Play in the Workplace: An Empirical Study on the Nature and Effects of Organizational Play

Sofie Vingaard Larsen & Lykke Kamstrup Kristensen

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

This thesis explores the effects and potential of introducing play in a workplace setting and investigates to what extent these effects vary in different organizational contexts. The aim is to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of organizational play as well as contribute with empirical findings to a research field currently dominated by theory.

Through the perspective of interpretivism, the thesis follows a multi-method qualitative research design, comparing the findings from two individual case studies. The empirical foundation of the analysis comprises secondary data in the form of company documents together with primary data collected through participant observation as well as eleven semi-structured interviews. Interviews are conducted with employees and management from Pentia and Nestlé Nordic, who both exhibit play in the workplace. As the nature of the study is explorative, the analysis follows an inductive approach guided by research objectives rather than existing theory. In the comparative part of the analysis, however, Schein’s Culture Framework (1984) is applied in order to develop a common frame for the comparison of the two unique organizational contexts.

The findings of the thesis suggest that play is a multifaceted concept that is challenging for employees to define and relate to. As a result, even the most playful organizations do not perceive themselves as playing. Common positive effects of organizational play are found to be positive affect, cognitive restoration, and positive effects on interpersonal relations, whereas common negative effects are people feeling uncomfortable, play being perceived as transgressive, or a waste of time. The two case organizations experience different effects, which are partly attributed to cultural differences, including if the organizations focus on teams or individuals as well as if play is an integrated part of the culture or just appears as fun break activities. Besides culture, differences are also attributed to individual differences, whether the nature of play is spontaneous or orchestrated and the level of psychological safety in the organization.

More exploratory studies of organizational play are needed in the future, however, as the language of organizational play is still very limited, we recommend future researchers to critically consider whether interviews is the most suitable method to sufficiently explore the potential and effects of organizational play.

EducationsMSc in Psychology, (Graduate Programme) Final ThesisMSc in Management of Innovation and Business Development, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2020
Number of pages114
SupervisorsMorten Thanning Vendelø