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Should work be fun?

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Should work be fun?

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We live in an age where getting the most out of our army of knowledge workers is key to our success.  Coupled with this however is generally dismal figures on employee engagement around the world, leading to a lack of motivation, poor performance and high employee turnover.

It seems intuitive to assume that if we can make work more fun that our ills would be solved.  After all, I’ve written previously about how important it is to love what you do, that this love is paramount if we’re to seek out the new knowledge we require to keep abreast of the rapidly changing environment we find ourselves in.

The thing is, managers can often fall into the trap of believing fun and enjoyment at work is something that can be constructed.  A University of Pennsylvania study earlier this year highlighted the perils of so called forced fun at work.  It suggested that games at work only deliver performance boosts if employees are already predisposed to enjoying those kind of games outside of work.  If they’re not, the results can be disastrous.

A second study, this time from Penn State, has delved deeper into fun at work and the outcomes that often result.  The research team surveyed workers in the restaurant industry about items related to different aspects of fun at work.  This data was then cross matched against sales performance and employee turnover data.

In the survey, questions related to “fun activities” focused on social events, such as holiday parties and picnics; teambuilding activities, such as company-sponsored athletic teams; competitions, such as sales contests; public celebrations of work achievements; and recognition of personal milestones, such as birthdays and weddings.

Three main findings emerged from the research:

  1. Firstly, managerial support for fun lowered employee turnover, especially amongst younger employees.
  2. Secondly, fun activities increase sales performance, especially amongst older employees
  3. Finally, managerial support for fun lowers sales performance across all age groups

“The take-home message is that fun can work, but it’s not a panacea,” the researchers said. “You really have to think about what outcome you are trying to achieve, and you also have to consider the characteristics of your workers.”Of course, none of this explored how to actually go about making work more interesting and meaningful to begin with, which I’d suggest is a far more sustainable mechanism for both improved retention and better performance than forced fun activities.

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