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Are we having fun yet? A consideration of workplace fun and engagement


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Purpose This extended editorial to the Special Issue “Are we having fun yet? A consideration of workplace fun and engagement” aims to review the current debates on organised “fun at work” and to suggest a framework for understanding workplace fun and employee engagement. The papers included in the Special Issue are also to be introduced. Design/methodology/approach The editorial review asks for an approach that offers a critical appraisal and sets the latest move towards fun at work within the context of the material realties of work. Findings A review of contemporary debates on fun at work reveals a predominantly prescriptive focus on attempts to engage employees through fun activities that oversimplifies the human dynamism involved in the employment relationship. The editorial suggests that we need to consider the motivations, processes and outcomes of managed fun at work initiatives and to consider employees' reactions in terms of “shades of engagement” that detail how people variously engage , enjoy , endure , or escape managed fun. Research limitations/implications The suggested framework for understanding workplace fun and employee engagement offers opportunities for empirical testing. Practical implications Understanding workplace fun and the work that it does, and does not do, offers opportunities to improve relationships between employees and between employees and the organisation. Originality/value The editorial and Special Issue overall offers an important contribution to the ongoing fun at work and employee engagement debate and opens up avenues for further exploration and discussion.
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Are We Having Fun Yet?:
A consideration of workplace fun and engagement
Sharon C. Bolton, Maeve Houlihan
Purpose This extended editorial to the special issue ‘Are We Having Fun Yet?
reviews the current debates on organised ‘fun at work’ and suggests a framework for
understanding workplace fun and employee engagement. The papers to be included in
the special issue are also introduced.
Design/methodology/approach The editorial review asks for an approach that offers a
critical appraisal and sets the latest move towards fun at work within the context of the
material realties of work.
Findings A review of contemporary debates on fun at work reveals a predominantly
prescriptive focus on attempts to engage employees through fun activities that
oversimplifies the human dynamism involved in the employment relationship. The
editorial suggests that we need to consider the motivations, processes and outcomes of
managed fun at work initiatives and to consider employees reactions in terms of ‘shades
of engagement’ that detail how people variously engage, enjoy, endure, or escape
managed fun.
Research limitations/implications The suggested framework for understanding
workplace fun and employee engagement offer opportunities for empirical testing.
Practical implications Understanding workplace fun and the work that it does, and
does not do, offers opportunities to improve relationships between employees and
between employees and the organisation.
Originality/value The editorial and special issue overall offers an important
contribution to the ongoing fun at work and employee engagement debate and opens up
avenues for further exploration and discussion.
Article Type: Review and viewpoint
Keywords: fun at work, play, happiness, employee engagement, positive scholarship
About the authors
Sharon C. Bolton is Professor of Organisational Analysis in the Department of
Management at Strathclyde University Business School, Strathcylde University, 16
Richmond Street, Glasgow G1 1XQ. Scotland, United Kingdom Email: Maeve Houlihan is a senior lecturer in Organisational
Behaviour in the Management Department at the UCD School of Business, University
College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4 Ireland. Email:
Sharon and Maeve have recently edited Work Matters: Critical Reflections on
Contemporary Work (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), and previously, Searching for the
Human in Human Resource Management (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Sharon’s further
publications include Dimensions of Dignity at Work (Butterworth Heinneman, 2007) and
Emotion Management in the Workplace (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
The authors would like to thank Professor John Gennard, Professor Dennis Nickson, and
all the Editorial team for the opportunity to develop this special issue, and of course
Nancy Rolph at Emerald and Linda Brisbane at Strathclyde for their warm
communication and encouraging editorial advice. Sincere thanks are due to all authors
who responded to the call, to the saintly reviewers who submitted very helpful feedback,
and each of the final contributors to this special issue for their hard work, enthusiasm,
and very patient responses to our many requests. We would also like to thank the
steering group and participants of the International Labour Process Conference, where the
idea for the special issue was first nurtured, and for many helpful comments on our initial
presentation of arguments made at ILPC 2007 in Amsterdam, and to all those who took
part in the subsequent ‘fun at work’ stream at ILPC 2008 in Dublin.
Anyone for tennis?
The games begin, the paintball spats, the costumes are donned, and the jokes are told, but
all in all, when the whistles are blown and time is called, we are left to ask: are we having
fun yet? This special issue of Employee Relations seeks to bring critical voice to the
notion of ‘managed’ fun at work and to challenge existing perceived wisdoms from
both the practitioner and academic communities. Although apparently rapidly
surrendering to budget cuts in these currently recessionary times, ideas of fun, play and
laughter have provided the latest management fad, peddled as a means to involve and
empower employees. The last decade has duly seen a growing emphasis on the notion of
fun at work as a much vaunted employee engagement mechanism.
In this special issue, we draw a clear distinction between official or packaged fun, in its
management-led forms, and what we term organic fun, an intrinsic and inherent part of
organisational life. The idea of packaged fun draws on an implied (but discretely
unspecified) link between play, fun and laughter and increased corporate performance, in
the forms of motivation, creativity, job satisfaction and even staff retention. Yet though
heavily implied, such links are empirically unexplored. The pursuit of productivity
inspired by the loose belief that happy workers make productive workers appears to
invoke an equally loose assumption that workplace fun delivers happy workers and so
the cycle moves on. As a result workplace engagement has transitioned from the classic
realm of team nights out and sports and socials, onto new terrain and raced forth with
activities ranging from fancy dress days, to ‘wacky Fridays’, karaoke competitions,
laughter workshops, exotic training events, and encouragements to embrace our inner
Fun is an important part of organisational life: when autonomous and collective,
naturalistic and socially produced and even, at times, when part of a manufactured ‘fun’
culture. Little wonder then that organisations now seek to harness play in ways that can
be readily managed if this is truly the aim. Yet, at the very least, fun and laughter is
spontaneous; not neatly packaged with the promise of expected results clearly marked on
the label. It is timely for a fresh look at the notion of fun at work: what it is, what it does,
and what it really means to people. What is required is an assessment of the current
fascination with this hitherto informal, subterranean social side of work, and the veracity
of the under-theorised association between fun, happiness and productivity. We,
therefore, called for papers for this Employee Relations Special Issue that would offer
new insights into the impulse to manage play, laughter, and fun at work; and also
people’s reactions to efforts to contain, shape and exploit the creativity and energy to be
found in shared humour and social relationships in the workplace. There are some key
questions that emerge when considering the fun at work paradigm:
What kind of initiatives are organisations currently taking around fun, and formal
engagement with the social side of organising?
