Questions and Answers about Fun at Work

 
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
Questions and Answers about
Fun at Work
Robert C. Ford, University of Central Florida; Frank S. McLaughlin, University of North Florida; John W. Newstrom,
University of Minnesota-Duluth

          ecently, much has been said about "tun at work" environments and their importance for employee

 R        morale and productivity. Yet, there is no serious empirical or theoretical work on the nature or con-
          sequences of having fun in organizations. In this article we discover, through the eyes of practicing
          human resource managers, what a fun work environment is, its component characteristics, and its
advantages for employees, work teams, and organizations. We also discover the specific types of things these
human resource managers' organizations use to promote a fun work environment. Data were gathered from
a national e-mail survey of human resource managers. There were 572 usable replies. The human resource
managers strongly favor promoting a fun work environment because they believe such environments offer
great benefits both to the individual and the organization. To them, fun working environments are here to stay,
not just another passing managerial fad.

18   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
Hardly a day goes by without reading an inter-          Disney, 1994. p. 80). Disney worked hard to
view wilh a prominent executive or hearing a               instill this philosophy as a core value of the com-
knowledgeable observer suggest that having fun             pany he created, and the Walt Disney Corporation
at work is important for employee morale and               is still an exemplar of customer service today.
productivity (see, for example: Meyer, 1999;                   Although the frequency of its discussion in
Strand, 2000; Workforce. 2000; and Zbar, 1999).            the popular press indicates there is much practi-
Authors of popular business books add further              tioner interest on this topic, there is no serious
support for the importance of having fun at work.          empirical or theoretical work on the nature or
These include Tom Peter's In Pursuit of Wow                consequences of having fun in organizations.
{1994). Deal and Key's Corporate Celebration               There is not even a generally accepted definition
{1998). Schneider and BowenVs Winning the                  of what constitutes a fun work environment or
Service Game (1995). and Kouzes and Posner"s               any agreement on what an organization can do
The Leadership Challenge (1995). Kouzes and                to promote a fun work setting. While there are
Posner exemplify the general theme of these writ-          some who write about play, humor, and a positive
ers by concluding, "If you—and others—aren't               organizational culture, the lack of any specific
having fun doing what you're doing, chances are            definition of a fun work environment means the
people aren't doing the best they can do" (p. 59).         many discussions of its importance lack general
Similar sentiments are echoed by many writers in           application or specific ideas as to what works and
the trade press (see, for example: Boczany, 1985;          what does not.
Casison, 2000; Gordon, 1992;              ^ ^ ^ ^
                                                           ^^^^^^           The purpose of this article is to dis-
Hemsath, 1997; Kitchel, 1996;                ^ ^ ^                       cover, through the eyes of practicing
Mariotti, 1999; McGhee, 2000;                                            human resource managers, what is a
                                            Southwest knows
Millis, 1999; and National                                               fun work environment, its component
Underwriter. 1999).                         that  if it is  to           characteristics, and its advantages
    Fun also gets strong endorsements                                    for employees, work teams, and orga-
                                            achieve its core
from respected practitioners. Chili's                                    nizations. We also discover the specif-
fonner CEO, Norm Brinkcr. acknowl-          principle, "Make             ic activities these human resource
edges the importance of creating a          flying fun," for its managers report are done by their
fun work environment in his book.                                        organizations to promote a fun work
On the Brink {Brinker & Phillips,           customers, it                environment. We oriented our study
 1996), by stating, "If you have fun at     must make its                to address eight questions that the
what you do, you'll never work a day                                     current body of writing on fun at
in your life. Make work like play—          employees* jobs              work leaves unanswered.
and play like hell" (p, 195). Freiberg      fun first.                       Human resource managers were
and Freiberg (1996) add further                                          chosen for this survey for two reasons.
emphasis to the importance of having fun at                First, they are typically responsible for adminis-
work. They describe the type of people Southwest           tering programs that focus on increasing the value
Airlines seeks in its hiring process: "First and           of the organization's human resources, and they
foremost. Southwest Airlines looks for a sense             carefully study the impact that various programs
of humor....We look for attitudes; people with a           and activities have on those human resources.
sense of humor who don't take themselves too               Thus, more than any other member of the man-
seriously....with other-directed, outgoing person-         agement team, they are most likely to be aware
alities, individuals who become part of an extended        of how employees feel about their working envi-
family of people, who work hard and have fun at            ronment and how that environment, including its
the same time" (p. 67). Southwest knows that if            .sense of being a fun workplace, affects behavior
it is to achieve its core principle. "Make flying          and attitudes at work. Second, probably more
fun," for its customers, it must make its employ-          than any other potential group to survey, they
ees' jobs fun first.                                       have thought about what actually makes or could
    Walt Disney, the man who established the               make their organization a fun place to work.
benchmark of service for service organizations,                Data were gathered, with permission, through
knew the importance of having fun at work as               a national e-mail survey of members of the
reflected in his statement. "You don't work for a          Society for Human Resource Management
dollar—you work to create and have fun" (Walt              (SHRM). (See the Appendix for a condensed

