The term theory appears to have various meanings based on contending research models. For example, it can mean a formative edict or system of rules, especially in the natural sciences. It may also mean a concept or collection of ideas that are valuable in gaining an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon as well as explaining the phenomenon. Despite the various constructs of the meaning of the term, theory plays a fundamental role in various forms of research including case study evaluations. The advancement of competition in the corporate world has led to the need for every business entity to gain a competitive advantage. Organizational productivity largely depends on employees. Therefore, successful organizations focus on fostering a high level of commitment, cooperation, and satisfaction amongst their workforces. This focus begets the idea of fun at the workplace, which seeks to alleviate work-related stress thereby motivating employees and increasing productivity. This paper looks at the nature and types of theories as well as the connection between theory and research. Ultimately, the paper looks at the theory and the advancement of fun in the workplace.
The term ‘theory’ is derived from the word ‘theoria,’ which is a Greek word that means viewing or beholding (Hamlin & Stemplowska, 2012). Today, the word is used to refer to the contemplative or speculative understanding of things (Hamlin & Stemplowska, 2012). The term theory does not have a precise definition. Therefore, scientists and philosophers disagree on its definition leading to varied opinions (Stam, 2000). For instance, Gelso (2006) describes it as the relationships between variables. According to Wacker (1999), the concept involves trial and error and not a systematic investigation.
Quantifiable facets of a theory are obtained from research and data. According to Wacker (1999), a theory can be viewed as a relationship between units observed empirically. The objective of a sound theory is to explain why and how relationships lead to specific events (Wacker, 1999). Stam (2010) reports that theories are propagated to produce tangible elucidation of phenomena and are preferred to mere intuitions, hypotheses, or other guesses. Additionally, the natural sciences advance on paradigms of definite theory development, which may be in the form of arithmetic and official accounts.
Views of What Constitutes a Theory
There are various perspectives regarding the components of a theory. Stam (2007) proposes that theories can be condensed to three features namely observables (reductionism), implements to execute certain actions (instrumentalism) and proclamations regarding extant entities (realism).
Reductionism focuses on observable phenomena and attempts to reduce a given occurrence to uncomplicated components for clear examination and elucidation in a stepwise approach (Stam, 2007). Reductionism explains the tangibility of a phenomenon as well as the possibility of accounting for the phenomenon in various contexts, for instance, as a scientific theory (Stam, 2007). Reductionism closely relates to determinism, which gives reasons for the outcomes of theories (Wimsatt, 2006). Therefore, these two views restrict the description of phenomena.
Instrumentalism presumes that a theory is a tool (instrument) used in understanding the world. Consequently, a theory is only useful if it can effectively predict phenomena and describe objective reality (Kamakura, 2012). In contrast, instrumentalism adopts an antirealist standpoint as it only regards theories as tools that enable scientists to move from statements to predictable observations. While instrumentalism focuses on existing phenomena, realism deals with the unobservable (Stam, 2010).
Realism tries to find the knowledge that can be applied beyond the theory. To some extent, this is contradictory since a theory is what is used to establish this knowledge (Stam, 2007). In the realist viewpoint, only one of several hypotheses and theories can be true when more than one explanation exists for a particular phenomenon.
Immense differences exist between instrumentalist and realist viewpoints. For instance, instrumentalism pays attention to discovery while realism sees greater value in the validation of theories. Instrumentalism also sees a good theory as a product of integration but to the detriment of precision featured in realism. Despite the differences, the three views seem to concur that theory should be aimed at addressing practical problems to explain complex phenomena (Stam, 2007).
Nature of Theories
Theories have features that distinguish them from other related concepts (Stam, 2007). Theories are largely descriptive thus serve certain functions. Creditable theories explain why things transpire the way they do and the outcomes of these occurrences (Stam, 2007). A comprehensive description of a certain occurrence provides a better explanation of the happening. Therefore, good theories have high degrees of descriptive power and provide effective explanations (Stam, 2007).