What are the philosophical underpinnings to and the case for and against the
implied links between fun, workplace morale and productivity?
What is the link between the science of happiness movement, related
developments in positive organisation studies and ideas about fun at work?
What is humour at work, and what does it do?
What are the implications of the fun agenda for workplace practice?
When considered in historical, structural, or geographical terms, are we, in fact,
having more fun at work?
Who is this fun for, who might it omit?
What methods might be useful for appraising workplace fun?
This issue of Employee Relations attempts to engage with many of these questions. It
includes papers that combine original conceptual approaches with empirical studies that
capture the actions and reactions of people involved in ‘fun’ cultures. Though very
different in approach, each of the papers have a common aim: to look at the experience as
it is lived, in contrast to the rhetoric as it is espoused. By focusing firmly on the lived
workplace experience, this special issue strives to document the human side of the current
emphasis on fun at work and casts a critical eye over both the assumptions and practices
surrounding it, and the narrow range of analysis it currently receives. In particular we
have selected contributions that are mindful of the social and organisational context, the
material experience, the paradoxes and what is being omitted in the current emphasis on
fun at work. The assembled papers represent a range of voices that contribute to a
growing understanding of fun, drawing out its political nature whilst also capturing the
human dimension. In the spirit of interdisciplinarity they engage with the power
dynamics that are the focus of critical approaches, the positive outlook of some of the
more practitioner led/ orthodox approaches, and the material realties as represented by
empirical studies; and they strive to discover when fun is fun and when and why it is not.
Work hard play hard?
For all the appearances of a new phenomenon, fun at work is an idea with many
heritages. On the on hand, it carries humanist underpinnings: the understanding that
people are multidimensional and that it is appropriate to engage with the human side of
organising. The paternalism of companies like Cadburys, Hersheys and Guinness, for
example, saw the introduction of company picnics and family sports days. While this
thinking flourished in the Human Relations era, a more bottom line focus was introduced
in the 70s and 80s by ‘new’ culture led companies such as Hewlett Packard, with their
famed Friday ‘beer busts’, giving birth to a swarm of imitators. The recessions of the late
eighties and the globalisation that followed introduced an era of downsizing, outsourcing
and lean staffing which made many such initiatives fade in crediblity. Yet soon
organisations found themselves on a desperate search for low cost, high yield
mechanisms of engagement and the idea of fun at work resurfaced with yet greater
instrumental edge.
At the vanguard of the contemporary fun at work movement are organisations like
Google, Ben and Jerry’s, and Innocent who strive to build a distinctive employment
identity through highly interactive, seemingly leisure-oriented places of work. Colourful,
funky surroundings, ample free food to facilitate non-work interrupting grazing, fussball
tables and giant jenga sets to de-stress, scooters and space hoppers to traverse the office,
and initiatives such as bring your pet to work to unleash the ‘aaah effect’, all form part
of a repertoire of engagement mechanisms that has seen many other companies follow
suit. On the supply side, a thriving range of consultancies and event management
agencies promote a burgeoning menu of activities to companies such as the UK’s Fun
at Work Company whose offerings range from the weird and wacky, through to the
active, cerebral, competitive, and cultural( Celebrities can
be hired to welcome staff at the door, while actors pose as awkward new employees, or
even customers, to entertain staff members. Ice sculpting and giant wrestling events can
be arranged, while offices can be transformed into casinos, mini-golf ranges, or hula
paradises. It is now estimated that the UK’s ‘best’ companies spend on average £700 a
year per employee on fun activities, and that employees report high levels of laughter at
work as an indicator of ‘a great place to work’ (Sunday Times, 2006). Indeed, heavy
weight is given to employee engagement with fun activities when highlighting how a
company engages in best-practice people management (Sunday Times, 2005, 2006,
For example, from trips to Hong Kong and Las Vegas, to monthly buzz nights for staff to
get together and “have a laugh” (at which attendance is compulsory), the UK organisation
Flight Centre spends more than £430,000 (more than £800 per employee) per year purely
on organised social activities (Sunday Times, 2006). The aim is to relieve tension, create
camaraderie, and increase energy and commitment to the job in a high pressure sales
environment. Apparently it works; employees report they ‘love’ working for Flight
Centre and observers claim the company to be an ‘employer of choice’ (Sunday Times,
2009; Leary-Joyce, 2004). Though in the celebratory hoopla, high sales bonuses and
opportunities for cheap travel for the predominantly young and transient workforce are
rarely mentioned as contributory factors to the ‘best company’ status.