                                                                                                                 HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING   19
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
version of the survey questionnaire.)                  may be seen as good news, it really is not. When
                           Approximately 4.000 randomly selected members          considered in light of the other two questions, it
                           received a questionnaire asking for their opinion      likely means that while these respondents thought
                           on issues related to fun at work. There were 572       their company was somewhere about average, it
                           usable replies. Selected demographic characteris-      was not very good. In other words, they believe
                           tics of the respondents, such as age and geographic    that even though their organizations were no
                           location, were statistically compared with the         better or worse than others, they still had a long
                           total membership of SHRM and no significant            way to go to be the kind of fun work environment
                           differences were found. The question.s focu.sed        they felt was desirable.
                           on managerial concerns about whether or not
                           creating a fun work environment was worth              What Makes a Work
                           whatever time and effort it would take. We hoped       Environment Fun?
                           to discover if the reasons offered by the many
                           writers arguing in favor of promoting fun at work         One of the more challenging issues for manager
                           were valid. Although we offer descriptive data,        wishing to create a fun work environment is to
                           our results add an important new understanding         determine exactly what makes a work environment
                           to this largely unstudied issue.                       fun. Academic literature offers little guidance, so
                                                                                  the effort to determine which activities contribute
                           Are Employees Having as Much                           to a fun work environment relies heavily on the
                           Fun at Work as Managers Think                          anecdotal practitioner literature and consultants'
                                                                                  books (see. for example: Hemsath &
                           They Should?                                           Yerkes.l997:Weinstein. 1996; Yerkes. 2001.)
                              The simple answer is no. Our human resource         One writer suggests workplace morale and pro-
                           manager sample was asked to compare what they          ductivity improve when introducing quirky
                           thought the level of fun ought to be in their orga-    workplace activities, group lunches, or after-hours
                           nizations compared to their perception of the          outings (Hale. 2002). Others suggest Halloween
                           actual level of fun they thought their employees       partie.s—according to a SHRM Benet"its survey,
                           were having. The responses show that the report-       more than one-third of reporting organizations
                           ed level of fun in organizations is surprisingly       offered some sort of Halloween celebration
                           low. Less than a fourth thought the amount was         (Lucas, 2000). Although many creative sugges-
                           about right. On the other hand, three-fourths          tions are made, we wanted to learn what organi-
                           thought their employees were having less fun           zations seeking to introduce fun into their work
                           at work than they should. Only three percent           environments actually do to create this fun.
                           indicated there was too much fun in their organi-         To obtain this data, the questionnaire con-
                           zations. To expand on this question, managers          tained 10 general categories of fun activities
                           were also asked how often employees should             frequently mentioned in the literature as good
                           be able to experience fun in their organizations.      ways to promote a fun work environment. These
                           More than 75 percent of the respondents indicated      10 items included celebrations, entertainment,
                           employees should have this opportunity frequently      playing games, having friendly competitions.
                           or often. On the opposite side of this issue,          social events, and humor, interestingly, humor
                           less than three percent of the respondents said        and play have their own literature (see. for
                           infrequently or never.                                 example, Duncan, et al.. 1990). In addition, our
                               Finally, as one more approach to answering         respondents received a separate list of 23 specific
                           this question, the managers were asked, on a           items to determine if they used any or all of these
                           scale of I to 10. how they rated their organiza-       items to create a fun work environment in their
                           tions with regard to its fun work environment.         organizations. Finally, a "write-in" provision
                           Approximately one-fifth of the respondents rated       allowed the respondents to list as many as three
                           their organizations with a score of three or less      additional activities their organizations used that
                           and approximately the same number rated their          were not already mentioned. These three mea-
                           firm at eight or better. The remainder of the          sures gave us a fairly comprehensive answer to
                           respondents rated their organizations in the middle.   the question about what types and frequencies of
                           which we interpret as meaning they think their         activities these human resource managers use to
                           own organizations are about average. While that        det~me what creates a fun work environment.

20   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
Frequency of Activities That Contribute to a Fun Work Environment
 Category of Activities                                                                            Mean Scores

 Recognition of personal milestones (e.g., birthdays, hiring anniversiiries)                             3.4
 Sociai events (e.g.. picnies. parties, social gatherings)                                               3.2
 Public celebrations of professional achievements (e.g., award banquets)                                 3.2
 Opportunities for community volunteerism (e.g., civic groups)                                           2.8
 Stress release activities (e.g., exercise facilities, massages)                                         2.6
 Humor (e.g., cartoons, jokes in newsletters, emails)                                                    2,4
 Games(e.g., dans, bingo, company-sponsored athlelic teams)                                              2.2
 Friendly competitions among employees (e.g., attendance, sales contests)                                2.2
 Opportunities for personal development (e.g., quilting class, book club)                                2.0
 Entertainment (e.g., bands, skits, plays)                                                                1.9

   U.sing the list (if general categories of fun                   Entertainment was the least used of the categories.
activities, the respondents rated each item on its                     The results presented in Exhibit 2 give more
frequency of use. Responses were made on a 5-                      details about what specifically creates a fun work
point scale that ranged from "not at all" (1) to                   environment. Respondents were asked to indicate
•"extensively" (5), and mean scores were devel-                    whether their organizations participated in 23
oped to report the results. As seen in Exhibit I,                  different activities that we found mentioned in
the three most frequently practiced categories of                  the popular literature. Exhibit 2 is divided into
activities related to personal milestones, followed                two groups. The first group includes those items
closely by fun social events and public celebrations               reported as used by more than 80 percent of the
of professional achievements. The mean scores on                   respondents. The most frequently mentioned or
the Exhibit also reveal the lack of general use of                 "big three" were casual dress days, employee
even these popularly mentioned activities to pro-                  recognition and rewards, and company-provided
mote a fun work environment. A "3" represents a                    food and refreshments.
middle-range score, so it is surprising to see the
                                                                        The second group lists less frequently used
lack of strong support for even obvious types of
                                                                     activities, but still used by one-fifth to one-half of
celebratory activities that promote fun at work.
                                                                     the reporting organizations. In this category are a

 Percentage of Organizations Using Fun Activities
 Frequently Used Activities                                                                             Percent Using

 C'asuiii dress diiys                                                                                           84
 Employee recognition and rewards                                                                               83
 Company-provided food and refreshments                                                                         82
 Less Frequently Used Strategies                    -^^^^^.

