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Loosen Up! Having Fun at Work Is Good for Culture

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  • Studies have determined that permitting employees to have fun at work makes them likely to perform better at their jobs.
  • Work learning is more likely to happen alongside co-workers instead of in a regimented classroom setting.
  • Create fun at work by encouraging socialization. Arrange for happy hours, corporate fun days and pizza nights.

Letting your employees have more fun around the office could make them better at their jobs, research suggests.

A study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior discovered a link between informal learning, which is a common way employees pick up new skills that improve their job performance, and having fun at work.

Michael Tews, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at Penn State University, said informal learning includes most unstructured, non-classroom forms of education.

"Most learning at the workplace occurs independently at the desk, or with a few other people, not necessarily in a classroom," Tews said in a statement

The study's authors believe it's not necessarily the fun activities themselves that teach the new lessons to employees. Instead, they think it's the fun atmosphere that creates a better learning environment. 

Tews said employees in fun work environments are more willing to try new things and not stress about mistakes they may make.

"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 doesn't seem connected at the face of it," he said. "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 study's authors said the research revealed that while fun could be considered a distraction, it actually has the ability to improve employee resilience and optimism, which leads to better attention to tasks.

Fun also has the potential to bring co-workers together, which can foster learning among colleagues.

"It creates this group cohesion," Tews said. "So, 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."

For the study, the researchers surveyed 206 managers from a chain of casual dining restaurants. The surveys had the managers rate fun activities, their own bosses' support for fun, their attitude and informal learning at their restaurants.

The questions were designed to determine if management supported fun activities, such as team-building exercises and recognition celebrations, and how much overall support there was for fun on the job.

The study's authors discovered that fun has more of an impact on employee learning than whether an employer has created a climate for learning.

"What we're showing is that this fun on the job actually matters as much as – or even more than – that support for learning," Tews said.

The study's authors note, however, that fun cannot cure everything wrong with workplace performance. Tews' previous research found that while fun can increase employee retention, it also has the possibility to hurt productivity.

Based on the current and past research, Tews believes employers should be selective in how they use fun to encourage learning and productivity.

"With most management tactics, there are always going to be pros and cons," he 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."

Although Tews believes that, moving forward, it would be beneficial to examine other groups of employees, he does think that this current study supports the notion that fun has instrumental value in the workplace.

The study was co-authored by John Michel, an associate professor at Loyola University, and Raymond Noe, a professor at Ohio State University.

Creating more opportunities for fun at work tends to boost company morale. People are more prone to put effort into an activity they find enjoyable. If you don't make your employees' happiness a priority, you will notice a lack of productivity. Here are a few ways to create a fun and happy workplace.

  • Add games in the breakroom. Games aren't only for kids. Breakrooms should never be sterile places with only tables and chairs for decoration. Fill the space with interesting things, such as brainteaser toys like Rubik's cubes, board games, and adult coloring books. If you have the budget, spring for a television and a game console like an Xbox.

  • Create opportunities for socializing outside of work. Set up a happy hour once a month, or book tickets to attend a baseball game together. If your employees become friends, they are more likely to be happy in their positions.

  • Celebrate victories both big and small. Reward team members for a job well done. This could mean treating them to pizza one night after work or awarding comp time. Make sure you provide positive feedback more often than negative to keep an upbeat vibe at work.

  • Encourage a healthy mindset. Many workplaces are starting initiatives to help employees stay physically and mentally healthy. This could mean offering a discount for gym membership or arranging a workshop with a fitness instructor. Exercise helps reduce employee stress, and attending workouts together can be fun.
Business News Daily Editor

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