A lot of employers now attempt to make work a fun activity, to make the workplace somewhere employees enjoy going to. While there are some clear benefits to doing this in terms of employee engagement and productivity, a recent study also highlights the benefits of a fun workplace in terms of informal learning.
“Most learning at the workplace occurs independently at the desk or with a few other people, not necessarily in a classroom,” the authors say.
Creating a Learning Environment
The paper reminds us that it isn’t necessarily the fun activities themselves that spread the knowledge, but they do create the right kind of environment for people to share knowledge among themselves. They also encourage people to experiment and try new things without worrying about ostracism for any mistakes that emerge.
“You might not think there is this connection between informal learning and fun in the workplace,” the authors say. “It’s easier to make the connection between fun and retention, or fun and performance, to the extent that it leads to creativity — but fun and learning don’t seem connected at the face of it. 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.”
The fun activities the team looked for were the traditional sort that managers often deploy to try and boost happiness levels, ranging from team building exercises to simple celebrations of achievements.
Managerial Support for Fun
The team was also looking for whether the managers specifically supported fun in the workplace, and interestingly, it emerged that this was crucially important for fostering informal learning.
“There’s a lot of talk in the literature about a manager’s support for learning, or creating a climate for learning, and how that makes a culture for learning where workers learn from one another,” the authors say. “What we’re showing is that this fun on the job actually matters as much as — or even more — than that support for learning.”
This is because fun is a great way for employees to bond, which has a knock-on effect of making learning more likely. As groups become closer and more cohesive, individuals gain a greater understanding of each other and are more confident in sharing knowledge.
The findings remind us that we should be wary of regarding fun as somehow external, or even detrimental, to employee productivity. Various studies have already highlighted the boost to things such as resiliency and optimism fun can bring, and this latest study brings learning into the mix.
Of course, this shouldn’t mean managers regard fun as a catch-all device that can cure all manner of ills, but rather something that can be very effective when used selectively.
“With most management tactics, there are always going to be pros and cons,” the authors conclude. “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.”