 Bring-your-child-to- work day                                                                                  44
 Costumes days (e.g., iigly socks or Halloween Costumes)                                                        39
 Release time for community projects (e.g.. habitat, bkx)d drives)                                              34
 Photos and funny captions (e.g., most beautiful baby cotitests)                                                27
 Special props (e.g., balloons, flowers, hats, signs)                                                           24
 Fun (or "joy'") committees                                                                                     2t
 Exercise room                                                                                                  21
 Creative skits and songs for company events                                                                    20

                                                                                                                              HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING   21
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
wide array of activities that span many interesting    variety of different names. These included weight
                           ideas as to what contributes to a fun work envi-       clubs, weight watchers, weight reduction clubs,
                           ronment. These include tbe obvious activities of       and Jack Sprat.
                           having costume dress-up days, using funny props           There is no shortage of efforts to do things
                           to liven up the work environment, and creating         that arc fun. Many of these ideas still follow the
                           committees ot employees (fun committees) who           old tradition of using meals or eating together as
                           are responsible for lightening up the work envi-       a way to celebrate important occasions and signi-
                           ronment. Also in this category are less obvious        fy friendship and fellowship. Whatever these
                           items such as bring-your-child-to-work days,           managers believe are the activities that lead to
                           employee release time for community projects,          a fun work environment, they are still fairly
                           and exercise rooms.                                    well focused on traditional celebratory events
                               The remaining 12 items, not shown in the           involving food.
                           Exhibit, were activities used by between 3 and 19
                           percent of the responding managers and included         Definition
                           such things as hiring professional entertainers,            To summarize what can be learned from these
                           creating employee musical groups, and offering          three different efforts to capture whai character-
                           employees stress-reduction rooms.                       izes a fun work environment, there are many
                               These responses tell us two important things:       different definitions and little consensus as to
                           I) nearly everyone does three specific                               what is involved in creating a fun
                           activities to promote a fun work envi-                               work environment. The most com-
                           ronment; 2) there is a wide variation      Many    of these          mon strategies involve celebrations
                           in the other activities organizations                                or special events accompanied by
                                                                      ideas still follow
                           offer to create a fun work environment.                              food.  There are other activities such
                           There is no widespread consensus as        the   old tradition       us community work projects and
                           to which activities work best. Indeed,                               exercise programs that at first glance
                                                                      of using meals or
                           the top three activities seem relatively                             seem to be unusual ways to promote
                           traditional. These results also re-        eating together           a fun work environment. Doing these
                           emphasize the diversity of opinion         as a way to cele-         supports the idea that a fun work
                           about what makes a fun work envi-                                    environment represents a combina-
                           ronment fun as seen in Exhibit I.          brate important           tion of factors that collectively add
                                                                      occasions and sig-        up to tangibly and publicly showing
                               In a separate section of our ques-
                                                                                                concern for the person, that person's
                           tionnaire, the respondents had three       nify friendship           achievements and worth, and the
                           open-ended opportunities to provide
                                                                      and fellowship.           desire  to make that person believe
                           other examples of what their organi-
                                                                                                that the organization is a good place
                           zations did to create a fun work
                                                                                                to be. The respondents seem to
                           environment. This led to one of the
                                                                                   believe that the cumulative impact of these
                           most surprising results of the study. In a world of
                                                                                   diverse types of "fun" activities is to create a
                           time-pressured people, over 30 percent of these
                                                                                   corporate culture that shows a sense of apprecia-
                           busy human resource managers took the time to
                                                                                   tion of and respect for the employee and that
                           write down over 4(X) different items. While many
                                                                                   will allow that person to conclude that this
                           of these were variations of items already on the
                                                                                   organization is a fun place to work.
                           list, these managers offered additional unique and
                           novel ways their organizations were promoting               On the basis of what these respondents report-
                           fun at work.                                            ed, we offer the following working definition of a
                              The majority of these items represented some        fun work environment: "A fun work environment
                           way of celebrating a personal achievement or           intentionally encourages, initiates, and supports a
                           having some unique social event. Most of these         variety of enjoyable and pleasurable activities that
                           included food. Company picnics were written in         positively impact the attitude and productivity
                           27 times, more than any other item. Other food         of individuals and groups." This might be more
                           events including chili cook-offs, Friday buffets,      succinctly stated as "a work environment that
                           anniversary dinners, donuts together, and ice          makes people smile." These responding managers
                           cream socials. Interestingly, "food reduction'"        indicate that a fun work setting is created through
                           activities were also mentioned frequently under a      actions, including funny, humorous, or playful

22   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
activities, that publicly communicate manage-          job satisfaction, and levels of experiencing pleas-
ment's belief to the employee that the personal        ant emolions and mood.s (Diener. 1999). Other
and professional accomplishments he or she has         authors, like Perrin (1998), state that, "Common
achieved are valued by the organization. While         sense supports the theory that having fun at
this definition seems similar in many ways to          work helps generate profitable business" (p. 40).
traditional motivation theory and its explanation      She suggests other important benefits for the
of the factors that lead to job satisfaction, a fun    organization such as lower turnover and fewer
work environment goes beyond mere job satisfac-        stres.s-related problems.
tion. Our respondents report a broad array of             This question then is an important one for
activities that collectively communicate a sense       managers to answer. The organization does not
of pleasantness, happiness, and positive well-         want to create problems for itself or its people by
being that makes working not only satisfying           promoting a fun work environment. On the other
but also tun.                                          hand, it does wish to gain benefits sufficient to
                                                       offset any costs it incurs in promoting a fun work
What Are the Advantages and                            environment. Thus, we a.sked managers several
                                                       questions about the advantages and disadvantages
Disadvantages of a Fun                                 writers and observers associate with a fun work
Environment for the                                    environment. Responses were made on a five-
Organization?                                          point scale with response categories ranging from
                                                       "substantial decrease" to "substantial increase."
   An increasing body of evidence indicates that       The results are given in Exhibits 3. The top part
a positive organizational environment or fun work      of the Exhibit lists potential advantageous out-
culture is a valuable asset for organizations (Ford    comes, and the bottom part lists potential disad-
& Heaton. 2000). Luthans (2002) talks about            vantageous outcomes of endorsing and creating
the value of subjective well being (SWB) as a          a fun work environment. One column of results
                                                       combines "substantial and moderate increases"
contributor to a positive organizational behavior.
                                                       responses (improvement), and the second column
The linkage between working in a fun work envi-
                                                       of results combines "substantial and moderate
ronment and having a sense of well being seems
                                                       increases" responses with "no effect" responses
somewhat obvious and the SWB concept incorpo-
                                                       (improvement and no change).
rates a number of factors such as life satisfaction.