Another firm, Office Angels, a UK secretarial recruitment agency, is highlighted as a
company that fosters a particularly inclusive company culture that celebrates successes
and employee loyalty with social activities. It is consistently cited as a ‘best company
and equally consistently employees cite the ‘fun culture’ as a reason why they enjoy
working for Office Angels. Employees are rewarded with active engagement
programmes and performance linked awards. In 2008 top performing teams were
congratulated with trips to Mauritius and Marbella. The ‘club nights, quizzes and meals
at exclusive restaurants’ have, by their own account, become legendary:
.‘Every December Office Angels staff polish their halos and get into their glad
rags for the company’s Oscar-style award ceremony’(Sunday Times, 2009)
It is clear that the fun at work phenomenon is traversing many different work contexts,
often those least expected, with fun being cited as a major contributor to the success of
professional service firms too. The law firm Pannone, for instance, is widely hailed as a
top UK company to work for, whose employees applaud the ‘work hard, play hard
culture’ (Sunday Times, 2009). And the accountancy firm KPMG recently received a
‘lifetime achievement award’ for its consistent appearance in the top ten best companies
to work for in the UK list (Sunday Times, 2009). KPMG tells its future recruits that they
see no contradiction in encouraging fun at work:
In a Big Four firm like KPMG, the work is demanding and the pace can seem
relentless at times, so offering opportunities for fun through creative contests,
light competitions and social events helps balance the load
Such efforts can take on a surprisingly incongruous character. For example senior
partners at the Irish wealth management company BDO Simpson Xavier were recently
lauded as top employers for the fun environment they create, through initiatives such as
encouraging staff to ‘pimp a partner’.
Like a rugby team, people mightn’t be exceptional individually, but when you
unite them, that’s when you create something. So our firm has a focus on FUN as
a key performance driver. It’s simple - if people enjoy what they’re doing and
where they are doing it they succeed. (BDO Simpson Xavier managing partner,
RTE radio interview, 2007)
And, of course, senior partners come to the fun events too, sometimes bringing along
important clients, and it is imperative to be seen enjoying oneself as the boundaries
between work and play melt away (Grugulis, et al., 2002).
What emerges from these examples is that fun has become a recognised employee
engagement mechanism across different sectors, company sizes and locations. It seems
that the fun at work paradigm is no longer a passing fad but has become an established
and accepted contributor to good people management and, ultimately, the bottom line.
However, what also becomes clear is that there are unquestioned assumptions about an
assumed link between fun and performance. Not many employee voices are heard in the
fun at work literature, but the few we do hear in PR pieces frequently speak of ‘work
hard, play hard’ cultures and management describe fun as an ‘investment’ (Leary-Joyce,
2004; Sunday Times, 2005, 2006, 2009). Silently, we are left to think, why is it that so
many employees are seen to so urgently sup their pints?
Fun at Work is a Serious Business
The significant role that play and laughter performs in organisational life has long been
recognised as a sociological phenomenon, although traditionally viewed as emerging in
spite of, rather than because of management and, until recently, rarely considered from an
instrumental point of view. For instance, Roy’s (1973) classic study of a group of male
factory machine operatives brought attention to the way apparently inane banter between
workers is a vital form of communication by offering a form of structure and meaning
and gentling the ‘beast of boredom’ to the ‘harmlessness of a kitten’ (1973:215). It has
been common to find, however, in critical accounts of work, that fun has held a more
subversive character. Laughter and game playing are used to undermine the management
prerogative and upset the status quo (Ackroyd and Thompson, 1999; Bolton, 2003, 2004;
Taylor and Bain, 2003), and to provide space for escape as much as a means of
engagement. Further ethnographic studies, carried out in a variety of workplace settings,
confirm the importance of space at work for fun. Workplace fun crosses organisational
boundaries, it may subvert, support or accommodate social forms (Linstead, 1985;
Mulkay, 1988) and serves many purposes: conformity (Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990;
Bolton, 2001; Thompson and Bannon, 1985); opposition (Ackroyd and Thompson, 1999;
Bolton, 2003; Collinson, 1988; Westwood, 1984); relief from boredom (Roy, 1973;
Burawoy, 1979; Collinson, 1988) or ‘letting off steam’ (Fine, 1988). It can also create
misery for some, as much as fun and laughter for others (Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990;
Collinson, 1988). It seems that much of the humour portrayed in accounts of
organisational life manifests as laughter and joking, produced as little more than a
method of offering relief from the seriousness of work. Yet, this in turn, is often
portrayed by managers as a disruptive influence on organisational processes and
outcomes and in counter measure, efforts have been made to control this autonomous
world culturally, and concretely.
Nevertheless, as we can see from the preceding review of contemporary companies and
their attachment to the notion of fun, management has come to recognise the potentially
positive effects and note that ‘workplay’ need not always undermine performance. It has
increasingly been recognised that play and laughter can create a sense of involvement
(Duncan and Feisal, 1989; Barsoux, 1993; Ashforth and Humphrey, 1995), with further
whispers of unleashing creativity and raising morale and so, in the interests of
encouraging employee consent to the rigours of the labour process, management often
ignore, tolerate and even actively encourage playful practices (Ackroyd and Thompson,
1999, Burawoy, 1979; Collinson, 1988). In this way formal rules of organisation less
frequently stand in opposition to the informal rules which generally inform humorous
episodes at work. In fact the informal rules of workplace fun appear to have been re-
packaged on management’s terms with the express purpose of furthering organisational
goals. Put simply ‘fun is not frivolous anymore’ (Fisher, 1998).
Thus, more instrumental underpinnings come into sight. While engaging hearts and
minds and drawing on experiential forms of character shaping has long been a focus of
certain types of training, for example in the military and scouting movements (McGrath,
2009), the current paradigm of fun at work is a more recent phenomenon, led in many
ways by consultant initiative, but paralleled by policy think tanks and the vaunting of
certain forms of employer best practice. It is of little surprise, though the majority of
examples we cite are European, that the most current notion of packaged or managed fun
and laughter at work originated in North America, where it has taken off to such a degree
that humour consultants abound and some States have introduced an official ‘fun at
work’ day (Wilson, 2004). One of the most well known US fun at work exports has been
the ‘fish philosophy’ a range of employee engagement mechanisms that rely on the
legend of Seattle Fish Market where it is claimed that, thanks to a certain management
philosophy, fishmongers ‘work hard at a dirty, smelly job and have a good time doing it.
