Any well-meaning but unskilled boss can turn play into work. It takes a confident, skilled individual to make work feel like play.
Every kid in America has fallen for this time-tested parental game, “Let’s see how fast you can get dressed. I’ll time you!” By using the same philosophy and interjecting fun into the workplace, you can help your employees be productive and enjoy their work environment.
Fortune magazine cited a survey of 1,006 top-performing companies. Seventy-four percent of the surveyed “star managers” said that the type of organization they would be most reluctant to leave was one that promoted “fun and closer work relationships with colleagues.”
Employees enjoy their work only when they enjoy the people they work with. But what can you do to help your staff enjoy one another?
I was recently sitting on a Southwest Airlines flight when the flight attendant announced, “Smoking inside the cabin is prohibited. If you want to smoke, you are welcome to do so as long as you step outside onto the wing area, where matches and ample seating have been provided.” Passengers and crew members alike erupted in laughter. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a flight where the attendants seemed to enjoy their jobs so much.
Promoting laughter at the workplace will help you create fun and a sense of esprit de corps among staffers.
Stress is unhealthy. So isn’t it ironic that some of the most stressed people work in health clubs? One way to minimize stress in the workplace is to surprise your staff with something out of the ordinary. For example, plan a field trip to a bowling alley, and offer a reward to the employee who wears the ugliest bowling shirt. Later, display the winning shirt in a back office as a reminder of the importance of laughter.
Send your employees the message that you realize the value of old-fashioned fun. Interjecting creative play into the work environment can affect the way your employees cope with stress.
In their book Work Like Your Dog, Matt Weinstein and Luke Barber write, “There is a direct correlation between playfulness and productivity. Employees who enjoy their work are more productive, more loyal and stay with their companies longer.” Team members who have to deal with demanding projects or challenging quotas are better equipped to do so when they view their obligations as play. For example, let’s assume that your sales quota will be tough to achieve this month. Consider offering an hour off in exchange for each day before deadline that the quota is obtained. If the team reaches the quota four days early, everyone gets four hours off over the next month. You might think that’s an excessive reward—but not when you’re 25 percent above your goal by month’s end!
When I was 18, I worked as a clerk for an insurance company. At my first performance review, I sat nervously across from my supervisor as she assessed each area of my responsibilities. I earned perfect scores in 16 different categories! But as she finished the review, she handed me a copy of some correspondence I had typed that contained several spelling errors, and politely asked that I be more conscientious in the future. Despite the perfect marks in 16 categories, what part of the review do you think impacted me the most?
No one enjoys having his or her mistakes highlighted by others. Nevertheless, as managers, we often feel compelled to correct employees’ blunders to avoid a repeat occurrence. But why not give team members the opportunity to fix their own mistakes? In most instances, employees are conscious of their shortcomings before anyone else discovers them. In the offices of Powder Blue Productions hangs a large board known as the “blunder board.” Employees are encouraged to write down any blunders they’ve committed during the week. Next to the blunder, they write a few lines telling how to avoid the blunder in the future. At the end of the week, the employee with the biggest “fixable” blunder is given an award. This strategy discourages employees from covering up their mistakes, eliminates the need for the manager to correct errors and is always good for a laugh!
At the beginning of your next performance appraisals, ask staffers what areas they feel they need to improve. If I had been asked that question when I was 18, I would have replied, “I need to work on my spelling”—and I wouldn’t still be thinking about it 13 years later!
Attitudes are contagious. Every day when you set foot in the door of your facility, ask yourself if your attitude is worth catching.
I start every morning with a cup of designer java. But recently, I noticed that almost every employee at the coffee house I frequent seemed to have a bad attitude, treating me as if I were an interruption in the busy day rather than a valued customer. Then on one trip, I saw the store manager. He was standing behind a row of coffee makers, frowning impatiently as he corrected his staff for their incompetencies. No wonder his employees were so discourteous!
Your employees are your customers. Convey the same attitude with them that you want them to convey to their customers.
Too many of us complain about the people we work with, the people we serve and the service we receive. When baseball’s best hitters swing and miss the ball, they don’t walk back to the dugout to complain to teammates about the pitcher. They don’t turn to the umpire and grumble, “Can you believe this guy? I was just standing here, and he threw me a curve ball. What a jerk!” They just tap the plate and get ready for the next pitch.
Why waste precious hours reliving the day’s negative events? Unless complaining effects a positive change, it is counterproductive. The next time a customer becomes irate, a project is delayed, a coworker gets on your nerves or your work load doubles, just “tap the plate” and get ready for the next pitch. Start your next staff meeting with the baseball analogy, and make the new company motto, “Tap the plate.”
Figure out what area your staff most needs to improve and make a game of it. Say, for example, that your challenge is getting employees to address members by their names when they check in. Ask team members to write down each name they use and then write a descriptive phrase next to the name to aid in memory recall. For example, “Mary. Curly hair/glasses.” At the end of the week, reward the staffer who accumulated the most names.
Instead of telling employees to smile, give them something to smile about. As Plato once said, “What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play.”