Organizations have become more permeable— integrating more influences from the outside world— as participants engage in such online diversions as trading stocks, engaging in multiplayer games, or viewing images of their children in daycare. Ready availability of these activities has brought the potential for abuse but also new opportunities. Constructive uses of online recreation and play can enhance many workplaces (especially high-tech and information-saturated ones) and perhaps ultimately make them more productive. This article proposes that these complex issues be resolved through participatory approaches, involving workgroups in discussions as to what constitutes “constructive recreation” as well as in development and dissemination of effective and fair policies. This discourse can also ultimately increase levels of trust among team members and between employees and management.
Issues concerning the boundaries between work and play have provided continuing struggles for managers and employees. Workplaces have become more “porous” and permeable— integrating more influences from the outside world— as individuals engage in such online diversions as trading stocks, playing games, or viewing images of their children in daycare. Everyday workplace life is becoming more diverse and chaotic. Although many organizational roles today demand high levels of creativity and mental flexibility, they can also fail to provide the means through which individuals can gain fresh perspectives. In the “information age,” playful, exploratory, and spontaneous interaction can also facilitate the exchange of ideas for tackling workplace problems. Managers who expect employees not to use the Internet for some amount of off-task activity severely misjudge the nature of workplace life— which is solidly infused in online interaction. Depriving employees of opportunities for Internet recreation in some cases excludes the possibility of nearly any form of diversion from assigned responsibilities.
Workplace use of the Internet for activities that are not directly authorized by management is often considered as the “theft” of human and computer resources, while construed as a just reward by employees (Lim, 2002). Even though many managers consider the personal use of the Internet as an ethical lapse (Greengard, 2000), the “moral high ground” concerning these issues is not entirely clear. Much of the rhetoric and advertising copy associated with workplace computing incorporates recreational imageries and motifs, which can send misleading signals to employees. A number of individuals have already had significant experience combining work with online recreation; convincing them that hard work cannot be combined with online play is thus a tough sell. Telecommuters returning to organizational settings are often not entrusted with the autonomy to engage in online breaks at appropriate times— latitude they take for granted when doing the same tasks in their home offices. Many young people became comfortable with computing through video games and online interpersonal interaction and took online breaks during their demanding college studies (Colkin & George, 2002). Individuals must find ways to cope psychologically with increased pressures on the job (Weil & Rosen, 1997) and management should explore creative but feasible ways to assist them in these efforts.
Wireless Internet applications add more complexities, further increasing the porousness of organizations and making employees’ access to recreation less dependent on systems controlled by their managers. Daniels (2000) reports how wireless technologies (such as PDAs with Internet access) are used within meetings to amuse and distract participants, often resulting in productivity losses. Since wireless technologies are still in the early stages of adoption in many organizational contexts, placing severe restrictions on their use (and penalties for misuse) could be counter-productive. Personal computers became familiar workplace additions in the 1980s in part because of their use for gaming, an activity that encouraged employees of a variety of ages and backgrounds to explore the various dimensions of the devices and to become more comfortable with them.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Simulation Games: Games in which important aspects of a system are modeled so that game participants can engage in activities and deal with events that are comparable to those that system participants would encounter.
Organizational Policies: Openly-stated, officially-sanctioned rules for organizational resource usage and other kinds of organization-related conduct.
Social Capital: Social closeness, mutual knowledge, and cohesion that are a product of a wide assortment of different kinds of informal, volunteer, and partially-structured social interactions.
Play: Activities in which individuals and groups engage that stimulate various aspects of personal and social functioning without necessarily being related to particular utilitarian outcomes.