Your Gross Happiness Index Is Showing

“One of our core values is to inject fun and quirkiness into everything we do,” Neil Blumenthal, a founder of the online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, recently told The New York Times. This is a philosophy currently enjoying a resurgence in the tech and retail industries, among others. As we enter the season of office holiday parties, it’s a safe assumption that the workplace quirkiness quotient will skyrocket. Which means it’s also the season for the curmudgeons among us to renew our passionate entreaty: Please — no, really, please — can we stop trying to “make work fun”?

Preach it, Oliver Burkeman!

In all seriousness, I’m sure Warby Parker is a fine place to work (although kill me please) and I do think all these “activities” are well-intentioned, but I do maintain that all this mandated fun is ultimately a distraction from how fulfilling, effective, and well-compensated the work itself really is, or the fact that it is “work” at all. Not to mention there is nothing worse than looking your boss in the eyes when he asks you if you are coming to Game Night or Movie Night or Pie Baking Night or if you’re carving pumpkins or painting faces or listening to a guest lecture or going to happy hour and then trying to come up with an excuse on the fly that isn’t, “I did my job today, and while I do enjoy your company and the company of everyone here, it is time to go home and be with people who are not-you, for at least a few hours every day for the love of all that is holy.”

I am with Burkeman on this one,

Lest my curmudgeonliness be mistaken for misanthropy, let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with happiness at work. Enjoyable jobs are surely preferable to boring or unpleasant ones; moreover, studies suggest that happy employees are more productive ones. But it doesn’t follow that the path to this desirable state of affairs is through deliberate efforts, on the part of managers, to try to generate fun. Indeed, there’s evidence that this approach — which has been labeled, suitably appallingly, “fungineering” — might have precisely the opposite effect, making people miserable and thus reaffirming one of the oldest observations about happiness: When you try too hard to obtain it, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.

Fun at work is the best, but when I say fun I am thinking more “writing BUTTS on the whiteboard in the conference room and seeing how long it stays up,” than the “emotional labor” of mandated bonding.

Photo: Phil Sexton

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

EM (#1,012)

“Fungineering” sounds like a job where engineers create monstrous mutant fungi, which is less awful than the intended meaning.

andnowlights (#2,902)

I liked Warby Parker and their affordable eyeglasses until they didn’t show up to a volunteer thing at my favorite non-profit. Got an emergency email that none of their people showed up and they had no one to deliver an already prepared/expected meal to a homeless camp. Perhaps a little less fun and a little more structure would allow them to keep commitments.

garysixpack (#4,263)

I once worked for a guy who called himself the VP of Fun. The guy couldn’t make a hard call to save his life.

I’ve always maintained that people are only motivated by fear and greed. This works especially great when, at the end of the project, you either get bought or you shut down the company.

clo (#4,196)

THIS. It’s so prevelent in the tech world. They think if the kitchen has a fridge full of beer it’s ok to force you to work until 9PM. No thanks, I’ll buy my own beer and go home at 6.

@clo Yeah, this is why I’ll never work at someplace really prestigious and life-absorbing. I want to find my work meaningful and get along with my coworkers, and maybe I’ll even become real lasting friends with some of them, but at the end of the day I am providing a service in exchange for compensation and I want to go home and enjoy the fruits of that labor with my actual loved ones.

clo (#4,196)

@bowtiesarecool My thoughts exactly! :)

Vib G Yor (#3,566)

“Each week, Warby Parker asks ‘everyone to tell their happiness rating on a scale of zero to 10,’ Mr. Blumenthal explained.” Ha, it’s yet another box to check off on the to-do list. I hope it’s anonymous, otherwise everyone would lie.

My office, which happens to occupy both the retail and tech space, has a “Fun Committee.” For the most part they just bring bagels on random days, which is nice, but I’ve usually already eaten breakfast. Really, I’m happiest at work when I have autonomy and feel like my work is appreciated.

Beans (#1,111)

The best thing an employer can do for you is pay you well and let you go home on time at the end of the day.

Stina (#686)

@Beans Amen

garli (#4,150)

@Beans Beans for president!

Stina (#686)

I was a camp counselor, so I am all about rope courses and weird, silly games and all of that. I guided a group of fellow undergrads in my dorm in playing games. I like those things, but not with my co-workers. The undergrads had the choice to come. Work activities are usually made mandatory, and mandatory fun activities are mandatory but not fun.

franklina (#3,924)

Another great angle, from the article: “…managers should concentrate on creating the conditions in which a variety of personality types, from the excitable to the naturally downbeat, can flourish”

A lot of “fun” “team” events are acutely painful to this introvert. Working with my coworkers in the course of day-to-day business is great! But please don’t make me “bond” with them.

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