- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The ‘cult of fun’ in the organization. The takeover of fulfilment by fun.

For many non-American, non-Anglo-saxon organizations the idea of fun is ‘that American thing’. It’s a bit unfair and reductionistic. I know Brits and Dutch and French embracing the idea of ‘fun in the ‘workplace’  as well. But there is something intrinsically New World in the ‘how are you?’ always answered with a high decibel ‘Fantastic!’ no matter how dreadful the day is. American optimism has no limits.

‘Have fun’ or ‘enjoy!’ is much embedded in a today largely  Western-American-corporatized world. The kind of Fukuyama’s End of History ( when all is inevitably converted into capitalist liberalism in a post socialist and communist world, so ‘history ends’) but in management. So here, The End of Management History, where all is convergent into anglo-saxon-business-school-models of thinking. But this is a conversation for another day.

Conventional management thinking has always asserted  that (sense of) fulfilment is perhaps the greatest anchor for employees in organizations. Each of us translates the word fulfilment into our own personal value system and mental filters. What is fulfilment for me may not be for you. Nor the complexity or intellectual charge of the task is a direct prediction of fulfilment. Small things, big things, don’t correlate with its magnitude. Sense of achievement, sense of worth and personal realization are as personal as your unique fingerprints. In other words, it can’t  be generalised, let alone imposed.

For something that can’t be imposed and is so personalised, it’s strange how much judgement we enforce on others. We  ( and therefore managers) seem to know how others may reach fulfilment and how they won’t. Similar sense of imposition comes with fun. We must have fun. Fun has become an obligatory goal of End-of-Management History corporate world.

In my organizational consulting world with clients, when we establish a set of non negotiable behaviours, particularly in the context of Viral Change™ programmes, I find more and more ‘requirements’ that we add fun to the set. As in, be accountable, let’s be customer centric and …we have to have fun. I am paraphrasing. But not much.

Philosopher  Zygmunt Bauman suggested that the hedonistic epidemic (my words) in consumerism may have percolated into the workforce ethos, where fun may substitute fulfilment.  If this is the case, or may become the case, it would be another trivialization of management, of the kind we are not short of. I can theoretically conceive in my mind somebody who joins a company ‘to have fun’ and I can also immediately conceive that I wouldn’t  personally hire this person. Which may raise eyebrows and make me gain a masochistic reputation, something that I hope my friends would refute immediately with a big smile.

There is no contradiction (as many of you maybe already thinking) between fun and fulfilment. But I am against the pseudo-hedonistic goal of fun as a corporate goal. Yet, I want places to be as fun as people may want. But we can’t impose fun at the cost of not digging into the real ins and outs of fulfilment. Just because the place is fun it does not mean it’s a place of fulfilment. Similarly, for some people, what they do is not particularly fun, yet fulfilment is enormous. Ask somebody in the field with Medecins Sans Frontieres. Our aseptic and clinical corporations may crave for fun, but millions of people have no fun at all and people working with them reach fulfilment.

The fun cult  is the perverse take over of fun. It’s a convenient reason not to discuss real fulfilment. It is a Micky Mouse trivialization of management. Fun, like employee engagement, is an output, not an input. It’s something you get due to the conditions that leaders have orchestrated. It’s a consequence.

I find the fun  cult almost unstoppable ,and perhaps  my little battle is a bit trivial. But I am having some fun writing about it.