Ditch the Office Kegerator

Most “work fun” is neither work nor fun.

Over at Kegerator.com, they lay out the case for why “Your Office Needs a Kegerator.” “Staff meetings would become more bearable,” they say, because you could “bring the bar to the meeting.” The office culture would become “more cohesive,” they say, because “a staff that drinks together works better together.” Plus, it will help make “Beer Fridays” more efficient: “spin the reason you are late getting home” as “you were at ‘the office’ instead of the bar.”

I drink my fair share of IPAs, but I disagree. Your office does not need a kegerator. In fact, if your office has a kegerator, donate it to your nearest frat house.

In previous posts, I have argued that deep work-life balance involves separating and optimizing three modes of being: production (focused work), coordination (interaction with others about work), and leisure (not work). We become unbalanced when these three modes spill into each other, such as when our emails interrupts dinner with our loved ones (coordination invading leisure) or our YouTube surfing interrupts our work sessions (leisure invading production). We believe deep balance is achieved when we fortify the walls between these modes, such as when we have cell-phone free getaways (deep leisure) or take meeting-less production days (deep production) or stay mindfully present during meetings (deep coordination).

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Ever since Silicon Valley startups started popularizing their office ping pong tables 15 years ago, companies have gone wild over mixing leisure into office cultures that used to be limited to promoting production and coordination. The Age of “Work Fun” brought us the proliferation of the office open seating plan, the office nerf gun fight, the office prank, the office group exercise break, the office March Madness bracket pool, and, of course, the office kegerator.

But, as I argued above, contrary to the dominant trends today, too much mixing of any two modes of life ruins both modes. Mixing leisure with production and coordination ruins our leisure and ruins our production and coordination. Put in practical terms, work fun is bad for fun and bad for work.

Real fun comes from deep leisure, which requires being in an environment that allows you to cease effort and analysis, performance and criticism, bustle and worry. It requires entering a state of mind that is calm, celebratory and rejuvenating. This is why when you walk into your favorite bar, you already feel better: it’s designed to be a place that’s fortified against the invasion of work. This is why doctors in Japan are prescribing “forest bathing”: when you are in a place of tranquility, your heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels lower. This deep leisure is much harder— perhaps impossible — to achieve in an environment where your work is waiting on your desk feet away from the kegerator and work-related conversation topics are just underneath the surface of you and your co-workers’ conversation about the Mets.

Similarly, real work comes from deep production. As Cal Newport argues in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, the highest-impact work usually involves cognitively-demanding tasks that require extended focus. The enemy of this real work is distraction. And, unfortunately, in the past decade, office distractions doubled from six per hour to twelve per hour. The typical office worker is interrupted or forced to switch tasks every three minutes and five seconds — and, worse, it takes 23 minutes get fully back on track after each of these interruptions. According to a study done at King’s College, London, being constantly distracted by email and text messages at work causes over twice the loss of brain power as smoking weed on your walk to work. And this is making us unhappy: as Mihaly Csikzentmihaly has discovered in his research on focus, we are most happy at work when we are in a state of flow: full immersion and energized focus in an activity.

The kegerator provides none of these things.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to have good relationships with our colleagues or that there isn’t something to be gained from having non-work conversations and activities with the people we work with — but there is danger in not delineating these different modes of being, and employees know it.

Look no further than Glassdoor, which surveyed employees about what “perks” they valued at work, only 19% responded with one of the usual “office fun” perks, like “casual dress.” Valued much more were perks that fell into two broad categories: (1) Wages and benefits that helped with their economic security (health insurance, pension, performance bonuses); and (2) time off (paid vacation days, paid sick days, and flexible schedules to work from home). It turns out what people want out of work is not fun at work but compensation for their good work and time to have good fun outside of work.

Employers should respect these values. Once we roll out the kegerator and tear down the ping pong tables, maybe we’ll have more space for deskspace that allow for more focused production at the office. And once we cancel “Beer Fridays,” maybe we’ll have more time to let employees go find their own leisure away from the office. With less work fun, maybe we’ll get more work and more fun.