Talent Management By Peter Cappelli/Talent Management Columnist
By Susan R. Meisinger/HR Leadership Columnist
Making Fun Mandatory
Parting Pearls of Wisdom
I recently spoke on my
satellite radio show with
Adam Waytz, a professor
of management at
School of Business, about
“mandatory fun” at work:
social events that are
essentially required to make
the workplace more fun and
build new relationships among
employees. But do they work?
Waytz points to research
familiar to any close observer
of social events. First, people
who already know each other
tend to hang out at parties:
Put two departments together
at a social event, and people
will clump together with their
department, like a junior high
dance with boys on one side
and girls on the other.
Socialites have long known
this. They’ll think carefully
about who should sit next
to whom at a fancy dinner
so that guests might meet
someone new. Expecting
people who don’t other wise
know each other to mix it
up just because they are at a
social event assumes much
greater social skills than most
of us possess.
Second, Waytz notes, when
starting a conversation with a
stranger, we tend to talk about
what we have in common;
with our co-workers, that’s
work. If we want the event to
be like a real outside-work fun
activity, it’s going to require
a lot of effort, and it’s likely
going to be harder to do than
if we just brought a group of
total strangers together.
The important question
really is: Why are we doing
this? Workplace social
events, especially when
they take place after hours
and even if they are kind of
fun, essentially extend the
workday and take time away
from our social life. Waytz
asks a simple question:
Wouldn’t it be more fun for
employees to have time off?
It’s easy to say attendance
isn’t required, but we all know
that there are pressures that
compel us to attend, such as if
the event is at the boss’ house.
Social events at work are
also fraught with social peril.
If you say the wrong thing to
someone, you’ll see him or
her every day next week. If
you have too much to drink,
you’ll look like you’re not
executive material. Employees
have to navigate the usual
workplace concerns about
power, influence, ambition
and so forth, just in a different
context. My radio co-host Dan
O’Meara points out that HR
departments should block out
the first few days after annual
holiday parties simply to deal
with the problems at those
O’Meara asks a
fundamental question that I
confess I hadn’t considered:
Might it actually be better
if we didn’t know our co-
workers so well, if our
relationships with them
were more or less strictly
On the one hand, it’s nice
to be at work with our friends,
and social relationships
certainly improve retention.
On the other, it’s hard to
give critical feedback about
workplace performance to a
friend; it’s time consuming to
keep up with everyone’s life
outside of work; and it’s not
necessarily fun to socialize
with people you don’t really
like just because you work
There may be differences
in demographics, but please
don’t call this a millennial
effect: Younger employees
tend to go to happy hours in
part because they’re building
social lives, while older
employees are less inclined
because they already have
What do you think?
Peter Cappelli is the
George W. Taylor Professor
of Management and director
of the Center for Human
Resources at The Wharton
School of the University of
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
[Editor’s note: This
is Sue’s final HR
We at HRE thank
her for using her distinctive voice to share her
perspective and insights in the almost 60 columns
she’s produced over the past seven years.]
Earlier this year, I realized I’m spending
a lot more time on non-HR activities: serving
on nonprofit boards, doing volunteer work,
seeing friends and family and traveling. While
the HR profession—and more particularly, HR
professionals—have owned a piece of my heart
for years, I’m not giving them the time and
attention they deserve.
Simply stated, it’s time for me to move on.
So, after decades working with and for the
HR profession, and with thanks to the editorial
staff at HRE for being such a pleasure to
work with, I’ll share some final advice on HR
First, please stop asking for “a seat at the
Can we agree to just ban that clause from any
discussion about the profession? It’s like nails on
a chalkboard for me.
“Asking for a seat” is the wrong question.
The question you should be asking is, “How
can I add value and become essential to my
No one owes you a seat at any table. It’s
earned. How do you earn that coveted seat? As
I’ve written before, I think it’s the Four Cs.
Competency: This means being able to use
HR knowledge effectively within an organization.
Certifications and competency models can help
confirm that you have the knowledge required
and the ability to use it effectively.
HR competency alone isn’t enough. You must
also understand the language of business, how
your organization makes money and where your
industry is headed. Pay attention to the social,
demographic, economic, technological and
political forces that will impact your business.
Curiosity: Gaining competency is an ongoing
journey, and curiosity is one tool you should use
along the way. If you’re curious, you’re more
likely to ask about the challenges your customers
face and help them meet those challenges,
making you a better HR professional.
Courage: The most successful HR
professionals are those who have courage:
speaking up if you think your peer or CEO
is about to make a strategic or legal error;
presenting alternative options; taking the side
of an employee, rather than a manager, when
the employee has been mistreated, even if the
manager is a star salesperson; walking away
from an organization whose leadership is
unethical and unwilling to change. Competency
is a magnifier of courage; it’s a lot easier to be
courageous when you know your profession.
Caring: If you really don’t care about
people, you’ll never be a very successful HR
professional. Great HR professionals care about
the business and the people, understanding
that taking care of employees ultimately takes
care of the business.
In addition to the Four Cs, be proud of
what you do. The HR profession has changed
business, society and the lives of millions of
people around the world. HR has helped make
workplaces safer, fairer, healthier, more humane
and more diverse. HR has helped employees
learn and grow and reach their full potential.
Be proud of your role. It’s a great way to
spend a career.
Susan R. Meisinger, former president
and CEO of the Society for Human Resource
Management, is an author, speaker and
consultant on human resource management.
She is on the board of directors of the National
Academy of Human Resources.