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Fun is all the rage in corporation these days, writes The Economist. "Software firms in Silicon Valley have installed rock-climbing walls in their reception areas and put inflatable animals in their offices," with Google being "the acknowledged champion: its offices are blessed with volleyball courts, bicycle paths, a yellow brick road, a model dinosaur, regular games of roller hockey and several professional masseuses." Twitter brags that workers wear cowboy hats. One company in London has lunchtime sessions of "sheep-shearing and geese-herding."

But do workers really want more fun? Not as much as managers, perhaps. The "cult of fun is driven by three of the most popular management fads of the moment: empowerment, engagement and creativity." Office fun, in other words, acts as a means to an end. Managers "hope that 'fun' will magically make workers more engaged and creative." But fun that is "part of a corporate strategy," coercive and, at times, downright faked may not be much fun:

While imposing ersatz fun on their employees, companies are battling against the real thing. Many force smokers to huddle outside like furtive criminals. Few allow their employees to drink at lunch time, let alone earlier in the day. A regiment of busybodies--from lawyers to human-resources functionaries--is waging war on office romance, particularly between people of different ranks.

The Economist leaves us with an odd thought: just as popular culture provides plenty of examples of hassled workers making fun of forced "fun"--say, in The Office--it might now be offering us a glimpse at the alternative.

"Mad Men" reminds people of a world they have lost--a world where bosses did not think that "fun" was a management tool and where employees could happily quaff Scotch at noon. Cheers to that.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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