Drawing on self-determination and play theories, we develop a process model that proposes that daily playful work design (PWD; designing fun, designing competition) positively relates to employees' daily work engagement through basic psychological need satisfaction. A total of 162 Dutch employees filled out short surveys at the end of each workday for 2–5 days (603 observations). As hypothesized, employees were more engaged on the days they designed their work to be more playful, which was explained by the satisfaction of their needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Moreover, as expected, designing fun and designing competition differed in how and why they related to work engagement. In addition, we found that daily PWD was related to same-day, but not next-day need satisfaction and work engagement. Most path coefficients were statistically invariant across levels of analysis (between- vs. within-person levels), suggesting their meaning and function is equivalent across levels. However, additional analyses revealed synergetic effects between overall use of designing fun and designing competition. These findings expand self-determination and play theories by revealing how and why a proactive and playful approach to work activities and relationships fosters work engagement.
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