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Consulting On A Great Company or A Great Waste

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In a viral video of from American Eagle Outfitters, hundreds of staffers appear to be having a ton of fun at the office. But what does this clip say about workplace culture and employee productivity?

Here’s the official clip (direct link) from YouTube (2019 edit — WayBack Machine):

It’s clear that the employees are enjoying themselves as they dance, sing and play in the office. Each department must have spent hours making props and setting up for the video. And there’s no question that the video has wide public appeal as well. Social media expert Kyle Lacy wrote “I can’t stop watching.”

But what is the message of the clip? What does it have to say about employee engagement and employee productivity? There are several possible interpretations.

Potential Employees Might It’s a Fun Place To Work

The video does serve as a recruiting tool. Candidates may decide that they want to check out American Eagle because it looks like a party.

But should work be fun? Does entertainment distract from the mission of the company, or does it enhance it? Our business process consultants have already found research that shows that people would rather skip the company holiday party. So would American Eagle employees rather go home early or stick around the office and make a lip dub video?

Customer Perception of the Brand May Increase

Since we’re workplace productivity experts and not marketers, we’re not highly qualified to comment on the marketing value of this lip dub. But one fact is clear: American Eagle decided to release it to the general public rather than keep it internal. When compared with the Superbowl Shuffle fiasco, the clothing company’s video clip seems to be about having fun more than trying to appeal to a specific crowd of customers.

Stockholder Perception of the Value May Decrease

We’re reaching here, but perhaps Wall Street might think that American Eagle is wasting money on office antics instead of moving product. There actually is some evidence to support this. Take a look at the stock chart after the video was released. Of course, it only had 8,000 views and no real press coverage, so maybe it’s just a fluke:

consultants discussing Wall Street

We can dig a little deeper. An employee review about working at American Eagle’s headquarters in an online forum provides some surprising insight:

As far as AEO Corporate, it is a fantastic place to work. Yes, you will read all large specialty retail companies having long hours and lack of a personal life, but you know what, that’s the culture and the ever-changing landscape of the business.

We are a company that believes in a work/life balance (even though some people would argue that) but you’re not going to get anywhere in life being a “clock-puncher”, putting your 40 hours in a week and going home.

Another employee review says it even more simply:

Long hours
Weak BOD
Poor life work balance

These are just examples, but they do bring up interesting questions about workplace culture. Are non-productive activities beneficial or harmful? Do they genuinely build engagement and camaraderie, or are they just mechanisms used to mask overwork, exhaustion and low employee satisfaction? This brings us to the essential question:

Should Companies Spend Money on Employee Fun?

The short answer is: probably not, unless the employees want it. If a highly collaborative team does creative work that benefits from rich social relationships, it may be beneficial to use company funds for employee entertainment. Or if folks want to celebrate a milestone together, it’s may be reasonable to dip into the company coffers.

But for the most part, workplaces that produce value consist of functional relationships, not deep friendships. To quote the famous Netflix culture document:

A great workplace is not day-care, espresso, health benefits, sushi lunches, nice offices, or big compensation, and we only do those that are efficient at attracting stunning colleagues.

A great workplace is stunning colleagues.

What do you think? Do you want to work somewhere fun, or do you want to work somewhere where you can be productive and valued, and have fun anywhere you want in your life?

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