Obviously, they enjoy their work. Incidentally, they also sell tons of fish’ (Lundin et
al, 2002; Ramsey, 2001: 7). The fish philosophy has developed into a consultancy
industry all of its own, while the idea of packaged fun at work has spawned a number of
related spin offs - ministers of fun, the ‘corporate fool’, and the outward bound
teambuilding movement, to name a few. Each carry associated claims concerning the
wellbeing benefits to workers, the improvements in service customers should experience
and the increases in productivity organisations can enjoy as a result (Abner, 1997;
Anfuso, 1998; Helzberg, 2005; Weinstein, 1996; Yerkes, 2001). Other writers, focusing
on creativity, draw attention to the capacity to stimulate outside the boxthinking and
‘flow’ through playfulness (Danridge, 1986). More simply, many employers recognise
within the fun agenda the opportunity to craft an image of cool in the pursuit of
youthful and enthusiastic new employees, and institutional mimicry plays its hand in the
growing trend of promoting workplace fun as a recruitment tool (Leary-Joyce, 2004).
It is true that fun in the workplace has taken a little longer to catch on in Europe. After
all, many European cultures have a long-standing reputation for less effusiveness when it
comes to proud to work here and have a nice day’ cultures. Nevertheless, recently much
energy has been invested in trying to persuade workers in Europe that work is fun and
happiness is within our grasp, if only we would recognise the role we have to play as fun
loving individuals (Crace, 2003; Layard, 2006), Such invocations are based on policy and
political agendas around the science of ‘happiness’ as a talisman on mental health,
motivation, community building and national wellbeing. Ideas all fitting well with the
corporate agenda for motivated, energised, and self managing citizens. The result is gurus
promising that investment in ‘fun’ will not only create happiness but also energy,
performance and commitment (Reed, 2003). In this way, institutional support for the
happiness movement has spread back and forth between policy makers and employers.
In parallel, a growing movement of ‘positive’ scholarship has emerged in psychology,
economics, and organisation studies that seeks to empirically theorise the optimisation of
human potential (Snyder and Lopez, 2002; Cameron, Dutton and Quinn, 2003; Seligman
and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This movement is sometimes misunderstood as seeking to
supplant critical analysis with affirmative thinking, although its declared intention is to
address the bias in psychology and organisation studies towards negative inputs and
outcomes or more simply, to accentuate the positive (Fineman, 2006). It seems that the
psychology of the positive has pervaded both academic discourse and organisational
practice (Snyder and Lopez, 2002; Cameron, Dutton and Quinn, 2003; Seligman and
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
You don’t have to be mad to work here, but…
However worthy these ideas, their translation into practice might be seen as more cynical.
Individuals are charged with not only doing a good job, but smiling all the while. Fun,
official fun, is the order of the day. Clearly, to make work this much fun must be hard
work and no mean feat, especially when attempting to create joy and pleasure from what
might be fundamentally low-skilled, poorly rewarded, monotonous and/or physically and
emotionally draining tasks. Little wonder that there are those (Barsoux, 1993; Bolton,
2006; Gordon, 1992; Hamilton, 2000) who question the motivations behind manufactured
fun at work, along with the exclusive tendencies of ‘fun’ cultures and the assumed
benefits for all. Attendance at ‘fun’ activities is often compulsory and in some companies
written into the job description. In others it is more a matter of ‘this is the way we do
things around here’. Either way, fun cultures are very much about working and playing
hard, and an associated pressure to conform and act the part. And when the reality is
high pressure work environments (where rewards are performance related) integrated
with late nights and weekends away from home, along with the apparently essential
consumption of large amounts of alcohol, just how many of us can keep up? A closer
inspection shows that ‘fun’ companies are also youthful companies with the vast majority
of employees being under 35 years old (Bolton, 2006; Gordon, 1992; Woudhuyesen,
2001). These companies spend a huge amount of resources to seek employees not only
with the right job skills but with the attributes that mean they will ‘fit in’. And, once
again, we hear management gurus actively advising companies to recruit for attitude,
induct for culture’.
This certainly appeals to some, but to all? The cringe-worthy nature of many of the fun
activities attracts more generalised cries of sheer horror and there are some typical
responses from those who despair of the very idea of organised fun at work: Structured
fun is fun for the whimsically impaired; fun with all the fun squeezed out; fun, hold the
fun. (Gordon, 1992: 25). As Hamilton proclaims, in a light hearted article with a very
serious message concerning the misery that enforced fun can bring, sometimes our best
fun lies in being miserable:
I am here today to speak for the victims. The poor, downtrodden employees
yearning to go home. The party-pooping, costume-hating working stiffs. Those
who dream about letting certain colleagues flop straight to the floor in the trust-
building, don't-worry-we'll-catch-you exercise. The spouses keeping the home
front together as Mom's or Dad's work group parties on (Hamilton, 2000).
And there are yet others who simply question the claims concerning the capacity of fun
programmes to create lasting conditions for creativity and performance (Woudhuysen,
2001). However, the notion of organised fun at work attracts a different sort of critical
assessment. After all, we are not talking of spontaneous, joyful or even subversive fun
but neatly packaged, carefully strategised fun with definite goals in mind: as another
means of capturing the best of human capital. This ‘tale of two cultures’ the curious
combination of high octane humour, eccentric work environments, casual cool, and a fun
ethos, alongside low discretion, routinised work, high levels of control, pressure for
conformity, lean staffing and long working hours, is a paradox that deserves more than a
neatly ironic analysis of colonised identities. The paradox of combining fun and
surveillance, for instance, is characteristic of many contemporary work environments,
such as call centres (Kinnie et al, 2000). Perhaps that is the point the idea that fun
makes up for all of the harsh realities of work for the majority of people. This obvious
paradox means that this is a good time to ask questions about the fun at work paradigm:
specifically what is fun, how much fun is official fun, what does fun mean to employees,
and who exactly is having it?