 Effect of Fun Work Environments on Organizations
                                                                              Percent Reporting
 Advantage                                                              Improvement       Improvement
                                                                                         and No Change
 Attract new employees                                                       94                  97
 Communications among employees                                              92                  96
 Commilment to the organization                                              88                  97
 Cusiomer satisfaction                                                       87                  96
 Strength of corporate culture                                               85                  96
 Employee turnover                                                           78                  87
 Quality of employee productivity                                            74                  93
 Absenteeism rates                                                           72                  78
 Speed of learning new tasks during training                                 59                  85
 I'ndcrstaniJing of organization's mission                                   55                  93
 Disadvantage                                                                OMEnHBraSliw||llj»ia|||

 Accident rates                                                              mmmm•Hi
 Professionalism at work                                                     45
                                                                             33                  77
                                                                                                 86
 Frequency of employee errors                                                32                  88
 Cost of operations                                                          28                  64
 Repons of sexual harassment                                                 21                  8t
 Equipment damage by playfulness                                             14                  84

                                                                                                             HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING   23
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
In sum, Exhibit 3 shows the respondents               These responses are encouraging and lead us
                           believe a fun work environment has a positive           to conclude there are few or no disadvantages to
                           impact by improving advantageous outcomes               promoting a fun work environment and some real
                           and a lesser but still positive effect on disadvanta-   advantages. Creating a fun work environment is
                           geous outcomes. Human resource managers see             worth serious consideration by all managers. The
                           little negative impact of any of the items measured.    degree to which people find working in a fun
                           even on the disadvantageous outcomes.                   work environment makes the organization a desir-
                               This list offers some good news and some            able  place to work is important.
                           better news. The good news is that the advantages           Lawler (1992) notes several of the factors we
                           claimed in the literature are seen by the responding    assessed in our study as important contributors to
                           managers as positive advantages for their organi-       a high-involvement organization. In his review of
                           zations. These managers believe having fun at           the types of rewards high-involvement organiza-
                           work leads to a number of beneficial outcotnes,         tions should make available to employees, he
                           such as a greater ability to attract new employees,     states, "When work units are successful, managers
                           improved turnover and absenteeistii, better com-        should be sure that everyone involved is acknowl-
                           munication among employees, greater employee            edged and that celebrations and other forms of
                           comtTiitment to the organization, an improved           recognition occur. This recognition can be some-
                           organizational culture, and ;in increase in             thing as small as a pizza for everyone; a day of
                           customer satisfaction. The high per-                                  casual attire: a chance to go home
                           centage agreements shown in Exhibit                                   early; a meeting in which a senior
                           3 offer strong support for the idea          According to             manager acknowledges the employ-
                           that organizations can gain several                                   ees' good work: or a special party,
                           important advantages from promoting          these respon-
                                                                                                 dinner or weekend excursion" (p. 195).
                           fun at work.                                 dents, even the          Later, he adds, "A skilled high
                               On the other side of this issue          perceived disad-         involvement manager needs to devel-
                           is the respondents' evaluation of                                     op the ability to give social rewards to
                                                                        vantages of pro-
                           the items noted in the literature as                                  groups and individuals who perform
                           disadvantages of having a fun work           moting a fun             particularly well" (p. 195). Our data
                           environment. Here the good news                                       affirm and illustrate the importance of
                                                                        work environment
                           gets even better. According to these                                  these types of factors in creating a fun
                           respondents, even the perceived dis-         are not really           work environment. Indeed, it might be
                           advantages of promoting ;i fun work                                   argued that a fun work environment is
                                                                        disadvantages.
                           environment are not really disadvan-                                  the result of the successful practice of
                           tages. Indeed, as indicated in the                                    high-involvement management.
                           •'Improvement or No Change" column, no
                           expected disadvantage item gets fewer than six
                           out of 10 respondents agreeing that having fun
                                                                                    What Are the Advantages and
                           at work either improves the situation or has no          Disadvantages of a Fun
                           effect at all.                                           Environment for the Employee?
                               With the exception of the somewhat obvious
                           "cost of operations," the other noted disadvan-             The other side of the organization's equation
                           tages were clustered around 80 percent where             relates to the advantages and disadvantages for
                           the respondents believed the situation would be          the employee and his or her work group. Here
                           improved iti a fun work environment or would             again, existing literature generally supports the
                           have not been affected at all. In a separate calcu-      idea that there are both advantages and disadvan-
                           lation (not reported in the exhibit), the disadvan-      tages for the employee. It is believed that happy
                           tages leaned in the direction of indicating that any     or satisfied workers suffer less stress, show high-
                           effect a fun work environment has on the expect-         er levels of organizational citizen behaviors, miss
                           ed disadvantages may in fact be positive. In other       less work, are more creative, and have better,
                           words, rather than increasing accidents, equip-          more rewarding friendships at work than those
                           ment damage, cost of operating, or even reports          who are not happy. Based on this literature, we
                           of sexual harassment, fun work environments              asked the surveyed managers to indicate what
                           tended slightly to lessen these possible negatives.      they thought the advantages and disadvantages of

