Fun at Work: Theories, Issues and Controversies

The promotion of fun at the workplace is one of the most controversial and discussed managerial approaches and practices because there is no strict opinion regarding the effect of fun on employees’ productivity and performance. In spite of the fact that proponents of fun at work point at its role for reducing stress, increasing productivity, creating a positive working environment, and building teams, the opponents of fun activities accentuate that playful and humorous activities and environments can negatively affect the employees’ performance (Choi, Kwon, & Kim, 2013, p. 411; Ford, Newstrom, & McLaughlin, 2011, p. 117). As a result, the discussion of the effectiveness of fun at the workplace involves many issues, controversies, and questions that need to be analyzed with a focus on existing theories in the field. This paper aims to discuss current theories and relationships among constructs associated with the topic of fun at work and explore contradictions and issues connected with identified theories.

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Theories, Explanations, and Relationships among Constructs Related to the Topic

In recent studies, researchers are inclined to discuss and explain the concept of fun at work with references to the motivational theory, theory of needs, turnover theory, and generational theory. Researchers use these theories in order to explain how fun at work can be related to such constructs as motivation, job satisfaction, productivity, job commitment, and turnover (Choi et al., 2013, p. 411; Tews, Michel, Xu, & Drost, 2015, p. 248). Following the motivational theories, fun stimulates employees to demonstrate their best results within an enjoyable environment and with the focus on reduced levels of stress (Tews, Michel, & Stafford, 2013, p. 371). As a result, fun positively influences job satisfaction and job commitment; productivity can increase significantly; levels of emotional exhaustion decrease; and the turnover rate becomes reduced (Tews et al., 2015, p. 249). Discussing the relationship between fun and job satisfaction, researchers focus on the idea of experienced workplace fun, when employees are directly involved in fun activities (Choi et al., 2013, p. 421). Referring to the theory of needs, researchers also accentuate the importance of fun for affecting productivity because fun is one of the needs of the highest level (Choi et al., 2013, p. 411). Furthermore, according to Lamm and Meeks, generational perspectives explain the fact that managers can benefit from applying the principles of fun at work while referring to the needs, desires, and visions of young employees (Lamm & Meeks, 2012, p. 615). Thus, one more approach to discussing the effectiveness of implementing fun at work is the explanation of the impact with references to the generational theory.

The focus on theory is also necessary to discuss variants of using and interpreting the construct of fun at work. Researchers utilize the construct of fun at the workplace while referring to it as “playful social, interpersonal, recreational, or task activities intended to provide amusement, enjoyment, or pleasure” (Lamm & Meeks, 2012, p. 614). According to Tews and the group of researchers, this construct should be discussed from the point of fun activities and manager support for fun (Tews et al., 2013, p. 371). These types of fun at work can directly influence the employees’ performance and turnover rates. Thus, according to the theory developed by Tews et al., if fun activities influence the increase in performance directly, manager support for fun has the more prolonged effect because in this case, fun is associated with changes in the environment, with promoting personal freedoms, and with concepts of encouragement and support (Tews et al., 2013, p. 371). The principle of manager support for fun can also be discussed in the context of creating a “fun culture” in the organization in order to promote fun activities (Tews et al., 2013, p. 371). Later, Tews and the group of researchers added two other dimensions of fun to the construct: coworker socializing and fun job responsibilities (Tews et al., 2015, p. 248). Thus, researchers mention that all types of fun at work can have positive effects on performance, productivity, and job satisfaction, but the level of this impact is different depending on the dimension of fun.

Contradictions, Inconsistencies, and Issues Related to the Topic

It is important to state that the construct of fun at work is currently developing, and today there is no single vision regarding the types of fun and their role in employees’ productivity and performance. Therefore, not all types of fun can be discussed as having an equal impact on productivity and performance (Ford et al., 2011, p. 117; Tews et al., 2013, p. 371). Although the relationship between such fun activities as social events, celebrations, contests, and productivity is discussed as positive because of the role of fun in increasing job satisfaction, there are also study results stating that employees can demonstrate decreases in performance (Ford et al., 2011, p. 118). The reason is that the focus on fun activities can mislead employees who can perceive job responsibilities in the context of funny activities. In this case, Plester points at the necessity to distinguish between the implementation of funny activities or the promotion of humor in the working environment and the implementation of fun or enjoyable activities that include productivity contests and social events (Plester, 2011, p. 585). Misconceptions associated with implementing the principle of fun at work are based on the issue that managers often misunderstand concepts and focus on developing humorous events rather than on supporting fun activities.

There are also contradictions in the researches that are connected with discussing the role of a manager in the process of using the principle of fun at work. On the one hand, manager support for fun contributes to job satisfaction, creativity, and retention (Tews et al., 2013, p. 371). On the other hand, a manager should pay much attention to regulating the implementation of the idea of fun at the workplace in order to avoid misconceptions and problems with the employees’ discipline (Ford et al., 2011, p. 117; Plester, 2011, p. 585). Furthermore, researchers debate that the principles of fun at work cannot guarantee immediate positive results in organizations because of the spread of traditional approaches and work ethics in many companies (Plester, 2011, p. 585). According to these approaches and ethics, fun at work can be effective to increase the employees’ commitment to work and organization, but there are no direct positive associations with fun at work and productivity or improvements in performance.

In addition, researchers are inclined to debate the effectiveness of fun at work for the employees belonging to different age groups and cultures according to the principle of diversity (Ford et al., 2011, p. 118; Plester, 2011, p. 586). The problem is in the fact that the focus on fun at work is researched and proved to be reasonable in relation to generation Y when the representatives of other generations can discuss the workplace as an inappropriate place for fun and associated social activities (Lamm & Meeks, 2012, p. 628). If the newest generation can demonstrate the presence of direct positive relationships between fun activities, job satisfaction, increased motivation, and improved performance, the preceding generations can demonstrate a kind of opposition toward the implementation of new approaches in managerial practice.

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Conclusion

While referring to the findings of recent studies and to the theoretical frameworks that are applied in these researches, it is possible to state that the construct of fun at the workplace is discussed within different theories, including motivational, generational, turnover theories, and the theories of needs. These theories are important to explain how researchers connect the use of fun at the workplace with the concepts of job satisfaction, job commitment, productivity, and performance. However, those explanations to the role of fun at work for the increase of employees’ productivity and stress reductions that are proposed by researchers can differ significantly, while depending on the results of studies and perspectives that are followed by the researcher. As a result, the construct of fun at work is usually discussed as new for the managerial practice, and there are debates on the real effects of fun at the workplace on the employees’ productivity and performance. It is important to conduct additional research in the field in order to state whether fun at work can be discussed as an effective practice for different organizations and working environments.

References

Choi, Y., Kwon, J., & Kim, W. (2013). Effects of attitudes vs. experience of workplace fun on employee behaviors: Focused on generation Y in the hospitality industry. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 25(3), 410-442.

Ford, R. C., Newstrom, J. W., & McLaughlin, F. S. (2011). Making workplace fun more functional. Industrial and Commercial Training, 36(3), 117-120.

Lamm, E., & Meeks, M. (2012). Workplace fun: The moderating effects of generational differences. Employee Relations, 31(6), 613-631.

Plester, B. (2011). Crossing the line: Boundaries of workplace humor and fun. Employee Relations, 31(6), 584-599.

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Tews, M. J., Michel, J., & Stafford, K. (2013). Does fun pay? The impact of workplace fun on employee turnover and performance. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 54(4), 370-382.

Tews, M., Michel, J., Xu, S., & Drost, A. (2015). Workplace fun matters … but what else? Employee Relations, 37(2), 248-267.

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