Despite growing attention to the topic, the very nature of ‘fun’ appears to go
unquestioned. While platitudes like the firm that plays together stays together abound,
we might ask what people think of all this, real people? The interesting truth is that it
would seem that the workplace has been echoing with little more than the sounds of
silence, occasionally hollow laughter, but rarely of puzzled faces. Perhaps, as is the very
root of the irony of cultural mirrors like Dilbert, and The Office’s David Brent, the truth
is that in the workplace, we get the joke.
We sincerely hope that this special issue will help to expand this debate and its empirical
base by offering a range of accounts of fun at work that include the voices of people
placed differently in organisational hierarchies, by examining a range of occupational and
company cultures, and by acknowledging the impact of demographics in how we might
personally experience fun at work initiatives. What the papers presented here, along with
our own previous experiences in the field, signify to us is that we are faced with a
complex tapestry of what is and is not fun for those involved and that there are shades of
employee engagement with fun at work. This leads us to tentatively suggest a framework
for understanding the managerial motivations, employee responses and associated
outcomes, and the peculiarities of packaged fun and workplace engagement.
What packaged fun does: Towards an analytical framework
Managerial Motivations
The papers featured in this special issue find a healthy cynicism among the voices of
employees, and a common view of ‘fun’ initiatives as mutually beneficial arrangements
for those whom it suits. Such an awareness and cynicism from both managers and
employees reflects existing accounts of attempts to shape employee engagement through
management of the social side of organisational life (Grugulis, Dundon and Wilkinson,
2000). More precisely, extending earlier work relating to management strategies
(Houlihan, 2002) we suggest that a range of underlying managerial motivations can be
identified, shaped by objectives of control or commitment on the one hand, and focused
on outcomes of productivity or morale on the other (see figure 1). In a control-oriented
context where morale is the focus, fun is offered as ‘tonic for the troops’ providing a
form of containment or distraction from challenging work conditions, whether these
involve intensity and pace, or monotony and routine. Where the focus is productivity, fun
is offered as a temporary alleviation of acknowledged challenges of the work
arrangements, primarily to deliver re-energised performances in return. Turning to
commitment-oriented contexts, where productivity is the objective, fun is offered as a
developmental reward, often in the shape of direct incentive programmes, while where
the focus is morale, fun is offered as an engagement mechanism striving to harvest
creativity, commitment and goodwill, and as a culture management tool hopeful of
forging an ‘us’ identity and unitarist identification with the organisation.
Strategy and
Focus of activity
Productivity Morale
Figure 1: Matrix of managerial motivations for fun at work
Employee Responses and Associated Outcomes
Emerging from the different managerial motivations, we discern a range of employee
responses that we refer to as shades of engagement, as people variously engage, enjoy,
endure and escape packaged fun. Many people express pleasure in working for fun
companies. They engage and feel energised and committed to achieving company goals.
Who are we to undermine and deny this experience? And whilst not fully engaged there
are those who are able to cast a critical eye over the material realities of their work but
still enjoy some of the activities on offer, even if with reservations. However, it seems
that others do not believe that fun, laughter and joy in work is derived from managerially
led initiatives but inherent in the work that they do (Bolton and Wibberley, 2007). To
these people packaged fun may be an unnecessary and unwelcome interference that they
must endure a literal endurance test in order to collect their pay packet and keep their
job. Still others, driven by their irritation with the nature of some of the activities with
which they are asked to become involved, may find ways to escape, ranging from simple
refusal to more covert means of conscientious objection, reclaiming their organic spaces
for fun, Such a range of potential responses need to be fully captured, and promise ample
scope for testing and further elaboration, but each are reflected in different ways by the
many voices of respondents in the papers to follow.
The Features of Packaged Fun
It is also not unreasonable to suggest that shades of engagement may be expressed with
regard to more organic forms of fun just as clearly, especially in organisations that
develop strong sub-cultures that may be exclusionary and/or unkind. But we would
contend that voices from the workplace plainly distinguish manufactured fun from its
organic roots, discerning its distinct intentions and outcomes in a way that prompts the
employee responses we have described here. Official fun has some striking features in
the way it presumes that fun will be on managerial terms and that there will be benefits
for all; in the way it excludes those who are unable (or choose not) to party all weekend;
in the way it imposes formal reward mechanisms, and it demands macho work hard, play
hard rules; and, in the process, it often reinforces unreconstructed stereotypes around
what is considered fun and who may be made fun of; and it confuses as the boundaries
around what is and is not sanctioned continually shift. This rather dark picture leads us to
contend that manufactured ‘official fun’ and often organic fun are unwisely conflated.
So, finally, are we having fun yet, or should the fun stop? There is no invocation to
throw the baby out with the bathwater here: fun, with the right intentions, is a welcome
aspect of the workplace. However, from ‘face work’ to a mutual instrumentality we have
suggested that employees will variously engage, enjoy, endure or escape the paradigm of
manufactured fun. Organic fun is the property of those who live it, not those who require
it, and employees will ever continue to nurture the light moments and suffer the frankness
borne of organic fun that mediates our working lives. And while packaged fun will have
its own moments, it must be noted that the examples cited here carry sharp contrast with
the legion of jobs that are not only no fun, but badly managed, poorly designed, or worse.
Sending in the clowns is unlikely to transform such workplaces into fun cultures.
As will be clear from what we have written, we feel it is important to document the lived
reality of the current emphasis on fun at work and to cast a critical eye over both the
assumptions and practices surrounding it, and the narrow range of analysis it currently
receives. There is a need to deepen the theoretical lens around fun, and in that regard,
what we have sought to do here is to provide a framework for situating and analysing its
genesis and objectives. The papers featured as part of this Employee Relations Special
Issue on fun at work amplify that. They offer a range of empirical and conceptual
material from around the world and, we believe, make a substantial contribution to the
ongoing debate regarding fun at work.
