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Experts Say 'Mandatory Fun' in the Workplace is Dead Due to Covid. May Office Parties Rot in Hell Forever.

One of these days, in the very distant future when the pandemic is officially officially a thing of the past and we can look back at it through the prism of history with a critical eye unbiased by whomever is up for election against whom, I'm going to issue a list of all the things I was right about from Day One. I'll also welcome everyone to point out to me what I was proven wrong about. But good luck finding a single aspect of this where I was under-concerned or overreacted. But now is not that time. 

Instead, let's just focus on how misguided it was for us to shut down businesses for month after month, with no regard for the actual data. However well intentioned the decision was. The economic damage from this gross overreach is obvious. We feel the effects every day. While the harm done by declaring that some jobs were essential and others were non-essential, some people had to keep showing up every day while others were forbidden from doing so (like somehow the microbe will leave a grocery store cashier alone, but straight up murder someone from Accounts Payable), has divided an already badly fractured country along cultural and economic lines in a way that it may never heal. 

Again though, I don't want to lost in the weeds on that. Instead, I'm here to celebrate the one good thing that has come out of all this upheaval in the way we do business. According to one report, it's brought about the death of forced fun in the workplace:

Source - For more than two years, a complete shake-up of office culture has effectively banished the forced fun of the pre-pandemic era. ...

And now, even as some companies call employees back to the office, ‘fun’ at work isn’t what it used to be. In a hybrid environment, it’s tough to get everyone together. Plus, a pandemic-driven priority realignment means many people want to be home with their families as quickly as possible after work – morale-boosting laser tag be damned. ....

For decades, companies have – for better or worse – been working to make their offices fun places to be, says Paul Lopushinsky, founder of Vancouver, British Columbia-based consultancy Playficient. ...

But there’s always been something a bit insidious about those perks, adds Lopushinsky. “That culture isn’t really about fun; it’s about getting people to stay longer. That’s when you get the ping-pong table, the beer on tap. Now you’re expected to stay after work for happy hour. It was never mandatory, but if people didn’t, it was used against them, like, ‘you’re not a team player’.” ...

Participation out of obligation creates a “corporate cult”, according to Lopushinsky, “where it’s almost indoctrination. You end up with fake smiles. ‘Oh yeah, of course, it’s great here, I just love these activities.’ It’s a culture of harmony with a lot of disharmony just below the surface.” ...

And just as it changed everything else, the pandemic has forced a shift in office fun, too. In short, says [author Andrew] Gostick, it’s made people a lot less likely to do things they don’t want to do. 

“I think the pandemic has made us a little angrier, a little more cynical overall, and people just aren’t putting up with things they consider annoying as much anymore,” he says. Thus, many were disillusioned by virtual team-building activities organised by managers desperate to keep people engaged. 

I thought I'd never be saying this to a virus that has claimed over a million lives in this country, but on this one narrow issue, thank you, Covid-19. Workers everywhere owe you one. 

Imagine a world where the obligatory office party is a thing of the past? You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. 

No more having to contribute to the Sunshine Fund so when Barbara from HR turns 60, someone will run out and get a cake so you can stand around her desk awkwardly singing "Happy Birthday" to her like she's 6? No more excruciating small talk with Ted from payroll in line for the catered food at Christmastime, while try to pretend he didn't just spend the year fucking up your bonus checks? This means you'll never again have to stand by helpless as the old guy who walked out of the bathroom stall without washing his hands and has a piss stain on his pants 75% of the time paws every slice of pizza in the box before he picks out his? And don't get me started on the parties for the bosses. Where you have to have the acting chops of a Daniel Day-Lewis to convincingly laugh at the jokes of a heartless, Lumberg-like monster who has denied you pay raises while increasing your workload and uses your soul as his personal Charmin every day of your cubicle monkey existence. 

So this is to the benefit of all of us. 

I say this as someone who has spent blessedly little time in the corporate world. And works for a firm where the parties they throw are actually fun. (So I hear. I haven't been to NYC since the Before Times of 2019.) But when I was working for the Massachusetts court system, the few parties they threw were not so much to be enjoyed as they were to be avoided like they were the radioactive core at Chernobyl. When a judge retires, they get celebrated with more honors and tributes than a dead Pharaoh, with portraits hung on walls and everybody's least favorite aspect of work life: Speeches. And the next one that is remotely fun will be the first. The Christmas party Chinese food buffet attracted all the old fossils you couldn't stand working with in the first place out of retirement, swarming the fried rice and Crab Rangoon like crows to a squished raccoon. Any excuse to get out attending these things was more than welcome. In fact, I became the most dedicated worker on the planet before, during, and after such events. I'd cover anyone's shift so that they could go in my place and save me the aggravation. I'm selfish like that. 

The bottom line being that work fun can be all well and good, but only if it happens organically. Like you find yourself working alongside like-minded people whose company you enjoy, so you start socializing. Preferably after work, as God intended. Once the party starters are the people at whose discretion you're employed, and they're requiring attendance as some proof of you're loyalty, it can't ever work. And those team-building bullshit exercises the article mentions have to be a thousand times worse. If you want your workers to feel appreciated, skip the food deliveries and beer parties. Simply treat them like they have value. And, like Don Draper said, compensate them:

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It's a crazy concept. But it worked for thousands of years before the invention of the office party. Let's go back to that and save everyone a lot of wasted time and energy.