Nerf guns don't matter

Free soda does not a good company culture make

I'm seeing it more and more--job descriptions with perks about nerf guns and happy hour, or new grads who joined a startup and are bragging about ping pong tables and free coke. This is apparently something that people see as a fun culture, a sign that this is a place you'd enjoy working at and has people you'd enjoy working with.

This stuff doesn't matter.

A fun distraction is still a distraction

This stuff is all stuff you do when you're not working. When you have a few minutes to spare here and there and are bored and want to have fun. It's recreation. It's a distraction from work. It's not going to make you more productive, or make you happier with the work you have to do, or the people you have to work with.

In fact, it might make you less happy with those things. Suddenly the work you have to do, which could and should be fun and challenging if you're in the right field, is just a necessary evil to spend a few hours on before the next game of ping pong. You're not at work to play around, you're at work to get crap done, but if you spend long enough in an environment like this, then the work becomes the distraction and the nerf guns and happy hour become the thing you look forward to and are excited about.

This will not help your productivity and certainly won't make doing actual work any more enjoyable.

Keeping work and play separate

Lots of people seem to love bragging about working hard and playing hard, and it's a pretty common attitude that working with people you can go play laser tag with and be friends with is a big win. I'm going to disagree.

I'd like for people at work to judge me based on my work, not on how good I am at pool or how well I can handle my alcohol. I'd rather they didn't know any of those things, because it just distracts from what you're there to do. I don't want to have to deal with the drunken argument last Friday night at the bar when I'm working Monday morning. I don't want someone I work with to be bummed out with me because I didn't want to hang out on Saturday since I have a family.

Trying to enforce a culture where people are all friends with each other and go out drinking together and watch movies together does not make anyone any happier when they're working, it just creates more opportunities for drama and biases.

What really matters

It's easy to throw some toys into the office and call it your culture. Actually creating a good, positive, productive culture is much, much harder than that.

Do your employees feel heard when they have suggestions or questions? Do your managers do a good job of keeping track of budgets and focus without micromanaging and getting on everyone's nerves? Do people have a solid method of critiquing each others work and providing helpful feedback without hurting any feelings? Does everyone feel challenged and interested in the work they're doing?

These are the things that produce a good culture, and these are the things to strive for, and these are things that you can't buy at Target or brag about on job descriptions, but they're the things that keep people around and working hard and happy.

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