Starting us off, Peter Fleming and Andrew Sturdy explore employee responses to the use
of ‘fun’ and ‘being yourself’ as neo-normative cultural control mechanisms, in their study
of an Australian call centre. As Peter and Andrew note, there is an odd impoverishment
in the way such espousedly ‘empowering’ initiatives are focused on identity and context,
but not on actual tasks, roles or job design. Barbara Plester contributes a study of
humour and fun at four New Zealand workplaces, and how the boundaries of fun are
shaped and navigated by their employees. Barbara’s examination of the interaction
between boundaries and workplace fun and the work that each does offers a valuable
framework for future research on the dynamics of fun, as well as useful insights for
organizations seeking to engender workplace fun, or manage its appropriateness. Nicole
Baptiste weighs up the fun at work debate against a more material concern: wellbeing
in the light of the challenging realties facing beleaguered managerial employees working
in the public sector. Shedding light thus on two contexts rarely considered in fun
debates, her paper opens up new avenues worthy of further exploration and provides a
base for broader studies of the rhetoric and realties of employee engagement
mechanisms. Eric Lamm and Michael Meeks, concerned with the question ‘fun for
whom?’, argue that there has been too little focus on the individuals towards whom
notions of ‘fun’ are directed, and guide us through their substantial quantitative study to
explore the effects of demographics, specifically that of generational cohort, on attitudes
and responses to workplace fun. Finally, with an eye to the organic realities of workplace
fun, Susanne Stromberg and Jan Carlson take us back to the ethnographic landscape
with a sharply observed study of humour rituals among workers at a Swedish
meatpacking plant. Their study paints a rich picture of the work that organic fun does,
and brings us full circle to the key concerns of this special issue: stories from the floor.
Thank you for reading this special issue of Employee Relations we hope you will find it
useful and even provocative. We are delighted with the range of papers that we have
been able to select for this edition and hope you may even find occasion for some fun and
laughter in the pages that follow.
Abner, M. (1997), Corporate America Takes Fun Seriously, Women in
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Barsoux. J. L, (1993), Funny Business. Humour, Management and Business Culture,
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Bolton, S. (2006) ‘The UK’s best could do so much better’, Editorial, Personnel Today,
March 2006
Bolton, S. and Boyd, C. (2003) ‘Trolley Dolley or Skilled Emotion Manager? Moving on
from Hochschild’s ‘Emotional Labour’ Work, Employment and Society, Vol 17, No 2, pp.
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Burawoy, M. (1979), Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labour Process Under
Monopoly Capitalism, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Cameron, K., Dutton, J. and Quinn, R. E. (eds.) (2003), Positive Organizational Scholarship:
Foundations of a New Discipline, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.
Collinson, D. (1988) ‘Engineering Humour: Masculinity, Joking and Conflict in Shop
Floor Relations. Organization Studies, 9, 2: 181-199.
Crace, J. (2003), When Humour is a Serious Business, The Guardian, Saturday,
January 11
Danridge, T. (1986), Ceremony as an Integration of Work and Play, Organization
Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 159-170
Duncan, W. and Feisal, J. (1989) ‘No Laughing Matter: Patterns of Humour in the
Workplace’. Organisational Dynamics, 17, 4: 18-30.
Fine, G. A. (1988) ‘Letting Off Steam? Redefining a Restaurant’s Work Environment’, in
Jones, M., Moore, M. and Snyder, R. (eds.) Inside Organizations: Understanding the
Human Dimension. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.
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31, No. 2, pp. 306 308.
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Grugulis, I., Dundon, T. and Wilkinson, A. (2000), Cultural Control and the Culture
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Hamilton, J. (2000), Can we stop having fun yet? Business Week, May 15 Issue 3681
Helzberg Jr., Barnett ‘Customer Service’, American Salesman, Sep2005, Vol. 50 Issue
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Houlihan, M. (2002), Tensions and variations in call centre management
strategies, Human Resource Management Journal, Vol, 12, No. 4, pp. 67-86.
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Layard, R. (2006), Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Penguin, London
Leary-Joyce, J (2004), Becoming an Employer of Choice. Making your organisation a
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Help You Transform Your Workplace And Your Life, Hodder and Stoughton, New York.
McGrath, P. (2009), Lost in the wilderness? Tracing a historical path of outdoor learning
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Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For (2005) Published with the Sunday
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... The literature has suggested three types of traditional workplace fun-organic fun (Plester et al., 2015), fun experienced within actual work tasks (Peluchette and Karl, 2005), and managed official or packaged fun (Bolton and Houlihan, 2009). We posit that the virtual context of the workplace would inhibit the development of organic fun culture due to minimal socialization opportunities. ...
... McDowell (2004) Fun at the workplace enhances employee socialization and reduces their intention to leave the organization due to increased organizational commitment 15 Peluchette and Karl (2005) Fun at the workplace can be experienced while performing work tasks 16 Bolton and Houlihan (2009) An organization can manage fun at the workplace, called packaged fun 17 Barker (1999) Fun at the workplace can lead to stress and anxiety in the traditional workplace due to normative pressure 18 Fleming (2005) Cynicism towards fun at the workplace may have antecedents of predisposed personality types or disappointments in the past 19 Usta et al. (2014) Virtual socialization is "feeling social enough in the virtual environment" (p. 217) 20 Blau (1964) Social exchange theory -"social exchange occurs when an individual is attracted to another if he expects associating with him to be in some way rewarding for himself, and his interest in the expected social rewards draws him to the other" (p. ...
Purpose This paper introduces “virtual fun at the virtual workplace” and conceptualizes its impact on virtual socialization and the formation of virtual professional ties. The conceptual model also recognizes the moderation of a few variables: “awareness of being observed,” “diversity in the virtual workplace” and “virtual impression management.” Design/methodology/approach The paper takes a theoretical approach to develop a conceptual framework of virtual fun in the virtual workplace, drawing on social exchange theory (SET) and social network theory (SNT). Findings The study extends the tenets of the SET and extends the applicability of SNT to a virtual workplace. The study suggests that managers should introduce semi-organized virtual fun during scheduled breaks within work hours to aid in virtual socialization, which further aids in the formation and strengthening of “professional ties” in the virtual workplace. Originality/value This study is the first of its kind to conceptualize a model for virtual fun in the virtual workplace.