Theories have a delimitative nature. The limiting quality of theories imposes boundaries on what the theory can examine effectively. Such limits are vital because they serve as guides to what is being examined (Stam, 2007). Developing a theory without limits is almost impossible since there is no specific area of study or specific area from which to conclude (Stam, 2010).
Theories are also heuristic. Good theories should not only aim at being accepted in society but also serve as guides in generating further ideas and examination (Stam, 2007). Good theories should encourage inquiry aimed at testing them. Further studies of a theory are important because they increase the scope (field and areas) where the theory can be applied. Good theories also generate decades of research and validation in their specific fields. Theories that lack heuristic values tend to stagnate hence reducing their applicability (Stam, 2007).
An integrative function is another important attribute of theories, which implies that theories attempt to bring together various proposals and concepts in a constant and integrated way (Hamlin & Stemplowska, 2012). Constructs that go beyond the intended scope of the theory are a nuisance and cause difficulties when trying to comprehend the theory. Theories that can achieve optimal integration pull together diverse and conflicting facts into a depiction that has rationality and a prominent level of uniformity (Hamlin & Stemplowska, 2012).
Types of Theories
There exist two main categories of theories namely scientific and philosophical theories. In science, a theory is modified to denote an authenticated account of some aspect of the natural world based on a body of particulars that have repeatedly been confirmed by observation and experimentation (Harlow, 2009). Scientific theories need to meet additional requirements such as the ability to make falsifiable estimates with consistent accuracy across extensive areas of interest. Solid and compelling evidence, which is mainly obtained from autonomous sources, is mandatory before a scientific theory can be accepted (Harlow, 2009). The strength of a scientific theory is a function of the diversity of phenomena it can explain, which is ultimately determined by the ability to make falsifiable predictions regarding those phenomena (Harlow, 2009). Weick (2000) reports that the use of evidence leads to the constant replacement of theories because the discovery of new or advanced evidence necessitates the updating or replacement of older theories.
On the contrary, philosophical theories consist of ideas with little or no evidence (Harlow, 2009). The majority of the statements and theorems of a philosophical theory cannot be scientifically verified through experiential observation (Harlow, 2009). In some cases, fields of study are sometimes called theories since their origin is an initial set of doubts describing the fields’ approach to a certain subject matter. Philosophical theories often take the form of political theories and metatheories. A metatheory is a theory regarding a different theory because it uses another existing theory as its basis (Weick, 2000). Political theories, on the contrary, are ethical theories about law and government.
Comparison of Theory and Concepts
Certain ideas are closely related to theories (Weick, 2000). Therefore, it is important to distinguish between these concepts and theory for a better understanding. A hypothesis is a suggested account for an observable phenomenon, or a reasoned possible correlation between manifold phenomena (Weick, 2000). One of the differences between theory and hypothesis is that in a hypothesis, the result is uncertain while there is the certainty of the ultimate expectations of a theory (Weick, 2000). Hypotheses are also based on limited data unlike theories, which are based on wide sets of data. However, the two are similar in that they are testable and falsifiable (Hamlin & Stemplowska, 2012).
Paradigms refer to a theoretical framework. They act as structures of references that allow scientists to channel their observations and findings. The major difference between a paradigm and theory is that a theory can be considered a creation of new knowledge while a paradigm only acts as a frame of reference (Hamlin & Stemplowska, 2012). Conversely, a concept is a general idea without a specific explanation while a theory is an explanation of a phenomenon that is backed up by considerable evidence (Kwong, 2006).
The Relationship between Theory and Research As Well As How Quantitative and Qualitative Research Can Contribute to Theory
Research can be defined as the logical process of collecting and evaluating information to increase understanding of a topic, issue or phenomenon of concern (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Theory development and research are interdependent. The relationship between the two is considered dialectic because theory determines the type of data to be collected and in return, the research findings provide challenges to accepted theories (Heidari & Sahragard, 2014). Research can hence be viewed as the vehicle for theory development because it is used to gather data and information required for developing a theory or testing an existing theory. If the purpose of carrying out the research is to test a theory, the theory in question dictates the data be collected. If the purpose is theory generation, the phenomenon of interest suggests things to seek (Heidari, & Sahragard, 2014). A research undertaking can be visualized as a setup that encompasses several discrete but connected fundamentals embracing the study problem that guides the investigation, review questions, methodology, results, and conclusions (Heidari, & Sahragard, 2014). In research, no advancement can be made without a statement of the problem. Where theory is concerned, the reasoning of the problem statement must expound how the investigation develops previous theories or adds to the advancement of a novel theory (Ellis & Levy, 2008).
