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Beware the Perils of Forced Fun in the Workplace

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Beware the Perils of Forced Fun in the Workplace

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It used to be that the idea of fun in the workplace revolved around so called team building exercises, the like of which made a wealth of rich material for sitcoms like The Office.  The dot-com era reshaped our view of fun in the workplace, with many a web company installing all sorts of things in their offices to help employees let off steam.  The rise of gamification in the workplace has taken this to a whole new level, as managers try and weave competition into our daily life.

A newstudyby the University of Pennsylvania reveals however the stark contrast between games employees happily engage in of their own accord vs games that are mandated by management.

The study saw nearly 250 employees at a technology company split into two groups.  The first group were asked to participate in games at work, whilst the second were not.  The game in question was basketball themed, with employees earning points by closing deals with customers.  For instance, closing a hot lead would be a 2 point score, whilst closing a cold lead would be a 3 pointer.  At the end of the 18 day competition, the winning team got some bubbly.

To gauge levels of motivation and engagement, employees in both groups were surveyed before and after the competition on things such as general motivation, attitude towards the game, impact upon productivity and so on.  This data was then compared against the actual sales and performance data of both groups.

The results make telling reading for anyone considering games in the workplace.  The researchers found that when employees were keen on games outside of work, their performance grew strongly.  When employees resisted the game playing though, the results were pretty awful, with both sales figures and general wellbeing taking a nosedive.

What’s equally interesting is that actual performance in the game did little to influence levels of employee engagement.  The winners in the game were only very slightly more likely to be happy than the losers.

So for managers thinking of deploying games in the workplace, it presents something of a dilemma.  If employees are generally well disposed towards games, then forcing them to take part is not likely to be a problem.  If not however then you may see morale suffer as a result.  The researchers suggest a solution could be to ask for input from employees before launching a work based competition.

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