The idea of workplace fun seems positive, straightforward and simple but emerging research suggests a surprising complexity and ambiguity to this concept. Drawing on recent literature and empirical data, the purpose of this paper is to use three different forms of workplace fun: managed, organic and task fun to examine the relationship between fun and workplace engagement.
Using an ethnographic approach, the qualitative data originated from four different New Zealand organizations, within different industries. Organizations included a law firm, a financial institution, an information technology company and a utility services provider. Data for this study were collected from semi-structured interviews with a range of participants in each company. In total 59 interviews were conducted with approximately 15 originating from each of the four organizations. One full-time month was spent within each company experiencing the everyday life and behaviours at all levels of each organization. The specific focus of the research is organizational culture and humour and during analysis findings emerged that linked to engagement, fun, disengagement and the concept of flow.
This paper offers exploratory findings that suggest some specific connections between the concepts of fun and engagement. Empirical connections between these concepts are not currently apparent in either engagement or fun research, yet the data suggest some firm associations between them. The exploratory findings suggest that some forms of workplace fun offer individual employees a refreshing break which creates positive affect. Participants perceive that such affect results in greater workplace and task engagement. Additionally the data show that some people experience their work tasks as a form of fun and the authors link this to a specific form of engagement known as “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975; Moneta, 2010). The authors suggest an organizational-level effect, where workplace fun creates enjoyment which stimulates greater overall engagement with the team, unit or organization itself. Conversely the data also suggest that for some people managed or organic fun (see Plester et al., 2015) creates distraction, disharmony or dissonance that disrupts their flow and can foster disengagement.
The ambiguity and complexity in the relationship between these concepts is an emerging topic for research that offers a variety of implications for scholars and practitioners of HRM and organizational behaviour. The authors contend that workplace fun potentially offers practitioners opportunities for fostering a climate of high engagement which may include most employees and thus create additional workplace benefits. Additionally through highlighting employee reactions to different types of fun we suggest ways of avoiding employee disengagement, disharmony and cynicism and the associated negative effects.
The concept of fun is not empirically linked with current engagement research and the authors assert that workplace fun is an important driver of employee engagement. The authors identity engagement at the individual task level and further extend engagement research by emphasizing that fun has the potential to create engagement at the team, unit or organizational level. These differing levels of engagement have not thus far been differentiated in the extant literature.
The authors would like to thank Professor Peter Boxall for his guidance in the early stages of developing this paper. The authors also would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and encouragement and similarly Editor Dennis Nickson for his guidance.
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