Having some fun with it: A theoretical review and typology of activity-based play-at-work

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In recent decades, practitioner interest in the notion of “play” at work has generated a surge of research on the topic of play-at-work activities. Findings suggest that activity-based play-at-work can produce an array of positive outcomes for individuals and the organization. However, there remains uncertainty about which forms of play are effective for meeting which particular objectives as past reviews have either focused on a narrow activity or treated all activities as uniform. In this paper, we draw on knowledge from the play and management literatures to review 122 studies of activity-based play-at-work and its outcomes. By identifying several activity-based play-at-work concepts from the literature, we apply both theoretical and data-driven approaches to generate a two-dimensional typology comprising four categories. These categories are manager-initiated work-embedded play (e.g., serious play), self-/peer-initiated work-embedded play (e.g., experiencing one's work as a “game,” “puzzle,” or “sport”), manager-initiated diversionary play (e.g., celebrations), and self-/peer-initiated diversionary play (e.g., joking practices). In our discussion, we unify play-at-work activities under an energy-management framework and consider implications for understanding each of the four categories in our typology using both theories applied in past research and energy-related theories from neighboring literatures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-268
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Organizational Behavior
Issue number2
Early online date14 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


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