24   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
Effect of Fun Work Environments on Employees
                                                                            Percent Reporting
 Advantage                                                            Improvement       Improvement
                                                                                        and No Change
 Employee enthusiasm                                                       95                 %
 Group cohesiveness                                                        94                 97
 Employee satisfaction                                                     96                 96
 Employee creativity                                                       92                 96
 Friendships ai work                                                       91                 91
 Organizational citizenship                                                85                 97
 Employee anxiety and stress                                               84                 85
 Complaints of boredom                                                     82                 87
 Mutual trust among employees                                              79                 97
 Disadvantage
 liiicrpcrsonai conflicts                                                  72                 89
 Respect among coworkers                                                   63                 95
 Respect from higher ups                                                   46                 88
 Work taketi seriously by other departments                                38                 87

a fun work environment were lor their employees.      respondents who believe a fun work environment
Their responses are presented in Exhibit 4, in the    results in improvements in the important individ-
.same format as Exhibit 3.                            ual outcomes.
   Exhibit 4 shows, in descending order, the             The respondents did not see the expected dis-
percentage of managers reporting improvement in       advantages as real disadvantages. The high level
each outcome. A high percentage indicates strong      of agreement that fun work environments lead to
agreement from our respondents that the expected      decreases in interpersonal conflicts dispels the
advantage was an actual advantage. The low per-       popular notion that creating a fun environment
centage numbers seen at the bottom of the table       can cause increases in such conflicts or that work
where the disadvantages are hsted means the           groups that are having fun are not likely to have
respondent saw no increase in the items claimed       the respect of other departments or top manage-
to be disadvantages. Exhibit 4 also includes a col-   ment. The responding managers believe other-
umn representing the combination of substantial,      wise. They indicate that fun work environments
moderate increase, and no change to reflect the       lead to an increa.se, instead of a decrease, in
degree to which our responding human resource         respect from higher-level management and co-
managers saw little negative impact of any of the     workers, and their work is taken seriously by
items measured.                                       other departments.
   Reviewing the advantages and disadvantages             In the opinion of these human resource man-
and the high level of improvement a fun work          agers, the presumed disadvantages of having a
environment can yield, it seems evident these         fun work environment, reported in Exhibit 4, are
managers beheve there are many advantages and         not true. Indeed, when the "no effect" or neutral
few disadvantages to employees of a fun work          percentages are considered, fewer than one out of
environment. The greater than 90 percent positive      10 managers felt any of the items identified from
agreement that a fun work environment leads to        the literature as a disadvantage was a disadvan-
increased employee enthusiasm, group cohesive-        tage in his or her organization. Instead, these
ness, and employee satisfaction is impressive.        respondents felt that the item either led to an
Equally impressive is the degree to which a fun       actual improvement in that factor or had no effect
work environment is believed to be associated         at all. When we calculated average scores for
with increased employee creativity and friend-        these items (not reported in the table), the data
ships at wt)rk. Even the lower- ranked advantages     confirm that the degree to which negatives are
gather agreement from almost eight out of 10          seen as negatives is minimal. These managers

                                                                                                           HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING   25
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
make a compelling case for the value of creating         and friendly competitions. For-profit organizations
                           fun at work for both the organization and the            participate in these activities more frequently than
                           individual.                                              not-for-profits do. Perhaps there is some concern
                                                                                    by not-for-profits that engaging in these types of
                           Do Different Types of                                    fun events and activities will show them to he not
                           Organizations Have Different                             serious enough about their not-for-profit mission
                                                                                    so they tend to avoid them. For the other seven
                           Types and Amounts of Fun?                                fun categories, there is no difference between
                               Are some types of organizations better able to       for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.
                           have fun than others? Some people believe that             Comparing the percentage of the workforce
                           organizations that sell an intangible service pro-     belonging to a union with participation in fun
                           mote fun work environments more than would a           activities is interesting because only fun social
                           manufacturing organization. Others may believe         events and friendly competitions show a signifi-
                           big organizations have less fun than smaller ones      cant and negative relationship. The greater the
                           As part of the questionnaire, we asked our respon      degree of unionization, the lesser the frequency
                           dents about their organization's characteristics       of these two categories of fun. Because many of
                           to identify which ones, if any, relate significantly   the remaining eight types of fun activities may
                           to the amount of fun in their work environment.        fall under a bargaining agreement, the fact that
                           Items included organizational size.                                   they show no difference based on the
                           gender of the workforce, the degree                                   degree to which the work force is
                           of union involvement, whether the           There is an               unionized is curious and worthy of
                           organization was a for-profit or not-                                 further investigation. In a comparison
                           for-profit organization, and the ease       inverse relation-
                                                                                                 of unionization with an assessment of
                           of attracting new employees.                ship between              overall level of fun. the relationship
                               We conducted a statistical analysis     the number of             is also negative: The higher the per-
                           to better understand the direction and                                centage of unionized employees, the
                           depth of the relationships between          employees in the          less likely responding managers will
                           organizational characteristics and the      total organization see their organization as having fun.
                           different types of fun activities that                                    Finally, with regard to the ease of
                           were measured in Exhibit 1. An              and the amount            attracting new employees, almost
                           analysis shows some interesting             of humor, social          every type of fun activity is signifi-
                           things about the relationships                                        cantly related. Those organizations
                                                                       events, and recog- that have an easier time attracting
                           between the types of fun different
                           people seek in different organiza-          nition of personal        new employees do more fun things
                           tions. For example, there is an                                       than  those that have a harder time.
                                                                       milestones.               The   extent  to which this is cause and
                           inverse relationship between the
                           number of employees in the total                                      effect  is unknown,    but the fact that
                           organization and the amount of humor, social           so  many   of these   fun  activities are associated
                           events, and recognition of personal milestones.        with  ease  of  attracting  new   employees   is impor-
                           The higger the organization, the less these            tant to recognize. It seems fair to conclude that
                           activities are used. When the number of                these responding managers believe a fun work
                           employees in a specific unit is analyzed,              environment makes it easier to attract new
                           however, only personal development activities          employees. The reason this is true may be attrib-
                           and fun social events are inversely related to         uted to the positive organizational culture that
                           size. The only activity that si/e of organization      may he associated with such fun activities. It
                           and size of unit have in common is fun social          seems somewhat obvious that prospective
                           events. Both report that bigger means fewer            employees are more likely to he attracted to
                           fun social events.                                     organizations that have positive employment
                                                                                  cultures. The array of fun activities this study
                               Comparing for-profit and non-profit organiza-      assesses can be the foundation of a strategy for
                           tions on the degree to which they participated in      organizations seeking to create a positive and
                           the fun activities listed In Exhibit 1 showed differ-  attractive organizational culture.
                           ences only in the use of games, fun social events.

