“Times have changed. In the past, fun was looked at as frivolous from the employer level,” says Michael Civello, Director of Client Relations for Plum Benefits, which provides companies with entertainment focused services for their employees.
Today, however, fun is increasingly seen as not just acceptable, but essential to building relationships within the workplace, which Civello says is crucial to increasing morale and decreasing turnover.
“Employees leave their jobs first and foremost because of their relationships with their immediate supervisors, their relationships with their peers, and the overall feeling of corporate culture, which has really trickled down from their c-level,” Civello told me in a recent phone interview. He went on to recommend some of the ways employers can add more levity to the workplace for the sake of fostering better workplace relationships, increasing morale and lowering turnover.
Schedule Events Outside of the Office
One of the easiest ways to start fostering better relationships is to start with a small event like a happy hour, which provides a relaxing setting where employees feel more comfortable socializing. “The goal is to find ways to foster communication,” says Civello. Another way to do this is to activities that enable employees to share their interests or their opinions – such as letting an employee teach a yoga class or having workers write and circulate restaurant reviews. “You’re learning what employees like to do in their spare time, and you’re also cultivating relationships at the same time.”
Get the Buzz Going
Creating excitement around workplace events and encouraging participation can be a battle in and of itself, and companies need to do more than simply post something once on the company intranet. “Only a handful of employees are really poking around there, so employers could be missing out on the majority of their employees,” Civello says. He suggest companies take a cue from their sales and marketing teams, who are experts in using multiple media to create excitement with clients. Look at the way they disperse their message by reaching out in-person, over email, through social networks, etc. Getting the word out and creating excitement with your employees requires this same sort of proactive approach.
Divide and Conquer
Despite HR’s best intentions to please everyone, the inclination to come up with something the entire company is on board with can actually work against them, Civello says. “Employers, and particularly HR, play it too safe. They look at ideas or activities and say, ‘Well, so-and-so in accounting won’t like that,’ or ‘This may not appeal to people with families,’ but the truth is, you’ll never please everybody.”
Instead, he recommends starting with a smaller-scale approach to employee engagement: First, break down your employees into three buckets: A,B, and C, where “A” employees are the people who are very engaged, get along with everyone and tend to be leaders among their peers; “B” employees “aren’t leaders, but do what “A” employees do”; and “C” employees are the disengaged employees.
Once you’ve identified your “A” employees, reach out to them to act as ambassadors. “Instead of trying to come up with fun activities all on your own, let your ‘A’ employees drive these initiatives. They will, in a sense, own it, and then influence others to get involved.” The results of concentrating on engaging a smaller group of influential employees, he says, will generate exponentially better results than trying to please everyone.
Create a Little Friendly Competition
Another easy – and cost-free – way to generate excitement and fun in the workplace is to create an internal contest that not only taps into employees’ interests, but also promotes collaboration. “I was recently working with a company that produced pens, and I suggested they have an internal design contest that would allow employees to take time off from their day-to-day duties and work with different departments to produce an idea for the ‘next great pen’,” Civello recalls. “A contest like that is something that doesn’t cost any money, and again, fosters relationships, while also giving the employer new ideas for new business products.”
Create a Culture of Open and Honest Feedback
One of the barriers to creating engagement is a lack of awareness as to why employees are disengaged in the first place. Employers need to give employees a way to honestly – and comfortably – express their honest feelings about the workplace. Civello recommends utilizing employee surveys. Surveys present a great opportunity to find out what you really need to know about your employees’ engagement level and make improvements from there – even if that means facing your fears. “Be prepared for results that aren’t positive,” Civello says. “You might have to confront the harsh reality that your employees aren’t skipping into work every day and singing, but you have to know where to start.”
Get Buy-In from the Higher Levels
Another obstacle to creating engagement stems from a lack of involvement from the leaders in the organization. “You know, it’s fun to have a golf outing, but if the CEO doesn’t even bother to show up, it sends the message that not everybody’s on board to have fun.” In order to get C-Levels more involved in these initiatives, Civello suggests using case studies to show the business value of creating more fun in the workplace. “Just look at the ‘Top 25 Companies to Work For’ lists. Very often – if not all the time – they’re among the most successful companies on the Fortune500, because they spend much less on costs associated with turnover. By showing the C-Levels a definitive link between open employee engagement and the bottom line, you’re saying to them ‘This is not fluff.’”
In the End, It Should All Come Back to Relationships
If there is one thing Civello has learned in working with thousands of companies over the years, it is that you cannot create “fun” if the right foundation isn’t there. “Fun comes from employees relating with one another. The companies that are most successful at implementing fun in the workplace are the ones that have created a foundation where employees are comfortable communicating with each other.”
How do you promote fun in the workplace? Share with us in the comments below!
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