If a study that was released last month is anything to go by, ensuring that you have fun while working can make all the difference in establishing a good working culture and helping employees do their jobs better.
The study, titled ‘Does fun promote learning? The relationship between fun in the workplace and informal learning’ published in Journal of Vocational Behaviour, concludes that informal learning is a common pathway for employees to learn the skills needed to improve their work. However, it is important to note that the study observed that the ‘fun’ in itself isn’t as important, as is the environment it creates that facilitates learning.
Conducted by Michael Tewis, associate professor at Penn State University, John Michel, associate professor at Loyola University and Raymond Noe, professor at Ohio State University, the study surveyed 206 managers from a chain of casual dining restaurants. The survey was designed to understand how managers viewed fun activities, how much support they elicited from their bosses and their outlook to informal learning mechanisms at the restaurants.
The responses helped the authors of the study comprehend whether fun activities, like team-building exercises or recognition celebrations, were encouraged by management and if there was support for having fun while at work.
The study established the many benefits of having fun at work, and learning in an unstructured manner; outside of a classroom. It noted that employees who work in fun environments are more willing to try new things, and take on lesser stress at work. Furthermore, positive connections were noticed between fun and retention, or fun and performance and although not directly, but also fun and learning. Contrary to the popular notion that fun activities serve as a disruption to the normal routine, and can distract employees from working, the study says that they actually have the ability to increase “employee resiliency and optimism, which in turn leads to better attention on tasks.”
Furthermore, the study says that since conducting fun activities can bring otherwise oblivious co-workers together, they serve as a learning platform, without either the teacher or recipient realising it to be one. "It creates this group cohesion... when there's fun, then the co-workers may be able to get to know each other, have better connections, and be more apt to help each other.”, says Michael Tews, author of the study.
The study also adds a note of caution, saying that fun should not be considered as the cure-all medicine for workplace performance issues, stating a previous research conducted by the same author which found that fun might increase retention, but it could also hurt productivity if not balanced correctly. Hence, the authors suggest the employers to be selective in how they use fun to encourage learning and increasing productivity. "With most management tactics, there are always going to be pros and cons," Tews said. "There's never going to be a perfect workplace, there's never going to be a perfect management intervention, so you have to choose your battles."
Tews concludes, “Most learning at the workplace occurs independently at the desk, or with a few other people, not necessarily in a classroom... The gist of this argument, though, is that when you have a workplace that is more fun, it creates a safe environment for learning to occur... What we're showing is that this fun on the job actually matters as much as or even more than that support for learning. The authors of the study write that “The key practical implication is that organizations should consider fun as a viable strategy to promote informal learning beyond traditional learning supports. At the same time, organizations should consider the personality of their learners to ensure fun has its intended impact.”