In a study conducted by a team of researchers, they found that fun workplace environments had a significant impact on how well employees picked up lessons from unstructured, non-classroom forms of learning.
“Informal learning is a common way employees pick up lessons that can improve their job performances,” said lead study author, Michael Tews, associate professor of hospitality at Pennsylvania State University.
“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.”
He added that the activities themselves were not the most important factor but it was the fun factor that created an environment for better learning.
Employees who perceive work to be fun are more inclined to try new things and don’t fear making mistakes, he said.
In fact, in their study, Does fun promote learning? The relationship between fun in the workplace and informal learning,
they discovered that managers who supported fun more than learning had a bigger impact on the employee.
“There's a lot of talk in the literature about a manager's support for learning, or creating a climate for learning, and how that makes a culture for learning where workers learn from one another,” Tews told Science Daily.
“What we're showing is that this fun on the job actually matters as much as – or even more – than that support for learning.”
He said that while it is often looked at as a distraction, having fun at one’s job improves a worker’s optimism, leading to better attention with tasks.
However, he cautioned managers to be discerning in how they promote fun and learning in the workplace as earlier research showed that while fun has a positive effect on learning and employee retention, it had a negative impact on productivity.
“With most management tactics, there are always going to be pros and cons. There's never going to be a perfect workplace, there's never going to be a perfect management intervention, so you have to choose your battles,” he said.
For this study conducted with fellow researchers business management professor John W. Michel and professor of management and HR Raymond Noe, they surveyed more than 200 participants from the restaurant industry as it provides limited opportunities for formal classroom learning and asked them to rate fun activities, their bosses support for these activities, and their attitude towards learning in the workplace.
Their research was published in the latest edition of Journal of Vocational Behavior.