Employers today need to lighten up. Why? Because, according to Scott Christopher, it literally pays to do so.
The speaker and co-author of The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up gave a session at last month’s SHRM 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition to discuss how and why employers should allow – and even encourage – employees to have fun in the workplace. According to Christopher, appropriate, values-based levity builds employee morale, increases engagement and ultimately boosts the bottom line. Levity, he says, is composed of three essential elements – latitude, attitude and gratitude – which he illustrated using the following research and case studies.
Latitude: What You Allow Others to Do
The San Francisco 49ers are a perfect example of workplace latitude, according to Christopher. The coach reminds players that it’s okay to have fun on the field. “These guys get it,” Christopher says of the team. They don’t let the fact that there’s money on the line or other pressures stop them from enjoying themselves on the field. “Here’s a team saying, ‘We’re a bunch of guys playing a kids game. Let’s have fun.’” As a result of having some levity, the team experience eight more wins last year. “It literally paid for them to lighten up,” Christopher said.
He takes the analogy further by pointing out that athletes perform at their best when they’re loosened up, so why should it be any different for any other working professional? Bottom line: Encourage your employees to have a little fun, and you’ll reap the benefits of a more productive workforce.
As another example, Christopher told the story of Mike Jewellson, director of food and nutrition services at Norton Audubon Hospital. After seeing that customer satisfaction scores had a mere 1 percent , Jewellson recognized that something needed to change, and it need to start internally. “Mike came in and said, ‘We have to lighten up. Health care is a serious industry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what you do,’” Christopher said. Jewellson made the conscious effort to create a workplace environment centered around “working with respect and having fun.” As a result, within six months, customer satisfaction scores rose to a 99th percentile approval rating.
Attitude: What You Do
As an example of a leader with a great attitude, Christopher pointed to Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest, who has stated that a sense of humor is the No. 1 quality he looks for in new employees. Allowing a little fun at the workplace can mean the difference between being a good place to work and being a great place to work. Christopher cited research from the Great Place to Work Institute in which “This is a fun place to work” came in second only to “I’m proud to tell people I work here” as the most highly correlated statement with “Great Place to Work” companies.
Gratitude: The Small Stuff Makes a Big Difference
According to O.C. Tanner and Towers Watson, the top driver of employee engagement is opportunity and well-being, which companies drive through appreciation and recognition, Christopher says. All too often, however, employers think gratitude needs to come in the form of formal awards; however, it’s the stuff that takes very little money and time that really hits home with employees.
“It’s frequency that matters,” he says. These displays of recognition can be as simple as thank-you cards or emails, verbal recognition, food or treats or even a literal pat on the back. The best recognition, he says, is specific (“sincerity is specifity”) and immediate.
Have Fun, But Don’t Force Funny
Christopher understands the hesitance companies have around the concept of creating levity at the office. “Leaders are afraid if they show a little levity, they’ll lose credibility,” he said. The problem is, people want leaders who show a little levity. Having a sense of humor is key to employee engagement, Christopher says, adding that research shows a link between employees who feel more loyalty to their companies rank their bosses’ sense of humor highest.
Just remember, he tells the audience, “You don’t have to be funny to have a sense of humor.”