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Fun AT Work vs Fun AS Work

Thanks to Kevin at for sending me this link to a fabulously ridiculous story about a company - Gem Plumbing and Heating - hiring "Fun University" to help them make their boring workplace more fun.

No, it has nothing to do with the work at hand, but completely extraneous bouts of silliness, as in: "About 100 cans of silly string were placed around the building, and when employees got their hands on them, this building just exploded. It was an absolute blast."

As I try to explain in the "follow the fun" chapter of Get Back in the Box, efforts like this are really stupid, and actually defeat the whole point. By making the "fun" at work extraneous - external and unrelated - to the boring and dull work that people are actually doing, it only exacerbates the problem. It's like giving kids dessert as a "reward" for finishing the main part of the meal. Why do they need a reward? Because the main meal tastes terrible!

The reward just reinforces the notion that the work itself is not fun.

In psychology, it's called "extrinsic motivation," and it only works for a short time. The net effect is to make the thing you're doing for that extrinsic reward less appealing - more like work. "Compensation" becomes precisely that: compensation for doing something you don't want to be doing.

Real fun at work is derived from finding people who actually enjoy doing the thing that they're doing. How bizarre! At Gem Plumbing and Heating, it should be finding people who are into plumbing and heating. Or who are really into providing good customer service.

Creating a true culture around a product or brand - which is what any company worth anything needs to do in today's environment - means being that culture. I promise you, if your fun at work is the monthly silly string party, and if your primary sense of reward is that unannounced visit from the "plork fairy" (read the article if you really want to know), you have lost before you have begun.

Real fun at work means the work itself is the fun. Go visit the people at Apple, Google, Fleuvog, Herman Miller, Powell's Bookstore, DC Comics or Song Airlines, to name just a few, and you'll find people who derive fun and meaning from what they do. And that's what attracts employees and consumers, alike. No Silly String required.

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Reader Comments (2)

So this is the reason I'll work ~2 hours extra a day, hacking away at code and solving problems; waiting until the last people in the building kick me out...

... but I can't fucking *stand* work 'social club' events.

February 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCloCkWeRX

I came here from the BoingBoing link, and this is the comment I posted there:

"Gamifying" work is a horrible, dystopian concept. I went to the Seriosity site and found some very scary ideas. Quotes: "...make sure that the right game ingredients are matched up to the pain points you really care about..." Pain points? "...Work would be hopelessly confused with play" Hopelessly confused?

"There is a spectrum of possibilities that runs from “stealing work” from unsuspecting players to “renting work” when players are in on the deal and to what we call “buying work,” where a game is sufficiently bad that you may have to pay people to play it (as epitomized by most jobs today)." Are they saying that if a "game" is sufficiently good you won't have to pay people to work?

They also have ideas for "games" to "help employees manage their health". They don't give details, but I can imagine things like "goal weight points", "gym points", "lifestyle points" that determine the level of your health coverage and give your employer control over your behavior outside the work environment.

And the most important, unaddressed question: what if an employee doesn't want to play the game?

This is not work. This is a Skinner box. This is a frightening view of the future. The Serios site has the introductory chapter of their book "Total Engagement" here: Read it. It's horrific.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRani

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