An in-depth understanding of how the different types of theory determine the research design is necessary for understanding the relationship between research and theory (Lichterman & Reed, 2014). Scientists classify theories as either descriptive or explanatory. Descriptive theories are the most uncomplicated types of theories. They use the commonalities of discrete observations to describe and classify specific dimensions or characteristics of individuals (MacFarlane & O’Reilly, 2011). Descriptive theories are useful when nothing or very little is known about the phenomenon in question. Descriptive research does not have to use an empirical method. Non-empirical methods mostly employ philosophical and historical inquiry (MacFarlane & O’Reilly, 2011). Historic research focuses on the description of the phenomena that occurred previously while philosophical research describes and classifies phenomena through critical discussion (MacFarlane & O’Reilly, 2011).
Explanatory theories are created and verified by experimental research and mainly use empirical methods of experimentation (Lichterman & Reed, 2014). The methods mainly involve the manipulation of phenomena to determine their effects on certain characteristics or dimensions of other phenomena. They require quantifiable data to determine the presence and magnitude of change from experimental treatments (MacFarlane & O’Reilly, 2011). A research design reflects the objectives of the study and varies with theoretical underpinnings in the field. For instance, if little is known about the theory or phenomenon of interest, a descriptive theory generating research is appropriate. If the theory has been sufficiently defined and its affiliations to other portents are well known, experiments would be best suited for such a situation (Lichterman & Reed, 2014). Essentially, theories provide explanations or expectations about the world while research is used to ascertain, discover, understand, refute or validate the theories. Therefore, the two are conclusively related.
Qualitative and Quantitative Research
The methods of research can be classified into two broad categories namely quantitative and qualitative (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Quantitative research refers to the empirical examination of phenomena through mathematical and statistical techniques. Conversion of data into a measurable form provides an easy way to categorize and work with data (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Categorization is valuable as it allows a researcher to answer specific questions from complex data sets. Quantitative methods make a significant contribution to theory because they provide specific and measurable ways to view, access, and critically analyze data. The aspect of measurability is of great importance and adds to theory development as quantitative studies can enable trend spotting (Kamakura, 2012). A multivariate quantitative approach to trend spotting is a useful method of gathering market intelligence that can be used to create a theory. Quantitative research is the major method preferred by many researchers in operations management research (Kamakura, 2012).
Qualitative research is the attempt to gain an in-depth understanding of the complexities of human interactions (Morse, 2002). Most theories are developed by making frequent observations over a certain period and then used to generate a construct that can be used for further exploration of the phenomena (Morse, 2002). Qualitative methods are useful because they provide the means to measure, document and analyze different observations (Doz, 2011). Qualitative studies inform theories in numerous aspects. For instance, they provide a detailed portrayal of occurrences. They are avenues for obtaining additional information because researchers are allowed to ask probing questions (Doz, 2011). Qualitative methods also provide deeper insights since they allow the refinement of concepts and results. These methods are also important in testing theories by providing alternative theoretical lenses to investigate various phenomena (Harlow, 2009).
Other Ways in Which Research Contributes to Theory
A case study matches theory and observation. It analyzes how efficiently a theory envisages aspects of precise cases. Case studies can contribute to theory because they offer additional information that adds or decreases the value of previous theories (Harlow, 2009). Additionally, case studies can provide information that can either confirm or deny existing theories. In areas that have not been explored or studied previously, case studies offer new data. Therefore, a case study creates a knowledge base for countless disciplines and theories. Another way that research contributes to theory is that research can prove or disprove a theory. In research, observations change theories mainly because observations can either confirm the theory or show variance between the theory and the actual observations. If the latter happens, the theory can either be abandoned or changed to fit the newly confirmed observations (Harlow, 2009). Therefore, researchers must observe how theories and observations match.
