The proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy” could have some implications for corporate learning.
It’s not about actually playing at the office, however. But a study published in the 2017 issue of Journal of Vocational Behavior suggests adding some fun to the workplace could have an impact on informal learning.
For the study, researchers recruited more than 200 managers from a casual dining restaurant chain and asked them to rate fun activities, their attitude and informal learning at their restaurants. Researchers found a relationship between fun and informal learning. The relationship isn’t as clean-cut as fun itself improving learning retention, for example. But what fun does for a work environment makes it influential.
“You might not think there is this connection between informal learning and fun in the workplace,” said Michael Tews, associate professor of hospitality management at Pennsylvania State University in a press release. “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.”
During the study, researchers looked at fun activities that management supported to improve well-being — such as team-building and employee recognition celebrations. They also looked at the managers’ overall support for fun on the job. They found that a supervisor’s support for fun was key in creating a safe environment for informal learning — perhaps more important than their support for learning.
The fun factor brings coworkers together and improves employee resilience and optimism, which leads to better attention with tasks, Tews and the research team observed. But the findings aren’t without a caveat.
While there may be some clear benefits to incorporating fun into work activities, manager concerns about fun as a distraction are understandable. Research on this topic is still considerably new, but learning leaders can work with managers to help employees reap the rewards of fun in the workplace by being selective about how they use it to encourage learning and productivity.
Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.