People Learn More When Their Offices Are Fun

Photo: Ferran Traité Soler/Getty Images/Vetta

Baby boomers and millennials are equally infused with the Protestant work ethic — the hyperdutiful drive toward productivity that makes everybody eat lunch at their desks and work while sick and never take vacation.

But, contrary to what the people who wanted to ban Christmas for being too indulgent would have you believe, lots of research is showing that enjoying your job and the company of the people you do it with is good for your health and your performance. The latest data comes care of a new paper in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, lead-authored by Michael J. Tews at Penn State.

The self-report-based study was composed of two waves of surveys sent to over 200 managers at a company that owns and manages about 80 casual restaurants across the U.S. The first survey measured the number of “fun” activities that happened at the workplace, like happy hours and competitions and celebrations of work achievement and such. The second survey, sent six months later, measured “informal learning,” which the researchers say includes “self-reflection, experimenting with new ways of performing work, interacting with others, and reading job-relevant material.”

After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that fun activities significantly related to learning from others, learning from articles in print and online, and overall informal learning. Interestingly, the self-ratings of “manager support for fun” didn’t correlate very well with the informal learning; it seems that it’s the activities themselves that are powerful drivers of knowledge.

“When employees are afforded opportunities to socialize with one another, higher-quality relationships are more likely to develop, which can open the door for the exchange of ideas,” Tews and his colleagues write.

Crucially, bosses should avoid the Michael Scott trap of forcing good times; it’s better to allow them to emerge. “Perhaps, sometimes the best support that management can give employees to encourage learning from experimentation and self-reflection is remaining in the background and allowing employees to be themselves,” the authors write, “rather than directly providing aid and assistance.”

Pair this study with the research that people who are better connected through their organization are more innovative — because their ideas get more exposure and feedback — and a recent meta-analysis of 77 studies that found that the more people felt a part of a team at work, the greater their well-being. If you need me, I’ll be at happy hour.

People Learn More When They Have Fun at Work