The work of any researcher is to undertake research, make observations and then proceed to see whether the observations correlate with the theory (Harlow, 2009). A third way that research contributes to theory is in the case where a theory requires to be expanded to a new phenomenon (Harlow, 2009). One can come across areas of further research or inquiry that prior research has not addressed (Ellis & Levy, 2008). The new knowledge can be built upon to extend a theory to a completely new dimension.
The Reductionism Concept of Theory and Fun in the Workplace
Stam (2000) offers three views on theories that include reductionism, instrumentalism, and realism. Among these three views, reductionism would make a significant contribution to my research area. Theories from this view have been previously applied successfully in the field of business where my area of study falls. My proposed topic is “Fun in the workplace.” The study findings are expected to contribute to the body of knowledge in the business industry especially the administrative part of businesses. The study aims at ending the current officialdom in management systems. It also aims at utilizing the systems theory and reductionism paradigm to relieve the tension experienced in workplaces between the employers and employees or among the employees themselves.
A Brief Overview of the Study
Employers are keen on managing the levels of stress in workplaces among employees as a way of increasing productivity (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009). Over time, significant numbers of theories and concepts have been developed to help increase productivity by targeting a reduction of stress levels. Fun at work is one of the many concepts developed to solve this issue. This study explores this concept to reduce stress levels hence increasing productivity at work. Other benefits of fun at work include boosting the employees’ morale, enhancing employer-employee relationships, fostering teamwork, improving employee satisfaction, and reducing employee turnover rates. Fun in the workplace can also eliminate the bureaucracy that exists in management systems (Russo, 2010).
Systems theory was developed as a valid alternative at a time when research into living things encountered limitations due to the concepts and principles of reductionism (Kaplan, 2009). Ludwig Von, an Australian biologist, demonstrated that the concepts of reductionism were helpless in appreciating the dynamics of organisms (Miller, 2013). He stated that the existence of an organism could not be understood solely in terms of the behaviour of some fundamental parts as was suggested by reductionism. It was for that reason that he developed the systems theory. Ludwig held that the systems theory was the interdisciplinary study of systems to elucidate principles that could be applied to all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research (Ballonoff, 2010). The theory emphasized that real systems should be open to interacting with their environments and could acquire new properties leading to continued evolution (Pradeu, 2010). The theory employed functional and relational criteria to study the whole rather than the principle of reductionism to study the simple elements (Thomsen, 2013). The theory took the instrumentalism view because it tried to explain the phenomenon of an organism working as a whole rather than depicting the reality of what could be seen (Ham, 2011).
Application in the Business Field
In the business field, the theory has been modified to provide an alternative approach to understanding, managing and planning organizations (Kaplan, 2009). The theory leans less towards management techniques because it is a means of evaluating and exploring organizations (Kaplan, 2009). It presents the assertion that organizations are akin to living organisms because they contain many other smaller entities that must cooperate for the benefit of the bigger structure. In the early stages of the introduction of the systems theory, managers readily embraced the concept and saw new opportunities to interpret patterns and events in the workplace (Bergesen, 2011). They recognized the different parts of their organizations especially the interrelations of various departments. In the past, the main organizational problems focused on one part and neglected other areas, which were solved by the systems theory (Bergesen, 2011). The achievement of synchronization in organizations was thought to be the end of the application of the systems theory in business (Kaplan, 2009). However, this paper shows the possible application of a new perspective of the systems theory in motivating workers by managing stress levels. “Fun at work” is a concept that can go a long way in alleviating stress at the workplace.
