Whenever we announce something new to employees we try to make it as attractive as possible. We know very well that we’re shaking things up (and we damn well know that’s not always necessary) or that we’re even doing something that is the complete opposite of some strategy we announced a year earlier (and we secretly agree with the idea that our company is a bit directionless for that matter).
For some of our people, it’s a total kick in the balls because it means their projects are turned obsolete or need to start over with a different scope. We know all of this very well. But we’re getting directed by top management or worse, some consulting company that we paid way too much money for redesigning something that was never really broken.
Anyway, so we announce. And in most cases, we politely ask people something rather peculiar. We ask them “to have fun”.
“Whenever we announce something new to employees we try to make it as attractive as possible.”
“And most of all…have fun!”. It’s a classic ending that CEO’s like to add into their last PowerPoint slide after presenting some results during quarterly town hall meetings or any other major announcement. I know it because I did it myself. The idea is that somehow we can actually have a lot of fun doing whatever it is we do. Whether it’s pushing twice the amount of boxes in the warehouse, researching failed test results or re-crunching KPI’s in excel because some new CFO wants them in a different graphic.
I always wonder if having fun is a fair request to ask employees. Maybe we should not focus that much on fun. But rather on other more enriching aspects of work.
Let’s have fun? Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re actually having fun at work then good for you. However most of us emote towards working in some emotional twilight zone, we go in, do our thing and get out without too much positive or negative affect, because our job is something we need to do anyway. Pay the bills. Get a kid through college. Fix your garage. Buy stuff. Treat ourselves. And unless the job comes with overtime it’s a rather repetitive 9-to-5 activity.
In my experience, the emotional element of work has nothing to do with whether you’re enjoying your time at the company or having lots of laughs with your colleagues. In my early days, I used to avoid colleagues as much as possible but I managed to overcome that attitude by just acting decent towards any person I had to work with. In some cases, it meant faking interest or really testing my listening skills but somehow I got to that sweet neutral spot of not being bothered too much whilst not being ignored. This is really important at work in case of projects where your input is needed from the start rather than being rushed in when the project risks slipping into “shit-show territory”.
So why do we keep adding the “fun” bit to our presentations? Probably because it’s a cliche but also because we want to make sure people feel “at home” in the environment we have created for them. It’s at best an attempt to inspire people. This environment is created by written & unwritten rules on how we work & act with each other. The question remains, can you expect someone to have fun? Or better yet let’s boil it down to the main question – do you like your job?
Rather than hoping someone has fun at work we probably should aim at job fulfillment. If I invite you to my house party you’re probably coming with certain expectations. This could be something idiotic like getting shitfaced drunk with me. Or sharing some good stories. Or my wife’s amazing cooking. Well, I believe employees have the same expectations. They’re expecting something back from the journey we’re about to take on. Fun might not be the priority here.
As managers, this fulfillment is easy to identify when it comes to our own jobs. This is because we became managers out of that lack of fulfillment from other jobs. As managers, we’re looking for challenges in work that often reflect the challenges we look for in life. We like the idea of trying stuff out and learning from the errors we make. We like to step out of our comfort zones and face the fear.
Countless are the times that I wonder what I got into. Making last-minute presentations, delivering crushing news to employees whose work we would outsource, etc. Nothing about this is fun. It’s only fun after survival and success. Some of it scratches our very souls. But we learn from it and gain experience. Like you do in open-world video games and kick ass when you return to lower-level areas. And even more, you get the privilege of sharing your experience with people who want to follow in your footsteps and you can watch them learn, stumble, fall, grow.
Now for a lot of employees, this is a totally different story. Some people come to work only because of the paycheck and the worth that is attributed to the salary they get. They know how much they’re worth and as long as they’re getting paid that amount more or less they’re content. I don’t use the word happy because they’re probably not looking for happiness at work. Why should they? They have other things to focus on outside of work.
The other group is much more invested in the work they do. They find a sense of self in their work or professional environment or they see possibilities of getting a lot more out of work than only a salary. I didn’t believe this at first. I started working years ago with a temporary contract and wanted to negotiate the highest possible salary when I signed my permanent contract.
This was when I learned that most corporations don’t give a damn as long as you haven’t done something impressive, so I had to settle for a very meager salary increase. However, the rewards came later through useful training and eventually, promotions. Well played, company.
It’s not always fair. As managers, we’re often paid more than our employees who might suffer from our experiments or feel no sense of direction. And this brings us back to that previous point. Is money a motivator for fulfillment?
Now, most people will immediately say yes. You would be stupid to do anything at your job if you’re not getting paid accordingly, right? Well, my experience tells a different story. Over and over I’ve seen high performing people being paid way too less for what they were actually doing. It’s not that they were unable to leave or didn’t have any other opportunities.
I live in a major city with lots of opportunities for young graduates. People could easily leave us for one of our competitors that would welcome them with open arms and bigger paychecks. Why are they not leaving? Is it because of job fulfillment?
How do we bring this to our employees? Without sounding like corporate douche bags we probably should be very honest about the quid pro quo we’re in. I’ve seen high performers leave because they’re bored. Never because they’re underpaid. What you end up with is the 9-to-5 group who will do the bare minimums and never really care about risks or bigger challenges. They will not share ideas, they will not warn us from unseen challenges and they will not dig with us to the bottom of things or get to that “let’s get this fucking thing done” state on a Friday afternoon.
This is different for our high performers who are looking for fulfillment. If we can offer them what they really want (expertise through specific training, responsibility, formal ways to grow in our company without broken promises, honesty and fair compensation) they will give us hard work and loyalty.
I’m not going to end this piece with asking if you like your job. But I hope I can refocus our attention to fulfillment.