Saturday, July 19, 2008

"About Work That Doesn't Work At All"

Why Fun and Games at the Office Don't Always Work

In the hope of increasing productivity through goodwill, some companies go overboard. A friend who works for a bank recently told me that he dreaded their upcoming Flashback Day. When I asked what that was, he gave me a disgusted look before explaining, "That's when we dress up as historical figures every Monday. That's how the higher ups are fighting the Monday morning slump."

Only my friend's miserable look stopped me from laughing.

Indeed, a productivity study done by Cambridge University researcher Peter Fleming found that instead of increasing productivity, a workplace that institutes a "culture of fun" actually breeds rampant cynicism. Fifty percent of Fleming's respondents doubted the authenticity of the so-called "fun programs"--which ranged from relay races, scavenger hunts, and variations of other party games. Fleming stated that his subjects probably didn't like the "blurring of traditional boundaries that usually distinguish work and non-work."

Just what sort of fun works for the office?

Lynn Harland's "Attitudes Toward Workplace Fun: A Three Sector Comparison," a study published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, reveals that the most universally-liked and accepted fun workplace activity involves food. So, while many employees may be up in arms (or secretly griping) when you make them put on costumes on Mondays, they won't whine when you serve them, say, cookies while you're having your morning meeting.

In any case, there are some companies that have managed to turn "play" into productivity enhancers. I hear the folks at Nokia encourage their employees to play with Lego blocks so that their creative juices flow freely. Then again, as my banker-friend pointed out, "Playing with Lego blocks has a purpose. Dressing up as Benjamin Franklin on a Monday morning is just plain ridiculous."

Enough said. (No offense to Ben Franklin, of course.)

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