26   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
Questions and Answers about Fun at Work
Do Different Types of                                         events and parties, and friendly competitions.
                                                              While some of these may be obvious, the reasons
Employees Want Different                                      organizations with older employees offer these
Types and Amounts of Fun?                                     less frequently than organizations with younger
                                                              employees are certainly provocative and worthy
   To expand upon the answer to the prior ques-               of further investigation. In a separate statistical
tion on what types of organizations have what                 comparison, the relationship between age of man-
types of fun, we also sought to find out if a varia-          agers and the overall assessment of the level of
tion in the types of employees had any influence              fun in the organization was also negative. Perhaps
on the types and amount of fun sought in the                  these differences reflect a different age demo-
work environment. Some anecdotal literature                   graphic and the timeless differences between
suggests older employees are less playful than                generations, degree of interest in committing time
younger employees, less-educated employees will               and energy to work-related activities, and overall
Hnd different things to be fun than more educated             energy levels.
employees, men are more playful than women,                       On the other hand, that these same differences
and hourly workers seek more fun and different                do not show up for non-managers creates a differ-
types of fun aetivities than salaried employees.              ent challenge for the non-managerial workforce.
We collected data from the human resources man-               The frequency of these activities offered in
agers to offer some insights on these previously              organizations with younger managers with one
untested beliefs.                                             exception, friendly competitions, does not repeat
   The data show a number of interesting differ-              for younger employees. What younger managers
ences in types and amounts of fun activities                  value as fun activities is not generally reflected
across different employee eharacteristics. For                in the answers representing employees. The type
example, the age distribution of the managers                 and frequency of desired fun activities that appeal
seems to be quite important while the age of                  to younger versus older managers present an
the workforce appears to be much less so.                     interesting challenge for those seeking to effec-
Organizations with older managers participate                 tively manage hoth their managerial and non-
less frequently in five of the 10 types of fun                managerial employees. Managing managers and
activities measured. These include celebrations of            managing employees require different strategies
professional achievements, offering entertainment             to accommodate their differing expectations of
type events, playing games and participating in               types of fun activities desired in the job. It is
company-sponsored athletic events, fun social                 possible that younger managers have a greater

 Rationale for Managerial Resistance to Fun
 Rationale for Resisting                                                                    Percent Agreeing

 Time constraints (I cannot afford the time)                                                        IS2
 Financial costs (ll will cost too much)                                                            72
 Lack of personal creativity (I don't know how to have fun)                                         62
 Fear of looking silly (I do not want to look stupid)                                               60
 Perceived employee apathy (don't think they would care)                                            60
 There is no evidence that it will work (unproven benefits)                                         58
 Fear of non-support from superiors for fun                                                         58
 It is not part of my job                                                                           56
 Fear of losing control if 1 create a little bit of fun                                             55
 Inconsistent with organization's productivity culture                                              55
 Fear someone will take offense or legat action                                                     53
 Some employees will be distracted by fun activities                                                53
 Fear that Department's work would not be taken seriously                                           48