... Thus, all management techniques are control mechanisms, regardless of whether they are flexible, democratic or even "fun" (Bilsland & Cumbers, 2018). These forms are composed of more subtle arrangements that seek the workers' consent and engagement with the current work dynamics, building a space where particular characteristics and personal attributes could be expressed more freely and instrumentalized by the organization (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009). The invitation to "be yourself" and the discourses of autonomy and empowerment reflect, above all, a subtle way of incorporating subjectivity as part of the production process to meet the organization's demands (Fleming & Sturdy, 2009;Jenkins & Delbridge, 2017). ...
... Autonomy stimulates the interns' intense subjective engagement in the work process. The discourse of autonomy, added to the interns' condition as apprentices and their desire for recognition, is instrumentalized to increase production, putting the work of interns and formal employees at the same level (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009). ...
Purpose This study aims to understand the production of consent to precarious working conditions in administration students' internship experiences. Design/methodology/approach A total of 13 students of an undergraduate program in Business Administration in a private university were interviewed. The students' perceptions about the dynamics of the internship and their engagement in this experience were explored through thematic analysis. Findings Internships became more than spaces to learn about the world of work. They are also the locus of professional socialization toward precarious work. The detachment of internships from their educational scope is mediated by neonormative control mechanisms that subjectively mobilize the interns, producing the institutionalization and appreciation of the precarious experience, resignified as something that leads to autonomy, learning and a job position. Practical implications The article can help students, universities and companies to assess the role of internships in training future professionals. Social implications The research problematizes the internship as a form of professional socialization toward precarious work and its detachment from the original educational purpose. The article critically contributes to the debate about the current professional socialization process of young students. Originality/value The article highlights the subjective dimension that supports students' consent to dysfunctional internships, discussing both the experience of work precariousness and exploitation, and the terms of the students' engagement in such dynamics, bridging consent to neonormative controls.
... It has also been suggested that workplace playfulness acts as an inducer of interest, pride, and involvement (Proyer, 2018) and that it enables employees to better express their capabilities (Rood & Meneley, 1991). While there have also been studies that reveal negative sides of playfulness at work, such as the evocation of cynicism (Fleming, 2005), feelings of being forced to play (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009), bullying and poor performance, these studies are few in number (16 out of 122 studies analyzed) and those that report negative effects also find positive effects (Celestine & Yeo, 2021). ...
... These functions are not mutually exclusive. They can be present at the same time (Butler 2015), and the same joking that can be a source of mental relief and amusement for some can cause displeasure and discomfort in others (Bolton & Houlihan 2009). 19. ...
... WPF attracts and retains employees as long as it improves employees' productivity and wellness (Chan, 2019), WE (Tsaur et al., 2019) and informal learning (Tews et al., 2017). A review of current discussions about work fun reveals that the primary focus is attempting to engage employees through fun things (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009). When people's anticipatory experience assessments are positive and the experience is enjoyable and valuable, they are more likely to engage in enjoyable activities (Michel et al., 2019). ...
Place branding through viral content affects a user and their experiences. Similarly, the pandemic era has seen greater acceptance of Instagram to target audiences from several geolocations. However, there is a lacuna to rationalize how place-branding contents can be made viral in pre and post-pandemic scenarios through Instagram. Accordingly, this book chapter develops how Instagram as a channel would help place branding in pre and post-pandemic strategies. Moreover, no prior studies have discussed place branding through viral content and subsequent relevancies in the pre and post-pandemic era. Since the rationale of place branding and viral content is unknown, we urge you to discuss the significance in the current scenario. This book chapter makes three contributions through the 3P framework and viral marketing strategy. First, using place branding and viral content strategy literature, we propose how Instagram as a channel helps create viral content in pre and post-pandemic eras. Second, we describe the place branding process, how branding content can go viral through Instagram, and the subsequent relevance in the post-pandemic age. Third, we aim to assist the tourism industry in developing comprehensive place branding strategies through Instagram in the post-pandemic era.KeywordsPlace brandingViral content marketingPre and post pandemic
... WPF attracts and retains employees as long as it improves employees' productivity and wellness (Chan, 2019), WE (Tsaur et al., 2019) and informal learning (Tews et al., 2017). A review of current discussions about work fun reveals that the primary focus is attempting to engage employees through fun things (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009). When people's anticipatory experience assessments are positive and the experience is enjoyable and valuable, they are more likely to engage in enjoyable activities (Michel et al., 2019). ...
