only when the supermarket chain announced it was pulling out of Germany in 2006."

You won't meet stronger resistance against compulsory joy than in Germany. The Germans find nothing amusing about being made to smile, while watching their sexy co-workers roam freely about the Walmart Superstore and not being able to engage in some solid German sex with them. Nothing could be more humiliating.
Walmart in Germany.

The problem with enforced fun is that it isn't organic, and therefore not real. And if it's not real, then it isn't fun. True joy, at the stark offices of a sterile-humored corporation, comes from poking fun at the environment with a saboteur's grin and a guerrilla's ruthlessness. It is not meant to be enjoyed by the powers that be. It is against being sanctioned. It is not meant to be shared with its superiors. In fact, it is not meant to be supervised.

If fun is anything, it is at its best either when it is unbridled, or reacting against its environment. It is meant to be spontaneous and/or natural, not pre-planned and penciled in between the Thursday 3 o'clock meeting and the 4pm Members of the Board human hunt.

Perhaps, instead of organizing morale-boosting "fun" activities, the corporation could ease the tight reins of totalitarian control they hold over their employees, allowing them some breathing room to have their own, personal fun.


Grant McCracken (with a last name like McCracken you don't need a PhD suffix to have authority on this subject) chimes in on the discussion in this The Harvard Business Review article: "I believe emotions are mostly a private matter and should not be controlled by the corporation." Indeed, "[o]ur culture cares increasingly about authenticity." That is precisely what corporate fun lacks - authenticity. He also argues that forced fun tames the diversity of personality at the workplace and engenders unnatural conformity.

Of course, we all know that there is a more fundamental problem at the root of all these corporate events, referenced in this The New York Times article: "[F]requent celebrations can also cause resentment, if employees are continually asked to make financial contributions or if parties interfere with work."

In terms of the latter part, yes, it blows when you gotta go have a drink with the dickish CEO instead of finishing the report he will rip your ass apart if you don't have on his desk the next morning. In terms of the former part, it's strict capitalism - we all resent spending money on things we are not emotionally vested in. If you hate paying for fixing a flat tire, imagine how you'll feel buying a gift for some stupid co-worker, who just had his sixth kid, and you still don't quite know exactly what he does at the company.

Worst of all, forced fun is just another attempt for the corporate world to try and bleed into your personal life. Decades ago, the modern corporation decided that instead of trying to coerce you to work, it would simply blur the line between your personal and professional identity. As a result, you inevitably started to feel like your very existence was part of and dependent upon the good will of the corporation. That is the Jackal's biggest objection to corporate fun.

So, if it's worth anything, I urge you to rebel every once in a while, and have some real fun at the corporate expense. Pull a prank, make an off-color joke, and send a rude email you'll regret later. Don't let them have your fun for you.

On that note, the Jackal wishes you some real fun and a kick-ass New Years!


Here's to an ethnically diverse group of successful men and women who enjoy coming together as a team to achieve common goals, yay!

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