Fun at work is no laughing matter.
So says David J. Abramis, a psychologist who grew up in West Covina and graduated from West Covina High School. Now an assistant professor in the School of Business Administration at California State University, Long Beach, he has done a pioneering study of fun in the workplace.
Abramis, 32, surveyed 341 people about the fun, if any, they have at work. Among his discoveries: that the majority have a good time at work, that most people believe fun enhances their work performance and that bosses are crucial in determining whether or not employees have fun.
The psychologist, who now lives in Santa Monica, said he did the study because of a dearth of reliable information about good times in the workplace.
"In my job, I talk to a lot of people about their work," Abramis said. "One of the things that was frequently lacking in their conversation was evidence of excitement about their work, evidence that their work was fun. "
Abramis found virtually no reference to fun in the voluminous psychological literature on work and decided a study was overdue. "I thought other people would be interested in it--and I thought it would be fun."
Abramis devised a 170-item questionnaire about fun in the workplace that was administered to mostly white-collar workers in Southern California. Forty of those were interviewed by Abramis' graduate students.
Because fun is a highly subjective word--yucks and rubber chickens for some, handing out termination notices for the sadistic few--Abramis defined his terms.
"Fun," he advised those who volunteered to answer his survey, "is something that is greater than just satisfaction. Fun things make you feel happy, joy, pleasure. Fun things are amusing and entertaining. They can make work seem like play. Having fun means having a really good time."
According to Abramis, about 60% of those questioned reported that they have at least some fun at work. One in 10 felt strongly that work is fun. About the same number reported that work is no fun. Almost half those surveyed think fun belongs in the workplace. One in 10 said it has no place in the office or plant.
Abramis found that two factors contribute to fun in the workplace: the worker's attitude and the organizational climate. "It appears that intending to make your work fun is a major cause of fun at work," the psychologist said. "People who try to have fun have more fun."
Those who reported having fun at work believed that their good times enhanced their job performance, particularly their ability to get things done on time, and made them more creative. The more fun people have, the less likely they are to be late for work, he found.
Abramis discovered that having fun at work is most strongly correlated with a worker's satisfaction with his co-workers. Satisfaction with the boss is also a major factor. For managers, fun increased with the number of people they supervise.
The psychologist also looked at 54 work-related activities and how they affect fun on the job. He found that 12 activities--office parties, selling, traveling, working alone, getting rewards, being in a contest, fooling around (of a nature unspecified by the survey), company-sponsored sports, having dinner provided by the company, teaching others, having lunch provided by the company and company-bankrolled activities outside work--contributed to a worker's perception that his work is fun.
Workers who make $30,000 to $35,000 a year and those who earn more than $50,000 a year reported having the most fun on the job.
Abramis said there is much more work to be done on the subject. He would like to include more blue-collar workers in future studies. He also hopes to find a company willing to participate in an experiment on the effects of workday fun.
Abramis said his study suggests that organizations should adopt a new attitude toward fun.
"Instead of thinking of fun as a trivial sidestep from normal work activities, it can be thought of as a useful tool to help people enjoy their work more and possibly be more productive," he said. He also noted that fun might deter people from quitting their jobs, thus saving companies the high cost of employee turnover.
Abramis thinks it is especially important to educate supervisors about the seriousness of fun. "That's where you'll get the biggest bang for your fun buck," he said. He recommends that supervisors incorporate activities that they think are fun into the work schedule. He also advises supervisors to ask employees what is fun for them.
Laughter is a crude but useful indicator of a fun workplace, Abramis said.
"Because the work itself contributes to a sense of fun, just because you don't hear a lot of laughter doesn't mean you have a drag of a workplace. But the absence of laughter is a clue that something is wrong and could be improved."