Workers' Playtime?: Boundaries and Cynicism in a ''Culture of Fun'' Program

Topics: Management, Employment, The Culture Pages: 32 (10318 words) Published: May 5, 2013
The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science Workers' Playtime? : Boundaries and Cynicism in a ''Culture of Fun'' Program Peter Fleming Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 2005 41: 285 DOI: 10.1177/0021886305277033 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Workers’ Playtime?
Boundaries and Cynicism in a “Culture of Fun” Program

Peter Fleming

University of Cambridge

This article examines the popular trend among management academics, consultants, and practitioners of prescribing “cultures of fun” to enhance productivity. This management approach suggests inter alia that organizations should break with the conventional wisdom of delineating work from play and instead craft an environment of fun and humor. Drawing on a field study of a communications firm, the article demonstrates how managed “fun” involves the symbolic blurring of traditional boundaries that usually distinguish work and nonwork. Typically nonwork experiences associated with family, lifestyle, consumption, and school are evoked to create a more pleasurable atmosphere. In the study however, this blurring had an unintended effect of fuelling cynicism among some employees. Although this cynicism probably has a number of sources, it is argued that its relationship to boundary management provides some interesting insights about the limitations of contemporary culture management. Keywords: boundaries; culture; cynicism; dignity; fun; humor; power

The attempt to foster “cultures of fun” in contemporary workplaces has been a prominent feature of culture management programs ever since the trend gained momentum in the early 1980s. According to the original culture gurus, including Peters and Waterman (1982), Pascale and Athos (1981), and Deal and Kennedy (1982), managers should revitalize employees by creating a corporate environment that is conducive to fun, humor, and play. What Deal and Kennedy (1982) called “work hard/play hard” cultures aim to supplant the traditional stereotype that depicts work as a serious and Peter Fleming is lecturer in organization studies at the Judge Institute of Management, University of Cambridge. He is currently interested in space and organization, power, and organizational democracy. THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE, Vol. 41 No. 3, September 2005 285-303 DOI: 10.1177/0021886305277033 © 2005 NTL Institute


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September 2005

deadpan activity. Through informal dress codes, office parties, games, humor, zany training camps, joking, and so on, organizational members are encouraged to loosen up and find more pleasure in their roles (Greenwich, 2001; Reeves, 2001). In the 1980s, the benefits said to accrue from making work fun were flexibility, competitive advantage, and increased motivation (R. Kanter, 1989; Peters, 1989; Peters & Austrin, 1986). In the 1990s, the message was much the same but with the added emphasis on customer service, innovation, empowerment, and creativity (Barsoux, 1993; Bolman & Deal, 2000; Deal & Key, 1998; Peters, 1992). Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the notion of fun cultures appears to have outlasted the...
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