19 August 2007

/fʌn/ ≠ /wɝk/ = /ɛnˈdɛvɝ/


I don’t care if you’re having fun at work.

Wouldn’t it be stellar if we went to fun Monday through Friday? Weekends kind of a letdown, families and friends such a drag – better just to go back to those giddy office good times. Now is where I’m supposed to huff and crassly say that they call it “work” for a reason. Except I think that’s cynical and a bit thick. It is not called work because the effort is to drag yourself through it, day on day. It is work because a job worth being paid to do requires your concerted effort. Work is an endeavor, specifically one with an appreciable external value.

While I find no compelling reason for work to inherently be fun, I brook no issue with work serendipitously being fun. Sometimes I have a blast doing work. It’s fun to test a design hypothesis and more fun still to defend it to a skeptical client or team. It’s hugely fun to help factions come together in unanticipated agreement. Insinuating narrative theory into negotiation may as well be ecstatically enjoyable to me. My favorite work-related anecdotes are stories about the stories I helped people tell [it’s also the fastest hook to sucker me to gossip]. If I can immerse my work in that source, then it’s almost all fun all the time. Thankfully, it’s also exhausting, so there is no temptation to make that my whole life.

So many places to which I can diverge from here. What is an executive’s work (and why should you essentially shoulder the cost of that work)? How can work be made fun and should that be the ideal? Why do we spend time at work as though it were spending time at fun, sacrificing time with family and non-work? Since I opened with an attack, I suppose I should redirect that thrust to close with what I do care about respective¹ to work/fun.

I don’t care if you’re having fun at work: I care that you enjoy your work; that you find it stimulating personally; that you see it as valuable or rewarding; that you feel you are getting a fair exchange; that you are satisfying an elemental need to make a mark on the world. I do want you to have fun. At the very least outside of work you should have amply fun, if not directly or providentially at work. But I am not concerned whether your work is fun chiefly because fun hasn’t got anything to do with work. Ultimately, it is enough that you want to be doing it [and that I am able to play a part in you wanting to do your work] for more than just a check.

¹ Specificity is sexy.


Josiah said...

I notice that (in my office environment, at least) there are different kinds of workers.

The first group is comprised of people who consider their time at work "lost" and most commonly refer to their career as their "job". These are generally people with aspirations but without drive, I think. They do as they're told and reach for the stars, but only in a dreamlike sense and no real ambition.

The second group would be people who come into the office with a "action list" and get right to work. These people also seem not to relish or grow from their efforts, but they acknowledge that they have a career. These seem to be people who have drive but no aspirations.

Lastly, I think you'd have the group of people who have both the aspirations and the drive; they use their time at work to help the company grow and to further their own abilities. These are the people every company wants to hire, but seem in short supply. I don't think that the current university atmosphere breeds these kind of people, but I'm not even sure they can be bred.

These are just things I've noticed. May or may not apply to other situations. It is frustrating though, how many people seem powerless in their job. I like to fix broken things and my employer benefits from that on a daily basis.

Kevin said...

I come across the situation a lot of not having fun working on projects, but still indeed enjoying them. Matter of fact a lot of them are completely aggravating to me but nothing is more satisfying than overcoming those problems and completing the project.

A is A said...

I actually there are ways to incorporate more fun into work. It isn't necessary, and it certainly isn't a manager responsibility, I'm definitely in favor of "fun at work". Fun, done right, should always be exhausting. That's a great feeling.

To your questions...

What is an executive's work (and why should you shoulder the cost of that work)? You know I'm not prepared to answer that one hear. I don't think I have a clear answer yet, and, even if I did, I think it would be too broad for this thread.

How can world be made fun and should that be the ideal? Sure, work should ideally be fun. But how to do it depends very much on the chemistry of the employees involved. Here are some ideas: lightheartedness, friendly intrabusiness competition, monthly social events, relaxed office design and layout, etc.. Honestly, it really depends on the personal interests of the staff, something about which the manager should remain aware.

Why do we spend time at work as though it were spending time at fun, sacrificing time with family and non-work? This seems to be primarily an American syndrome. I think most people (mistakenly) see working excess hours as being the only way to "get ahead" in their career. Amazingly, though, we often spend money in proportion to our increases in income. If we, instead, saved and/or invested our money properly, we could "get ahead" (reach retirement, or some other financially comfortable place) much sooner. Aside from mandatory vacations, I'm not sure there is much to be done about this from a micro perspective.

EGV said...

Nice observations Josiah.

I’ve been in the this-is-not-a-career-it’s-a-job boat while retaining drive. But my drive there hasn’t really had anything to do with the job as much it was about meeting my commitments on that job and extricating myself from the situation (preferably to somewhere that was more in line with my career aspirations). For me, ambition is an important thing to feel. But I also understand that that is nothing like a norm. Some folks would really have loved one of the well-paying IT ninetofives I left behind. I certainly can’t begrudge someone else that position. It’s just not for me.

I find with great dismay that many of the political obstacles I have faced at work have come from the desks of the action list crowd you describe. Work for the sake of the job makes my skin crawl. Even in school I negotiated busywork away. Creating makework for coworkers to perpetuate a position is an assault. This is where I frequently find middle “managers” eking out their careers. But the folks that are really just well attuned to grinding out work can do some surprisingly effective things in the action list space. I don’t think one necessarily need aspire to moving up a career ladder – nothing wrong with aspiring to consistency or marginal incremental improvement in efficiency. Again, not my bag.

Aspiration and drive are easily paired with a variety of instabilities (i.e. gets bored quickly, can’t create a template to duplicate efforts, works way way way to hard) or issues (i.e. is insufferably arrogant, becomes their career, has an unearned sense of entitlement). So in addition to there being few driven ambitious folks to begin with, the real gems in this set are few and far between anyhow. Interestingly, I think you can definitely cultivate high aspirations and high drive. Few managers of people these days seem trained or able to grasp what will motivate their directs, but with the right skills a manager can make an underperforming or unambitious team into a really effective (and happy!) unit.

Kevin –
Agreed, it can be a nuanced difference between fun and enjoyment. And it gets even more complicated than that. I’ve had teams where I charged someone with a task that they would hate, knowing that I could provide reward and recognition (both during and after achieving the desired end) that would make their accomplishment enjoyable. At no point was that sort of thing going to be fun. It was usually guaranteed to be a stressful and obnoxious trial. And ultimately satisfying. I guess that also gets back to my claim that you can cultivate aspiration and drive.

Mike (A is A) –
I also think that you can incorporate fun into work. But I stipulate that fun is not a requirement in achieving job satisfaction. I merely stated it a touch harshly. I do think that fun is a luxury, but a luxury worth indulging from time to time. The casual fun you touch on is all good morale stuff. They really strike me as just good common sense for keeping a business running smoothly – all of the things you suggest are tension valves. I get an earful of mandatory “fun” events from folks. All things in moderation I guess. And make fun within the context of work a passive (open and bright office layout) or voluntary thing (let the people who can’t stand baseball skip the morale-building game event that they will sit through rather than risk an unpleasant confrontation).

I’m torn about mandatory vacation time. I have friends and acquaintances who need to be forced to take leave and profit from being shoved out the door. I also know a handful of people who pride themselves on uninterrupted work and would be mortified that they are being told that they *must* take time off. I’m inclined to believe that there’s a solution. Yet another thing for me to keep rolling around in my head.