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, event industry is among the most pandemic stricken industries needing urgent attention from policymaker and related professionals. The entire event organizers were seriously shaken due to the stoppage of programs, ceremonies, and other events that resulted in a higher turnover of employees in the event’s management organization. In this pursuit, the present study examines the influence of workplace fun on employees’ deep acting with the help of psychological capital as both direct effect and moderating effect. The present pursuit is a quantitative in nature and followed deductive reasoning approach to examine the hypothesized relationships. Using the snowball sampling, the study collected data from employees who have been working in tourism and hospitality industry with an access to internet and social media. Respondents were requested to fill up the questionnaire delivered through poll survey. The study employed structural equation modeling via SmartPLS3 to analyze the data (n = 151). Results showed that the direct effects are supported. However, the moderating effect of psychological capital is not supported. The study also unmasks policy interventions and need-based guidelines to enhance employee engagement and deep-acting at the workplace. Additionally, the current project notes on how the limitations of the current study might be rooten out by the future researchers.KeywordsWorkplace funWork engagementPsychological capitalEmployees’ deep actingTourism industryHospitality industry
Ob Hund oder Amöbe, Algorithmus oder künstliches Haustier, ob virtuell oder materialisiert, ob wahrnehmbar oder im Hintergrund – der Mensch ist nicht allein. Er teilt die Welt mit Entitäten und Wesenheiten auf eine Weise, die in ihrer Vielfältigkeit kaum abzusehen ist. Nur eines ist dabei schon jetzt klar: Die Modalitäten des Zusammenlebens in multispecies societies fügen sich nicht mehr den gewohnten Vorstellungen von Subjekt und Objekt, von innen und außen, von Herr- und Knechtschaft, von Rationalität und Gefühl. Vielmehr bricht sich die Erkenntnis Bahn, dass der Mensch auf andere Arten angewiesen ist. Und er tut gut daran, neue Formen der Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse einzugehen, ohne bloß den Träumen von Enhancement zu verfallen. Allein durch Gesten der Reduktion, wie Stefan Rieger zeigt, wird eine umfassendere Teilhabe ermöglicht. Und nur in Form veränderter Kooperationen und Kollaborationen, in Anerkennung anderer Handlungsmächte und einer Ethik, die nicht ausschließlich den Menschen im Blick hat, ist eine angemessene Reaktion auf die neue Welt von Menschen und Nicht-Menschen zu finden.
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Recent organizational theorizing has noted the emergence of a new spirit of normative control; implicit, informal, and internalized, “neonormative” control emphasizes a positive affective disposition toward work, a happy, fun, and inclusive workplace where employees are encouraged to “be themselves”. This emphasis on positivity, however, is often accompanied by diffuse and persistent anxiety, fear, and other forms of subjective suffering often noted in studies of neo-normative control. The relation between purportedly positive neo-normative discourses of engagement and the persistent resurgence of subjective suffering remains under-theorized and holds wider implications for understanding the control regime represented by neo-normative control and its possible modes of contestation. Through a qualitative case study of a changing organizational safety program at a university facilities service, we examine how engagement and fear discourses worked together at different phases of the program to create both ambient anxiety and self-engagement solutions to manage that anxiety. Rather than conceptualizing suffering as the unintended consequence or ignored remainder of neo-normative “positive” messages, we describe how fear appeals explicitly invoke suffering to enrol employees into a self-shifting mode that leads them to be proactive. In our discussion, we theorize the co-constitutive aspects of positive and negative emotional discourses within a control-capturing process, developing the implications of this dual-affective orientation for understanding neo-normative control and its self-fulfilling properties at work in the neoliberal workplace.
While gamification researchers have emphasised the exploration of game dynamics beyond typical game mechanics, there is still a blind spot regarding how specific game dynamics driven by social features enhance individual agility in the workplace. Since socially driven game dynamics are essential for collective units like organisations, this research conceptualized collaborative competition, paralinguistic digital recognition, and dynamic interactions as socially driven game dynamics and further, investigated how these game dynamics enhance individual agility through a moderated mediation model. Adopting a purposive sampling technique, 421 complete responses were found to be suitable for further analysis. The hypotheses were tested using an observed variable approach (Process Macro). The indirect effect of paralinguistic digital recognition on employee agility through collective engagement was found to be stronger than that of other game dynamics, such as collaborative competition and dynamic interactions. As hypothesised, collective goal difficulty acts as a positive moderator, accentuating the mediating effect of collective engagement. This study is one of the first works explaining the association between gamification and employee agility with a systematic framework, therefore advancing the existing literature on gamification and employee agility.
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The focus of this paper is on the organizational significance of shop-floor humour and in particular its relationship to gender identity and working-class resistance. A brief review of the literature on organizational humour is followed by a more detailed examination of the illuminating analysis by Willis of school/shop-floor counter-culture. Although his research provides a strong basis for the case study presented below, it is criticized for a tendency to romanticize working-class culture, humour and informal opposition. In contrast, by means of an empirical analysis of joking forms in the components division of a lorry producing factory, the paper then explores not only the collective elements, but also the internal divisions and contradictions that characterize shop-floor relations. By critically questioning the workers' manifest search to secure a highly masculine sense of identity, the paper is able to highlight a 'darker side' of shop-floor culture, which underpins and ultimately undermines the creative humour and collectivity found in the factory.
The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology studies the burgeoning field of positive psychology, which, in recent years, has transcended academia to capture the imagination of the general public. The book provides a roadmap for the psychology needed by the majority of the population-those who don't need treatment, but want to achieve the lives to which they aspire. The articles summarize all of the relevant literature in the field, and each is essentially defining a lifetime of research. The content's breadth and depth provide a cross-disciplinary look at positive psychology from diverse fields and all branches of psychology, including social, clinical, personality, counseling, school, and developmental psychology. Topics include not only happiness-which has been perhaps misrepresented in the popular media as the entirety of the field-but also hope, strengths, positive emotions, life longings, creativity, emotional creativity, courage, and more, plus guidelines for applying what has worked for people across time and cultures.
In my critique of positiveness I raised a number of key concerns about the conceptualization and development of the positive perspective in organizational behavior and organizational studies. Roberts addresses some of my worries, but still leaves open some importance questions, in particular the ontological assumptions that underpin positiveness and the scope for embracing critical theory.
This article examines emotion in organizations and the emotion management skills organizational actors possess. While Hochschild's (1983) seminal work on emotional labour is perhaps one of the greatest contributions to our understanding of emotion in organizations, this article challenges key tenets of Hochschild's thesis and goes on to offer an evolved analysis of emotional labour and alternative conceptualizations of organizational emotionality. Using comparable data, this article depicts airline cabin crews as skilled emotion managers who are able to juggle and synthesize different types of emotion work dependent on situational demands. In addition, the capacity for cabin crews to resist and modify the demands of management and customers acts to further contradict Hochschild's claim regarding the `transmutation' of feelings.