How do our experiences at work affect our eating habits? Here Siqi Wang explains how ‘playful work design’ can be used to improve people’s experiences of work and their leisure activities, in order to boost their overall wellbeing. She argues that this increase in wellbeing also encourages healthier eating. This piece is based on an upcoming paper co-authored with Professor Mireia Las Heras, Professor Yasin Rofcanin and Dr. Zeynep Yalabik.
It’s everyone’s dream to find a job that really interests them, but the reality doesn’t always go that way. As the line from the film Roman Holiday goes “life isn't always what one likes”. This is many people’s attitude to their job. Many employees find themselves doing boring, tedious work every day. Even if you enjoy your job, there’s no avoiding the occasional tedious, boring or otherwise unpleasant task.
Though we all accept the above as a given, I’d like to offer a controversial opinion: work does not have to be boring. All of us can take steps actively improve our experience at work.
Even though we cannot change the nature of our job, research shows that we can redesign jobs by ourselves to make them interesting and challenging, in order to achieve basic psychological need satisfaction. Moreover, employees can also ‘playfully design’ their leisure activities. By being proactive at work and also proactively managing their leisure time, people will become psychologically happy with their job. The happier people get at work, the more positive side effects will spill over into their personal lives. One example being that they’ll start to focus on a healthy living style: exercising, sleeping well, spending quality time with family members and eating healthily. Our research looks more closely at the latter.
What is ‘playful work design’?
Playful work design is a way that people can proactively create playful conditions at work that foster competition and fun. To be clear, playfully designing your work does not alter the nature of work tasks. Instead, employees can make subtle cognitive changes to the tasks without changing the task content. There are two ways to playfully design your work. First, employees can reframe their work activities to be more fun. Second, employees can create a sense of competition when performing various tasks. For example, an HR manager could make the repetitive employee job satisfaction interviews less boring by comparing the employee responses with the theories written in a HR theory book they read recently.
What is ‘playful leisure design’?
Employees can not only playfully design the job, but can also playfully design leisure activities after work. There are two types of leisure: “casual leisure” and “serious leisure”. Casual leisure activities are those activities that offer immediate, and relatively short-lived pleasure for people and usually require little or no special training to enjoy them. Examples might include reading a book, watching TV, and meeting friends. Serious leisure activities are those activities that require some skills, knowledge, or experience. For example, playing sports, playing chess, singing or playing an instrument, and weightlifting at the gym.
Our research has shown that people can playfully design both casual leisure actives and serious activities. For example, when reading a book, people can give themselves a target like 10 mins finishing 15 pages to make the reading process fun and challenging. Whereas for serious leisure, an example might be for people to change up their training plan at the gym regularly, to ensure the training doesn’t get tedious or train together with friends/partners to compete.
How do playful work and leisure design impact our eating motives?
Health is a major concern for most people. We know that our health status impacts life expectancy and overall wellbeing. Eating well is a major part of this.
We collected daily survey data from 65 dual-earner couples in the U.S., over a period of 15 working days.
We found that people who engage in playful work design are more likely to engage in playful leisure design, as a result, they are more motivated to eat healthily. Our arguments based on the empirical evidence showing that, through participating in leisure activities, people can generate personal resources such as resilience, self-efficacy, and vigor and benefit individuals’ subjective well-being. In turn, individuals can consume and utilize these valuable personal resources to control and regulate their healthy eating motives.
Given the close connection between playful design and employee healthy eating behaviours, our research suggests organisations should provide playful work design and playful leisure design training to their employees to improve the overall health of their workforce. Moreover, organisations could give more job flexibility to employees which enable them to engage in playful work design. By doing this, employees will experience less stress at work, and as a result are more likely to eat healthily and engage in self-care activities, which would lead to better work performance.