                                                                                                                    HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING   27
awareness that having fun at work can lead to             summarized in Exhibit 5. Each item shows the
                           serious and productive advantages as discussed            percent of the managers that responded positively
                           above under question number three.                        {above neutral) to the question. How likely is it
                               Further analysis of these workforce compari-          that this rationale will cause managerial resistance
                           son of fun activities show some other interesting         to creating a fun work environment?
                           points about the value of fun work environments               These items can be divided into two groups.
                           and differences in educational level. This is true        The   first group represents factors that reflect
                           for both employees and managers. Organizations            a managerial fear that having a fun work
                           with higher levels of educated managers offer             environment will lead to productivity losses,
                           more personal development activities, recognition         create dangerous situations or produce unneces-
                           of personal milestones, and stress relief activities      sary costs. This group contains items like ' i can't
                           than organizations with less educated managers.           afford the time." "it costs too much," and "'there's
                           The only category showing a difference for the            no evidence that it will work." The second group
                           non-exempt workforce is that more educated                represents factors that reflect a fear that having
                           employees work in organizations that offer more           a fun work environment will be seen by others
                           friendly competitions. This same cat- ^ ^ ^ ^ ^           ^  ^ ^ ^ ^ as somehow unprofessional or be
                           egory of fun activities also shows up                                   personally embarrassing. This group
                           as the only significant difference in                                   includes items like. "I don't want to
                                                                        If fun is as
                           age of the non-management work-                                         look stupid." "My supervisor would
                           force. Younger employees are found           important to a             not condone it," and "We are here to
                           in organizations that have more fre-         productive work            work and not play." Each of the thir-
                           quent friendly competitions. Finally,                                   teen items was agreed to by at least
                           in comparing male versus female              environment                forty-eight  percent of the respondents.
                           workforces, organizations offer more                                    One   item. "I cannot afford the time,"
                                                                        ... as these
                           frequent stress release activities to                                   had  eighty-two  percent of the
                                                                        managers say it            responding   managers   agreeing.
                           workforces with higher percentages
                           of female than males. This is an             is, then manage-               While these managers may not be
                           interesting finding that merits further                                 clear as to what exactly constitutes a
                                                                        ment should
                           discussion and investigation, because                                   fun work environment, they are clear
                           it is the only one of the ten activities     increase the               about what inhibits its creation in
                           that shows a significant difference.                                    their organizations. The.se factors
                                                                        level of fun in
                                                                                                   generally center on perceived costs
                           What Inhibits the                            their work                 and the negative perceptions of
                           Creation of a Fun Work                       environments.
                                                                                                   professionalism that a fun work envi-
                                                                                                   ronment may create. These responses
                           Environment?                                                            provide both a road map for creating
                               From the answers to our earlier questions, it is      a fun work environment and a list of the road-
                           clear that most people would like to have more            blocks to any such efforts. If fun is as important
                           fun in their jobs than they are currently having.         to  a productive work environment and as desired
                           They believe that doing so will have beneficial           as  these managers say it is, then management
                           results for them, their work teams, and their orga-       should    increase the level of fun in their work
                           nizations. Much of ihe reason they are not having         environments     by neutralizing the negative percep-
                           the level and kinds of fun that they think should         tions  noted  here.
                           be part of their work environment seems to be                 Our study data do not allow us to make hard
                           due to resistance at the supervisory and manageri-        claims that creating a fun work environment is
                           al levels. Sometimes the resistance can be overt          a proven method for increasing productivity or
                           and sometimes it can be more subtle. In order to          profits. Yet, some of the results from this survey
                           better understand the factors that lead to resistance.     suggest that such positive outcomes are possible.
                           the questionnaire listed thirteen items noted in the       Indeed, when one considers the beliefs of these
                           largely anecdotal literature cited above as factors        responding managers that a fun work environ-
                           that prevent employees from having more fun in             ment has many advantages, it seems reasonable
                           the workplace. Responses were made on a nine-              to suggest that fmding ways to decrease road
                           point scale with scale categories labeled from             blocks to having more fun at work is worth
                           "very likely" to "very unlikely." The results are          serious consideration.

28   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
Some ways that management can signal to            managers. On a less positive note, the respon-
ils employees thai fun work environments are           dents identified other managers as initiators of
desirable are to formally make policy statements       a fun work environment less than one third of
endorsing it and to formally recognize and reward      the time. They believe that creating a fun work
employees and supervisors who promote fun at           environment is a responsibility of the top man-
work. Our respondents tell us that very little is      agement either directly or indirectly through their
currently being done along this line. Less than five   articulation and reinforcement of the corporate
percent report their organizations have a formal       culture. It seems on the basis of their responses
policy relative lo a fun work environment and          that a fun work environment happens only with a
more than ninety-five percent report that there is     commitment by the top management even though
no reward for promoting fun at work. If having         there is some evidence that individual employees
more fun at work is as important as these respon-      who are spirited leaders of fun can also make it
dents believe, there is much work to be done.          happen a significant percentage of the time.
                                                          Southwest Airlines is the classic example of
Who Makes a Work                                       many visible efforts to promote fun taken by its
                                                       famous former CEO, Herh Kelieher. Indeed, the
Environment Fun?                                       quotes at the beginning of this article by Walt
                                                       Disney and Norm Brinker give further evidence
    Who has the responsibility for creating a fun      that these top managers knew iheir role in defin-
work environment? A discussion of this question        ing and sustaining a fun culture both by word
frequently appears in the literature. Most believe     and action.
that it is the CEO's job. For example, the presi-
dent of Brady Corporation. Katherine Hudson
(2001) emphasizes the importance of her role in
                                                       Summary
building a fun culture. She feels that she benefits        The human resource managers responding
greatly by lightening up. and she talks about          to our questionnaire are very much in favor of
doubling sales and tripling income during her          promoting a fun work environment because they
leadership. She concludes. "Our performance is         believe such environments offer great benefits
a sign that a company can be fun and friendly for      both to the individual and the organization. To
its employees and fierce with its competitors. In      them, fun working environments are here to stay
fact, the fun has made us tierce, by making the        and are not just another passing managerial fad.
organization more flexible and dynamic. And. I         However, they believe that in most ca.ses. the
hope it has made life more enjoyable for people        level of a fun environment must be increased if
who work there" (p. 54).                               organizations are to obtain the many benefits
    To addres.s thi.s question, the survey asked the   the.se environments provide.
respondents about whom or what was responsible             This article reports information received from
for creating a fun work environment. One ques-         human resource practitioners that can assist any
tion asked the human resource managers who or          manager contemplating the benefits and costs of
what was primarily responsible for providing the       promoting a fun work environment in his or her
impetus for fun at work in their units. One-fourth     organization. The respondents tell us that having
of iheni indicated it was based on a corporate         a fun work environment is a good thing and has
culture. Another fourth indicated it was top           many positive and very few negatives for either
management who was primarily responsible for           the employee or the organization. We see in their
creating a fun work environment. Since organiza-       answers what types of things and activities they
tional scholars suggest that top management's          use to promote fun, and what methods are cur-
most important job is defining the corporate cul-      rently being used for implementing a fun work
ture. the.se respondents affirmed the importance       environment. They also show the potential
of top management in defniing the culture of fun       impediments to a fun environment and suggest
(Schein. 1985). If it's going to happen, it must       strategies that managers can use to t)vercome
start at the top.                                      these barriers.
   What is surprising in this survey data is the          The bottom line is that fun in the workplace
discovery that the efforts of the employees them-      seems lo be as good as the anecdotal literature
selves were given credit for creating a fun work       says it is. The large number of respondents and
environment by seventeen percent of the HR             the expertise of Human Resources give us great

