Monday, February 22, 2010


Managers have often used organizationally sanctioned recreation as a perquisite, a bonus for acceptable conduct. It has served as an extension of the workplace, providing new settings for social interaction. One can be cynical about the softball and bowling leagues sponsored by organizations — but they can help provide a form of “social capital,” part of the “glue” that holds the atwork community together . Through the past century, many organizations have sponsored picnics and celebrations with the strategy of
increasing workplace cohesion.
As employees (including many white collar as well as knowledge workers) telecommute or put in long and irregular hours, the adhesive that binds organizations has been increasingly conveyed through electronic channels.
However, it is unclear what kinds of online activity can foster social capital. Just as human resource experts struggled early in the 20th century to integrate face-to-face recreation into workplace contexts, organizations should attempt similar feats in online realms, thus making online recreation a shared and open resource rather than a secretive endeavor .
Unlike many early human relations experiments, the recreational activities
involved should be developed in a participatory (rather than patriarchal) fashion. Whether organization-approved fantasy football, discussion group and collaborative filtering forums, joke-of-the-day contests, or other recreations are ultimately successful will depend on how they fit into everyday working experiences.
Constructive use of online recreation can also help to dispel a number of
unfortunate and demeaning workplace practices that ultimately serve to erode trust. In many organizational contexts where face-to-face interaction is involved, employees must go through the effort of looking busy when managers are present; they must create an acceptable “work face” that supposedly reflects productive effort. Often, both managers and employees feel that they have to put in extended hours or make other visible sacrifices for the organization, even when these efforts are apparently not needed for organizational productivity . Here are examples of such forms of “emotional labor.” For instance, flight attendants must appear to be welcoming, whatever their current state of emotion; professionals and service personnel in other fields must similarly take on certain sets of facial and behavioral expressions as they present a face to the world .
These expressions are considered relevant to job evaluations in many contexts,
often in ways not demonstrably related to productivity. Such emotional labor has online correlates: managers who stop workers from playing online games in idle moments and order them to do inessential tasks signal that what is valued is not work itself, but the appearance that people are productively occupied.
Constructing ways of assigning tasks and evaluating employees so that significant and meaningful measures of productivity are involved can lessen this emphasis on the “surface” behavior of employees. The fostering of understandings concerning online recreation can empower individuals to use time constructively (either in productive effort or in recreation) and avoid such demoralizing emotional labor games.

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