Tuesday January 3, 2012
by Jon Reed, Operations Director - talent toolbox
I was recently speaking to an HR Director about employee engagement and suggested that letting people have fun is a key element of creating a happy and engaged workforce.
Fun at work is not the strange concept many believe it to be. The companies we work with put employee engagement firmly at the forefront of their business and as a result invest energy in initiatives to drive this. For example, to celebrate their top employer status (number 11 in the Sunday Times Top 100), Lexington took the entire company and their families to a theme park last year. The Malmaison & Hotel du Vin Hotel Group have many fun initiatives including their innovative annual ‘Housekeeping Olympics’. And of course, at learnpurple we walk our own talk by staging our famous monthly ‘ministry of fun’ events for all of the purple folk.
However, my statement to this particular HR Director was met with stunned silence. Eventually he retorted: "Oh no, we don't really do fun....not here" .
It was my turn to offer a little stunned silence. I didn't expect the idea of fun to be an alien concept to him as his organisation has amazingly high retention, a very strong culture and offers great benefits; gym membership, free yoga sessions, subsidised food etc. But, as we started to discuss the matter a little more, it became obvious that culturally his organisation had become so focused on being at the top of their field that it appeared that over the years they had forgotten how much performance can improve if people look forward to coming to work.
I enquired how often the HR Director saw people smile at work. "Yes at lunchtimes" was his reply...."Work has to feel like work or it really isn't work" he went on to say.
After an interesting debate in which he had to concede that the benefits of fun in the workplace are that happy employees are more loyal and productive, it became clear that this HR Director began to see that fun is no longer a dirty word.
It’s not just learnpurple and their clients who concur that fun in the workplace has a positive effect on the bottom line. Dr. David Abramis at California State University has studied fun at work since 1985. The results of this analysis proved that people who have fun at work are more creative, more productive, better decision-makers, and get along better with co-workers. They also have fewer absences; less late and sickdays than people who aren't having fun.
Abramis’ studies showed that absenteeism and lateness rates decreased as people increasingly looked forward to going to work. Labour turnover rates decreased, as employees felt more content and loyal to an organisation. And the costs associated with illness decreased as people experienced the positive physiological and psychological effects of laughter. I’d like to add that behaviour breeds behaviour, so an additional benefit of your team having fun is that your customers will too, each time they come into contact with your people.
I'm often asked how companies can give their people more opportunities to have fun whilst still being professional and without breaking the bank. My answer is always the same…The first ingredient is discipline. Doesn't sound much like fun, does it? But without it you can't have a fun business. But what I mean by discipline is having very few rules, strictly and fairly enforced. This does not depend on detailed job descriptions. It depends on everybody working towards the same goal - for the good of the organisation. That's the only important job description. The second ingredient is to ask your people for their ideas (and give them a small budget) and the freedom to be creative as to how they use it.
You will be surprised at the things people come up with; sometimes these ideas have a direct effect on the bottom line. A chap called Eric at Stoller Inc. had an idea of having a 7 seater conference bike, so that meetings could be peddled anywhere. This was so successful that the company now manufacture them and have sold them to offices all over the world!
Having fun in the office doesn’t have to be on a huge scale, but it is an important part of being at work, and one that should not be pushed aside. Ideally all work should provide opportunities to be creative, though in time even the most exciting role can become routine so keep things fresh by having some fun at work. This really does lead to greater creativity and a tolerance for carrying out mundane tasks.
Remember though that what you and your people perceive as ‘fun’are likely to be different. So with all the organisational benefits fun brings, it’s certainly worth having the dialogue with your people and making sure the ideas for fun you adopt are employee driven and at the heart of all you do.
Have you introduced fun into your workplace? What benefits have you seen from fun at work?