                                                                                                             HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING   29
hope that this topic is here to stay and that more   References
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                           Games Trainers Play series of hooks for trainers
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30   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
APPENDIX

Condensed Survey Questionnaire

SECTION A: POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES
    Listed below are several statements regarding the possible effects or results of a fun work environ-
[Ticnt. Please indicate, to the best of your ability, the degree to which you believe that a fun work
environment produces each of the listed outcomes. (Indicate the degree to which you believe that a fun
work environment increases or decreases the following outcomes by clicking on one of the responses
in the 5-point scale shown. Click No Opinion if you are totally unsure as to its probable effects.)
    Organizations that endorse and promote a fun work environment are likely to experience how much
change in their:

                                         Substantial        Moderate          No Effect      Moderate          Substantial        NO (No
                                          Decrease          Decrease                         Increase           Increase          Opinion)
1. Accident rates (frequency)                 1 0               20               30              40                 50              NOO
2. Ability to attract new employees 1 0                         20               30              40                 50              NOO
3. Absenteeism rates                          10                20               3 0             40                 50              NOO
  Other items measiircd on ihc scale are communicaikms among employees, customer satisfaction, cost uf operutions. employee anxieiy und
  .Nlresh, employee complajnis of boredom, employee crealivily. employee enthusiasm, employee satisfaction, employee friendships ai work,
  employee lumover rales, equipment damage caused by playfulness, frequency of employee errors made, group cohesiveness. interpersonal con-
  Ilicls. level iil' employee commitment to the organuaiion. mutual tnisi among employees, organizaiional citizenship (voluntary acts of helping
  behaviorsi by employees, professionalism al work, qualiiy of employee producdviiy, reports of sexual harassment, respeci among coworkers,
  respect from higher-ups, speed with which new tasks are learned by employees during training programs, strength of the corporaie culture
  (shared values and norms), understanding of the organization's mission and priorities, work taken seriously by oiher departments.

SECTION B: FREQUENCY OF PRACTICES
   Listed below ure several statements regarding activities potentially leading to a fun work environ-
ment. Please indicate your personal assessment of ihe frequency with which your organization actually
uses the following items.

                                             Not at Alt                      Moderately                        Extensively        NO (No
                                                                                                                                  Opinion)

  Humor (e.g., cartoons, jokes                   IO             20               30              40                 SO              NOO
  in corporate newsletters,
  e-mails, and managerial
  messages).
  Opportunities for personal                     1 O            2O               30              40                 50              NOO
  development growth throtigh
  opportunities for non-job-related
  leaming (e.g.., quilting classes,
  book clubs, aerobics).
3. Public celebrations of professional 1 O                      20               30              40                 50              NOO
   achievements (e.g., award banquets,
   recognition for outstanding results,
   naming an "employee of the month")-
  Oiher iiems measured on (he same scale are entertainment, g^mes. fun sotial evenu, recognition of personal milestones, opportunities to
  engage in community volunteerisiii, stress release activities, friendly competitions among employees

                                                                                                                                                   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING   3I
SECTION C: UTiLiTY (CONTRiBUTiONS) OF FUN PRACTiCES
                               HRM professionals are in a good position to assess the utility of various activities designed to
                           produce a fun work environment. In this section, we are soliciting your insights into the potential
                           effectiveness of each type of fun activity. The responses below relate directly to your beliefs regardless
                           of the extent they are actually used in your organization.
                              Listed below are several statements regarding activities potentially leading to a fun work environ-
                           ment. Please indicate, to the best of your ability and using the response scale shown, the degree to
                           which you feel each practice below contributes to creating a fun work environment.
                              The 10 items used in this section are identical to Section B. Section B asks for frequency of use.
                           Section C asks for contributions to a fun work assignment.

                           SECTiON D: iMPORTANCE OFVARiOUS EMPLOYEE NEEDS
                              HRM professionals are also in a good position to assess the relative importance of a fun work
                           environment in comparison to other typical needs of employees. In this section, we are soliciting
                           your insights into the relative importance of a wide range of things that employees may desire.
                              Listed below are several statements regarding factors thai employees may seek at work. Please
                           indicate, on the five-point response scale shown, the degree to which you feel each is important to
                           typical employees in your firm today.

                                                                       Not at All                         Moderately                          Extremely         NO (No
                                                                       Important                          Important                           Important         Opinion)
                           !. Being able to relax., have fun,              10                 20               30              40                 50              NOO
                               and enjoy oneself at work.
                           2. Being free to express oneself                10                 20               30              40                 50              NOO
                               openly at work.
                           3. Having control over one's own                10                 20               30              40                 50              NOO
                               decisions at work.
                               Other items mea.suretl on the same scale includt- having control over resources, feeling listened to. freedom to engage in laughler, autonomy
                               and independence, opportunity lo play at work, building interpersonal friendships, satisfying job security needs, opporlunily to belong to a
                               group, opponunity to express and receiving caring ai work, satisfying physiological needs, satisfying psychological well-being needs, receiving
                               persiinul recognition at work.

                           SECTION E: COMPREHENSiVE ASSESSMENTS
                              On the following questions, please use the response scales or space provided to indicate your
                           reactions and assessments.
                           I.Compared to what you think there ought to be (optimum level of fun at work), what is your
                             perception of the actual level of fun in your organization? (Check only one.)
                              O a. Much less than there .should be
                              O b. Moderately less than there should be
                              O c. A little bit less than there should he
                              O d. About the right amount
                              O e. A little bit more than there should be
                              O f, A moderate amount more than there should be
                              O g. Much more than there should be
                           2. Overall, how often do you believe employees should have the opportunity to experience fun in your
                              organization? (Check only one.)
                                              Never              Infrequently          Occasionally           Frequently            Very Often            No Opinion

                                                1 0                   20                    30                    40                     50                  NOO

32   HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING
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