Sub-theme 35: More Fully Human: Humanizing Organizations through Play and Art-based Interventions ---> MERGED with sub-theme 78

Lyndon Garrett
Boston College, USA
Hanna Lehtimäki
University of Eastern Finland, Finland
Jinia Mukerjee
Montpellier Business School, France

Call for Papers

One of the challenges facing organizations striving to cultivate an inclusive environment is that organizations are often environments where people struggle to be fully human at work. Traditional views of organizations see them as a system of roles and contracts rather than as a “community of persons” (Melé, 2012). The rational-legal bureaucratic form that characterizes many modern corporations emphasizes efficiency and fragmentation over being fully human. Max Weber describes this bureaucratic form as being achieved by “eliminating from official business love, hatred and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements” (1946/1958: 216). Although recognizing the potential value in this form of organizing, Weber (1904/1958) and others worried that the inherent depersonalization and deliberate inhibition of people’s humanity would produce alienation and a crippling of the human spirit.
However, this narrow view of work has expanded over the past few decades with growing efforts to humanize the workplace. The notion of organizational life now represents “a site for the search for ‘personal wellness’, a place and time where ‘well-being’ is defined and self-expression actively encouraged, where ‘happiness’ is sought through a proliferation of techniques celebrating the self” (Costea et al., 2005: 141). This movement to humanize organizational life calls for practices that challenge traditional conceptions of work.
Two promising developments in this movement over the past few decades have been the inclusion of play and arts-based interventions in organizations. Barsoux (1993) argues that such activities are an essential part of humanizing organizations. The use of play in organizations has received increasing interest, for instance, by relating play to ‘wellness’ (Butler et al., 2011; Costea et al., 2005). The integration of work and play became a trend around the emergence of Silicon Valley, with firms providing playful environments as a respite from the long work hours. Over time, play is progressively becoming a way of doing work. The inclusion of play at work has been backed by recent research that shows play’s beneficial effects on employees’ health and well-being, affective experience, job satisfaction, work motivation, service quality, and creativity (Amabile, 1996; Chesbrough, 2006; Karl & Peluchette, 2006; Mainemelis & Dionysiou, 2015; Mainemalis & Ronson, 2006; Statler et al., 2009; Statler et al., 2011).
Relatedly, arts-based interventions are increasingly utilized in organizational development processes (Taylor & Ladkin, 2009) and have been recognized for their ability to spark innovation (Ibbotson & Darso, 2008), foster greater attentional capacity (Springborg, 2010), enable individuals to manage their emotions more effectively (Taylor & Statler, 2009) and generate spaces in which people can create alternative visions for new futures (Barry & Meisiek, 2010). The arts can foster the development of new discourses and sensemaking in service of incorporating human values at work. For example, there is a growing interest in how the arts and art-based interventions can be used to bring about more sustainable ways of living (Dieleman, 2007). Artistic methods and actions can make us see things from a new angle.
The efficacy of play and art as mechanisms for humanizing work stems from their deeply rooted place in human nature. In his seminal book, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture, artist/historian Johan Huizinga (1955) sought to position play and art as elementary to the human condition and fundamental to social and cultural life. Nachmanovitch (1990) describes the familial relationship between play and art, that “Play is the taproot from which original art springs; it is the raw stuff that the artist channels and organizes with all his learning and technique” (p. 42). Stuart Brown described the importance of play, which also applies to art:
“When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality. Is it any wonder that often the times we feel most alive, those that make up our best memories, are moments of play?... Remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. We don’t need to play all the time to be fulfilled, just have moments of play that act as catalysts and influence our work and home relationships and innovative capacities… We were designed to find fulfillment through play” (p. 5).
Play and art share a common orientation of doing the activity for its own sake. As Meier (1980) describes, “Play is not a means to external ends or purposes; it does not further survival, sustenance, pragmatic, or materialistic interests. It is process rather than product oriented. The interest in play is the pursuit of internal values and ends; the reward is in the act. Thus, the prize of play is play itself” (p. 25). That is not to suggest that play has no functional utility, but that utility is not what the play is for. Similarly, in the preface of his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (1891) noted that “all art is quite useless,” acknowledging that his work fundamentally opposes the Marxist notion that “nothing can be of value without being an object of utility” (2004: 131). By escaping from the hegemony of purposiveness, the arts promote the development of more playful sensibility (Huizinga, 1955; Guardini, 1997). But to say that play and the arts lack purpose is not to say that they lack meaning; rather, they are meaningful ends in themselves (Morgan, 2007), representing a “higher seriousness” (Hegel, 1959: 55).
Herein lies the challenge. With organizations seeking to optimize performance and efficiency, play and art may be seen as frivolous, unproductive, or even as a deterrent to positive firm outcomes (Mainemelis & Altman, 2010; Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006; Statler et al., 2009). Max Weber (1904/1958) argued that the prerational frivolity of play and the rational efficiency of bureaucracy are ultimately incommensurable. Additionally, play and art are as susceptible to perversion if attempted to accomplish an explicit function – perhaps why gamification is often not experienced as play (e.g., Fleming, 2005; Mollick & Rothbard, 2014).
The purpose of this sub-theme is to explore how play and art can be fruitfully integrated with work in organizations. What are the benefits, challenges, and opportunities around play and art-based interventions? How can we use play and art to redesign our organizations “so that we can follow this playful human nature – rather than constantly shave the blade against, across and through it” (Kane, 2004: 12). We invite interdisciplinary contributions, both conceptual and empirical, that enrich our understanding of how play and arts-based interventions can be leveraged to help develop more humanizing ways of organizing our communities, societies, and work organizations.
Potential themes include, but are not limited to, areas such as:

  • What is artistic or playful sensibility, and how can it help us to rethink business and organizations?

