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The Fun Theory And Workplace Motivation

From Lorraine Segal’s Conflict Remedy Blog

street sign, internal one way and external the other

Can fun be an effective motivator at work? It might, according to a recent psychology study reported by David DiSalvo.

In the study, researchers first assessed participants as high or low achievers and then gave them a series of 5 computerized tests. Their computers flashed various achievement-oriented cues for the first 4 tests, and, predictably, the higher achievers performed better.

But, the fifth set of test cues instead addressed having fun, and on that last test alone, the low achievers performed better than the high achievers.

The implication is that some people, completely unmoved by traditional rewards, are motivated to do their best if they think they’ll enjoy doing it.

The conclusions of this study complement other research done on effective motivation. There is a growing body of evidence that extrinsic motivators, whether positive (such as free pizza, bonuses, or a better office space) or negative (such as fear of losing your job) don’t work for very long, even for high achievers. Some writers and researchers believe that only intrinsic motivations are sustainable over a long period of time.

Alexander Kjerulf, author of Happy Hour Is Nine to Five has written about six kinds of intrinsic motivation: challenge for yourself with new tasks, control and choice about how work gets done, cooperation with and helping others, getting recognition for your work, happiness and enjoyment at work, and trust.

The opposite of these intrinsic motivators: boredom, powerlessness, isolation, neglect, misery, and mistrust, are often factors in workplace conflicts at all organizational levels.

I can think of work and school situations where, out of desperate boredom, I created my own challenges and enjoyment. As a college student in a dreadfully dull sociology class, I amused myself by tabulating how frequently the professor used his many favorite clichés.

As a dispirited temp worker, tasked with endlessly checking and replacing files, I cheered up all day after spontaneously imagining myself crouched down near the bottom file drawer, growling and snapping at the legs of all the people walking by.

I believe almost any workplace can be better if we find our own intrinsic motivation, with or without institutional support. And it is definitely time to take fun far more seriously as a source of satisfaction, achievement, and harmony at work.


Lorraine Segal

After surviving the 50's and 60's, as well as twenty years in toxic academia as a tenured professor, Lorraine Segal was inspired to started her own business, Conflict Remedy (, happily teaching, coaching, blogging and consulting around workplace conflict transformation. She is addicted to reading novels and enjoys walking and… MORE >

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