Mandatory Fun in the Army

If you’ve been in the Army even a day, you’ve probably heard of the term “mandatory fun.”  This is a word given for events that leaders (both NCOs and Officers) are required to attend, or pressured to attend.  This could be anything from a social event such as a dining in or dining out to a gala, a holiday meal at the DFAC, an end of the duty day social hour or just about anything else.

During my time in the Army, I wasn’t a big fan of mandatory fun.  As an Officer, I just about always went to these events, but I never really liked the idea of being pressured or required to go.  I did it because it was part of my job, and that’s it.

As a leader, I understand the importance of setting a good example for others to follow.  Being at the events shows that you care about the unit and you are setting a good example.  I get that.  I just don’t see a huge value in having people at an after work event, when they don’t really want to be there to begin with.

What I want to do in the rest of this post is just share some tips with military leaders who schedule these “mandatory fun” events and give them a few pointers they can follow to make the event more successful (and enjoyable).

1) Make the Event Sound Like a Fun Event – As a leader, you want to sell the event by talking about the benefits of attending. Focus on the key points such as socializing, drinking a beer, having great conversations, meeting new people, eating good food, etc. Think about the reasons someone would actually WANT to go to one of these events and cover those key points with your subordinates and followers.

2) Limit the Amount of Events You Make Mandatory – As a leader, keep the amount of events you do to a minimum.  It’s better to have 2-3 good mandatory fun events each year than have 10 or 20 boring ones.

3) Respect People’s “Off Work” Time – This should be common sense.  People in the military frequently put in long hours at work! You need to respect their off duty time.  I’m sure you like your time off, just like your  followers’ do.  Remember that, before you schedule another mandatory fun event.

4) Don’t Pressure People to Go – When you pressure people to go to these mandatory fun events, it takes the fun out of it.  How you say what you say is more important than what you actually say.  Don’t come across like a high pressure, used car salesmen.  If people are required to attend the event, just tell them that attendance is mandatory and leave it at that.

5) If the Event Has a Cost or Is Expensive to Attend, Don’t Make it Mandatory – If you schedule an event that is more than $20 per person, don’t make it mandatory.  Or, if it is mandatory, lower the cost for your low ranking leaders or find a way to make it free for them. Most people are pinching pennies today, so don’t make your Soldiers spend money they might not have to go to an event they don’t really want to go to.

I know a lot of these tips might sound like common sense to some of you, but I’ll have to tell you that these rules get broken a lot. In fact, I would argue that it is a much bigger problem in the Army than most people realize.

What are your thoughts?  What do you think about mandatory fun in the Army?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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6 thoughts on “Mandatory Fun in the Army”

  1. 20 years in the Navy and I attended 1 Christmas party. Socializing with higher ups makes no sense to me. However, junior sailors who may not have many off duty outlets should have the opportunity to have a place to go where they feel welcome and a sense of belonging.
    You’re right about the long hours thing, especially when not deployed.
    Most service members don’t stay in for life and need to be shown respect.

  2. Mandatory Fun. What a topic. Usually the event can be only one of two things: either mandatory or fun.
    Mandatory events are fine, if like you mentioned, they are severely limited. The worst events are the "non-mandatory but you better be there if you know what's good for you" events. These are usually full of either guilt trips or veiled threats about what will happen if you don't show up.
    For the most part if you run a good event and keep the cost down people will show up for the experience. If you make every event feel like a commander's call people will begin to treat it that way.

    1. I agree that not all mandatory fun is bad, if you limit how often you do it and keep the expense down. That is imperative. I also know that most military events are fun if you keep a good attitude and an open mind. I always enjoyed the Dining Ins, Dining Outs, galas and more.

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