Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Play and Productivity: Enhancing the Creative Climate at Workplace Meetings with Play Cues

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Play and Productivity: Enhancing the Creative Climate at Workplace Meetings with Play Cues

Article excerpt

THE AVERAGE EMPLOYEE spends more than six hours a week in scheduled meetings. Supervisors spend twice as much time in formal meetings, and in larger organizations, managers spend more than 75 percent of their time preparing and executing meetings (Rogelberg et. al. 2010). Given the sheer abundance of meetings in today's workplaces, meetings are a useful starting point for empirical investigations of how organizational playfulness might be enhanced.

We intend to explore the benefits of encouraging play in workplace meetings. Some research associates organizational play with increased creativity (Mainemelis and Ronson 2006), but experimental studies of organizational play remain rare. In one of our previous studies, we asked creativity consultants and play advocates how they used play in organizations and invited them to share their ideas about how play might benefit creativity (West, Hoff, and Carlsson 2013). We found that practitioners often use playful props or cues to encourage play with their organizational clients. Building on this finding, we set out to investigate how playful cues introduced in workplace meetings affect their creative climate, playfulness, and productivity.

Definitions of Play

As Brian Sutton-Smith (1997) noted, play proves an elusive concept, one easily experienced but difficult to capture theoretically. Stuart Brown (2009) defines play as an absorbing and intrinsically motivated activity, apparently purposeless, that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness. Organizational behaviorists like Charalampus Mainemelis and Sarah Ronson (2006) have suggested that play can best be understood as a behavioral orientation superimposed on work tasks. Play does not need to be completely separated from work because even work tasks can be executed playfully. Understood as an orientation toward a task, the type of activity becomes less important than how we frame and perform it. A playful approach, then, involves an intentional reframing of a situation or a task to make it more enjoyable (Barnett 2007; Glynn and Webster 1992). Thus, play does not need to be confined to specific, predetermined activities. Just about any activity, including those we do everyday at work, can-with a playful approach-be transformed into play (Sutton-Smith 1997). A corporate email might, for example, become playful when the sender attaches a silly image adding an unexpected twist to the message. In a recent investigation of organizational play, we expanded on our previous definitions of play and characterized it as being fun, frivolous, imaginative, voluntary, and, in some way, bound by structure or rules (West, Hoff, and Carlsson 2013).

Further complicating matters, we believe playfulness can be viewed both as a state and a trait. As a trait, playfulness over time seems a relatively stable aspect of personality, but as a state, playfulness appears a frame of mind strongly influenced by context. Shen, Chick, and Zinn (2014) argue that existing conceptualizations of playfulness as a trait often conflate characteristics of playful behavior with the dispositional qualities of individuals. State-level variables such as feeling happy and overt behavior such as laughing become confused with trait variables such as intrinsic motivation and curiosity. Shen, Chick, and Zinn suggest a conceptual model of adult playfulness as a trait that consists of the three subdimensions: fun-seeking motivation, a lack of inhibition, and spontaneity. Research shows that playfulness as a trait and as a state have different relationships with outcome variables. Playfulness as a state is, for example, more influential than trait playfulness on job performance and job satisfaction (Yu et. al. 2007). A recent investigation of organizational play found measures of playfulness as a personality trait to be stable over time, whereas state measures of playfulness increased after a workplace play initiative (West, Hoff, and Carlsson 2015). …

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