  • What are the mechanisms of effectively integrating play and art with work? What are the limits and challenges in this integration?

  • How does play support or hinder key organizational processes and dynamics? Or how can art help us to rethink organizational processes and dynamics?

  • How can playful practices and art-based interventions sustain organizational creativity and effectiveness, as well as promote employee well-being and human connection?

  • What are the potential tensions or dark sides surrounding the use of play or art-based interventions in organizations?


  • Amabile, T. (1996): Creativity in Context. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Barry, D., & Meisiek, S. (2010): “Seeing more and seeing differently: Sensemaking, mindfulness, and the workarts.” Organization Studies, 31 (11), 1505–1530.
  • Barsoux, J.L. (1993): Funny Business: Humour, Management and Business Culture. London: Cassell.
  • Brown, S.L. (2009): Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin.
  • Butler, N., Olaison, L., Sliwa, M., & Spoelstra, S. (2011): “Work, play and boredom.” Ephemera Theory & Politics in Organization, 11 (4), 329–335.
  • Chesbrough, H.W. (2006): “The era of open innovation.” Managing Innovation and Change, 127 (3), 34–41.
  • Costea, B., Crump, N., & Holm, J. (2005): “Dionysus at work? The ethos of play and the ethos of management.” Culture and Organization, 11 (2), 139–151.
  • Dieleman, H. (2007): “Sustainablity, art and reflexivity: Why artists and designers may become key change agents in sustainability.” European Sociological Association Conference: New Frontiers in Arts Sociology, 1–26.
  • Fleming, P. (2005): “Workers’ playtime? Boundaries and cynicism in a ‘culture of fun program.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 41 (3), 285–303.
  • Ibbotson, P., & Darso, L. (2008): “Directing creativity: The art and craft of creative leadership.” Journal of Management and Organization, 14 (5), 548–559.
  • Karl, K., & Peluchette, J. (2006): “How does workplace fun impact employee perceptions of customer service quality?” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 13 (2), 2–13.
  • Mainemelis, C., & Altman, Y. (2010): “Work and play: New twists on an old relationship.” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23 (1).
  • Mainemelis, C., & Dionysiou, D.D. (2015): “Play, flow, and timelessness.” In: C.E. Shalley, M.A. Hitt & J. Zhou (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 121–140.
  • Mainemelis, C., & Ronson, S. (2006): “Ideas are born in fields of play; towards a theory of play and creativity in organizational settings.” Research in Organizational Behavior, 27, 81–131.
  • Melé, D. (2012): “The firm as a ‘community of persons: A pillar of humanistic business ethos.” Journal of Business Ethics, 106 (1), 89–101.
  • Mollick, E., & Rothbard, N. (2014): Mandatory Fun: Consent, Gamification and the Impact of Games at Work. The Wharton School Research Paper Series, available at SSRN: or
  • Springborg, C. (2010): “Leadership as art – Leaders coming to their senses.” Leadership, 6 (3), 243–258.
  • Statler, M., Heracleous, L., & Jacobs, C.D. (2011): “Serious play as a practice of paradox.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47 (2), 236–256.
  • Statler, M., Roos, J., & Victor, B. (2009): “Ain’t misbehavin’: Taking play seriously in organizations.” Journal of Change Management, 9 (1), 87–107.
  • Taylor, S.S., & Ladkin, D. (2009): “Understanding arts-based methods in managerial development.” Academy of Management Learning and Education, 8 (1), 55–69.
  • Taylor, S.S., & Statler, M. (2009): “Material matters: Using media to manage emotion in arts-based learning processes.” Working paper.
  • Weber, M. (1904/1958): The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Scribner’s.
  • Weber, M. (1946/1958): “Essays in Sociology.” In: M. Weber, H. Gerth & C.W. Mills (eds.): From Max Weber. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lyndon Garrett is an Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, USA. He studies relational dynamics in groups and teams, with a focus on interpersonal processes such as interaction rituals, competition, play, and role performance. He draws primarily on qualitative methods to explore unique contexts, such as sports, theatre, and police departments. Lyndon seeks to gain insights from these contexts on how to cultivate meaningful and authentic human connection in organizations. His research has been published in top academic and practitioner journals including ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Harvard Business Review’, and ‘Sloan Management Review’.
Hanna Lehtimäki is Professor of Innovation Management at the University of Eastern Finland Business School, Finland. Her research examines innovation and renewal with theoretical frameworks on strategic management, stakeholder theory, leadership and social network analysis. In her research, Hanna focuses on constructionist meaning making, language, a humanist view on strategizing and relational leadership. She has over 60 academic peer-reviewed publications and a broad experience in the societal impact of research.
Jinia Mukerjee is an Assistant Professor at Montpellier Business School, France. She studies how individuals and groups work together to sustain innovative work, primarily using ethnographic methods. She is particularly interested in the way play unfolds and coexist with innovative work. Jinia also studies the role of psycho-markers in the entrepreneurial process. Her work has been published in ‘Journal of Small Business Management’ and ‘Small Business Economics’.