The systems theory offers a new angle for reaching out to workers and managers and introducing the fun concept. The theory states that the accomplishment and growth of an organization depend on collaboration and cooperation between various constituents (Donella, 2011). Employees from the largest part of an organization. Therefore, the success of an organization is largely dependent on its motivation, performance and productivity (Russo, 2010). The ‘fun at work’ concept looks at how the main components of the organization (employees and administrators) can be motivated to work in a less stressful environment as recommended by Bolton and Houlihan (2009). The interactive component of the theory also has immense applications in this study. The systems theory states clearly that the overall nature of the organism is dependent on the interactions of the parts that constitute the organism. Therefore, promoting interaction in an interesting and stress-free environment is certain to achieve motivation among employees and employers in an organization. Positive interactions can be influenced by different factors such as fun activities as explained in a study by Gianfranco (2012).
The Importance of Reductionism to the Study
During the development of the systems theory, Von was highly opposed to the concepts involved in reductionism (Wimsatt, 2006). However, the view is still of great importance to this study. Systems research is developed to view an organism or an organization as a whole rather than study the simple elements that constitute the organism (Zadeh, 2010). This study emphasizes the importance of a working environment where employers and employees can interact freely with each other without visible boundaries and limitations. This concept can be likened to the reductionist approach. The reductionist viewpoint enabled the identification of possible problems that could arise from the use of the theory in an organization hence offering the chance to look into the simpler elements (Wimsatt, 2006).
By using reductionism, it was evident that the fun at work concept could lead to certain problems. One of the biggest challenges that arose was the possibility of employees not taking certain matters with the seriousness they deserved. Such behaviour could make it hard to coordinate tasks in the organization. It could also be easier for junior employees to disobey senior employees since the use of this concept could lead to a diminished distinction between junior and senior employees (Russo, 2010).
Controversy Surrounding the Systems Theory
Though reductionism and systems theory address my proposed study area appropriately and have been useful in making significant strides in the business area, it is important to acknowledge the criticism put forward in the past years. The system theory has faced a lot of criticism especially in its original form (Zadeh, 2010). One of the top critics of the theory, Robert Lillianfeld, criticized it by stating that the theory was the ideology of planners, managers, and technocratic elites. As a social doctrine, systems theory was regarded have taken an organismic approach to society. The view has a long tradition that can be traced back to the thoughts and religious practices of the Hindus during the medieval period in the West (Ballonoff, 2010). Incorporating the organismic view in the theory was believed to have been attractive to intellectuals who saw themselves as the brain and nerve centres of the organism (Zadeh, 2010). The common people in the society were seen as the cells of the organism since they had no say in the running of the organism. Scientists have worked effortlessly to save the image presented by this theory by answering questions relating to the theory such as whether the image presented by the theory was true, its probable social consequences and what could be done to the current image (Donella, 2011).
There is no doubt that the systems theory is a useful but provocative tool to handle difficulties in several areas in system requisites (Donella, 2011). Although the system image of the world may not be necessarily true, other non-systematic images may prove equally true. This notion further demerits the theory since it implies that the society, which is seen as a totality in the theory, poses no intrinsic unity and is an aggregate of small communities continually emerging and dispersing (Ballonoff, 2010). Hence, any image of unity can be a myth.
Hoo is another critic who has analyzed the system theory in-depth and criticized its role in planning, management and government (Ham, 2011). She disapproved of the theory’s use of unsuitable research methods particularly the use of a quantitative model claiming that it was an inappropriate use of research tools. According to Hoo, the theory did not leave enough room for the human factor because people could act in ways not predicted by the system (Breidbach, 2010).
Despite the heavy criticism facing the systems theory, it is important to note that the theory led to the establishment of elaborate and effective management practices in workplaces (Kwong, 2006). Application of the same theory in modern times can help guide current managers towards understanding the complex workings of managing systems while at the same time implementing other concepts. Therefore, the proposed study area seeks to use the systems theory and reductionism to bring forth the idea of fun at the workplace.
Reductionism centres on observable occurrences and attempts to reduce a given occurrence to uncomplicated components for clear examination and elucidation in a stepwise approach. In the context of fun in the workplace, the reductionist viewpoint enabled the identification of potential problems that could arise from using the system theory in an organization. Therefore, it was concluded that theories contribute to the building of research as well as the identification of potential problems hence equipping the researcher to seek solutions to these problems.
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