Public Release: 13-Dec-2016
Workplace fun is fundamental for learning on the job
All work and no play may dull on-the-job learning at workplaces, according to a team of researchers.
In a study, having fun at work was significantly related to informal learning, which includes most unstructured, non-classroom forms of learning, said Michael Tews, associate professor of hospitality management. Informal learning is a common way employees pick up lessons that can improve their job performances.
"Most learning at the workplace occurs independently at the desk, or with a few other people, not necessarily in a classroom," said Tews.
He added that it may not be the fun activities themselves that instill the new lessons, but how fun creates a better learning environment. People in fun work environments are more inclined to try new things and not fear possible mistakes, for example.
"You might not think there is this connection between informal learning and fun in the workplace," said Tews. "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. 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."
Fun can also bring coworkers together, which, in turn aids learning between workers.
"It creates this group cohesion," said Tews. "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."
While fun is often looked at as a distraction by managers, it may improve a worker's resiliency and optimism, leading to better attention with tasks, according to Tews, who worked with John W. Michel, associate professor of business and management, Loyola University, and Raymond A. Noe, professor of management and human resources, Ohio State University.
However, fun is not a cure-all for workplace productivity and learning, Tews cautioned. In earlier research, he found that fun had a favorable effect on promoting employee retention, but could cause productivity to suffer. Managers, then, 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," said Tews. "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."