Sports and goofing off at work in China and the U.S.: attitudes and behavior.

Author:Decker, Wayne H.

    1.1 Fun at Work

    Managers are often concerned that their subordinates may waste time, play around, or otherwise not engage in work activities, i.e., "goof off." While it seems difficult to deny the potential negative outcomes of goofing off at work, there is another side to the story. Many authors have recommended that managers not only permit some unproductive intervals, but also strive to promote fun at work. In espousing a connection between work and fun, Holden (1993) asserted that, "The most successful people in business do not go out to work; they go out to play!" (p.17). Fun has been assumed to yield such benefits as reduced stress, boredom, fatigue, and conflict, as well as elevated creativity, group cohesiveness, morale, and enthusiasm (Akgeyik, 2007; Ford, Newstrom, and McLaughlin, 2004; Gropper and Kleiner, 1992; Newstrom, 2002). Furthermore, Abramis (1990) obtained evidence that making work more like play increases learning and mastery of the job.

    Attitudes toward fun at work, as well as goofing-off behavior, may vary as a function of gender and culture. In a study investigating gender differences in self-reported "goofing off" or "playing around" at work, Decker and Calo (2007a) found males admitted to goofing off to a greater degree than did females. It is not certain whether the females sampled actually goof off less than their male counterparts or simply are less willing to admit goofing off. In either case, it would suggest that males and females have different attitudes toward goofing off. This finding is consistent with other findings concerning gender differences in ethics, values, and citizenship behaviors which have more often than not portrayed females in a more favorable light than males (Bernardi and Arnold, 1997; Beu, Buckley, and Harvey, 2003; Decker and Calo, 2007b; Knotts, Lopez, and Mesak, 2000; O'Fallon and Butterfield, 2005; Singer and Singer, 1997; White, 1999).

    Decker and Calo (2007a) also found that male respondents were more likely than females to view their jobs as being somewhat like sports. As a result of greater sports involvement, males may see a greater compatibility between sports and work activities. That is, they may feel that you can play some and still get the job done. Athletes often engage in horseplay in and around the practice area (e.g., "hazing" new team members) even though they take athletic contests quite seriously. Those with less sports involvement may be more likely to view sport-like activities at work as goofing off. In addition, the extent to which respondents viewed their jobs as being like sports was predictive of female goofing off but not male goofing off. Despite the increased participation of females in sports in recent years, males may take sports more seriously than do females. Males may be more likely than females to view sports as similar to legitimate work or see greater compatibility between sports and work activities. Since males tend to have more sports involvement as participants and as spectators than do females, it appears that there was a confounding of gender and sports involvement in the Decker and Calo (2007a) study. Perhaps sports involvement is more highly associated with attitudes toward goofing off and goofing-off behaviors than is gender. There is a need to investigate whether the gender effect would occur if sports involvement were controlled.

    1.2 Sports and Business

    In the United States sports experience is often perceived as a positive factor in the development of successful business persons. Numerous authors have proposed that experiences in sports are helpful in developing attributes and skills that influence the manner in which business is conducted and contribute to success in business professions, as well as other endeavors (Boone, Kurtz, and Fleenor, 1988; Coats and Overman, 1992; Corsun and Costen, 2001; Harragan, 1977; Kelinske, Mayer, and Chen, 2001; Rayburn, Goetz, and Osman, 2001; Rudman, 1986; Windsor, 1996). For example, Windsor (1996) asserted that "The discipline, systematization, and proficiency endowed by athletic training have long been viewed as critical to the indoctrination and seasoning of future military and business leaders" (p.37). Also, sports are credited with contributing to the acquisition of skills such as goal setting, leadership, competitiveness, fair play and networking, as well as encouraging regular exercising which can help individuals withstand the demands of business (Kelinske, Mayer, and Chen, 2001). Supporting this notion is the fact that CEOs were twelve times as likely as college students in general to have participated in intercollegiate athletics. Furthermore, many CEOs who had been college athletes credited playing sports with helping them learn teamwork and interpersonal skills (Boone, Kurtz, and Fleenor, 1988). In addition, Rozell, Pettijohn, and Parker (2002) found that higher emotional intelligence scores were associated with involvement in sports. Livingston (1971) argued that those who get to the top management levels have developed skills that are not taught in management education programs, and which may be even difficult to learn on the job. It may be that sports participation provides an opportunity for developing those needed skills.

    1.3 Gender, Sports, and Business

    Male dominance of the business world may be due, in part, to the fact that in the U.S. and in many other cultures fewer females have had extensive sports experience (Coats and Overman, 1992; Corsun and Costen, 2001; Kelinske, Mayer, and Chen; 2001; Rayburn, Goetz, and Osman, 2001; Rudman, 1986; Rutherford, 2001; van der Boon, 2003; Windsor, 1996). Loughlin and Barling (2001) noted that as women are increasingly engaging in athletic competition they may be better prepared for leadership positions in organizations. However, all sports experiences are unlikely to yield equivalent benefits. Even when opportunities are presented for women to participate in sports in school, women report more frustration than men because of the lack of encouragement and continued mentoring (Rayburn, Goetz, and Osman, 2001). Also, many females who do participate in sports may not do so for the same reasons as males and may not obtain the same outcomes. Kelinske, Mayer, and Chen (2001) found U.S. males described more of a competitive orientation with respect to their participation in sports. Females emphasized the fitness benefit to a greater extent than did males, although the latter finding was not statistically significant. Similary, Chen (1998) found body weight management to be the primary motive for American women's participation in physical activities.

    Coulomb-Cabagno and Pascale (2006) attributed greater male aggressive behaviors, whatever the sport or competitive level, to a differential socialization process for males and females, in accordance with gender-role expectations. Such differences would be consistent with Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977), which explains gender differences in attitudes and behaviors as being shaped by what is modeled and reinforced early in life. Rayburn, Goetz, and Osman (2001) argued that, to the extent that sports are organized differently for the genders, females do not have the same opportunities to develop leadership skills as do males. Therefore, despite the recent increase in sports participation by women, such activities may not yield the same benefits for men as they do for women.

    1.4 Sports and Personal Development: Some Negative Outcomes

    Despite the multitude of declarations of the value of sports, not all findings concerning sports participation are positive. For example, Rees and Howell (1990) found high school sports participation to have positive effects on attitudes toward school, but negative effects on irritability and aggressiveness. Similarly, Rhea and Lantz (2004) found high school athletes to engage in fewer violent and delinquent behaviors than non-athletes, but the athletes exhibited a greater tendency for aggressive responses during conflict. While finding numerous positive effects of sports participation (e.g., initiative, time management), Larson, Hansen, and Moneta (2006) found greater stress to be associated with such activities. Also, Lee, Whitehead, and Ntoumanis (2007) obtained evidence that tolerance of cheating and gamesmanship is associated with team sports participation. Decker and Lasley (1995) investigated the effects of organized youth sports upon elementary school children and observed that boys with extensive participation were more likely than others to adopt a self-interested point of view over a moral point of view both in sports and in other activities. Furthermore, as a result of reviewing literature on moral maturity, Kelinske...

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