A reader writes:
Obviously with these difficult economic times, employees are feeling stressed, burned out, and anxious, among other things. Being fairly new to the HR industry, I think that more fun activities (such as cook-offs, cookie decorating for V-Day, and maybe even a corn-hole tournament in the summer) should be introduced to the staff to help relieve some of the tension. I was thinking about having at least one fun activity every other month.
Shouldn’t employees be able to have fun at work? Do you think this could be an effective way to improve morale? Is there such a thing as scheduling too many activities that it could actually take away from productivity? The reason why I ask the last question is because I’m thinking about maybe showing a short movie at lunch time in a week, then another employee is scheduling an activity two weeks after that and then Valentine’s Day is approaching and I was thinking about having an activity for that holiday… Thanks!
I'm going to be Scrooge here. Yes, there's such a thing as too many activities impacting productivity. Fundamentally, employees are there to get things done. So really, every activity you plan that takes them away from that impacts their productivity. You've got to think about what the mission of the company is, and how using their time in the ways you propose contributes to that.
Of course, presumably your thinking is that by increasing fun at work, you increase people's morale, which ultimately leads to higher productivity. And it's true that higher morale tends to equal higher productivity. But is "fun" the way to do it? I'm going to argue it's not, and here's why.
For most people, morale and quality of life at work isn't about having a series of fun activities, but rather about having coworkers you like, a boss who is fair and effective, the resources you need to do your job, recognition for good work, clear expectations, and so forth. In fact, without these things, planned activities can really backfire; it can be infuriating to work somewhere that doesn't put much effort into these fundamentals but then expects employees to go wild over a fun outing or social event.
Also, many, many people will resent having their work time used on non-work activities. Show me an office organizing a cookie-decorating session and I will show you a bunch of people wondering why they can't instead just go home an hour earlier if you don't need them doing work during that time. Lots of people want to have their fun on their own time, in the ways they choose and with the people they choose.
Clearly, your motivation is in the right place: You want happy, less stressed employees. But I'd encourage you to think about different ways of achieving your goal. It's not about entertaining them, but about thinking about what they really want -- see the list above -- and finding ways to deliver that to them instead. It's much harder -- but a far more effective path to your goal.