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Want Productivity To Rise? Try Fun!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Want Productivity To Rise? Try Fun!(GIFTBEAT)If fun becomes part of your work environment, do you worry that staffers will become slackers who aren't focused on the job at hand? Not so, declares Bob Pike, chairman/CEO of Bob Pike Group, a Minnesota-based training and performance improvement consultancy—and co-author of the newly released book The Fun Minute Manager.

Q. Why are gift stores the ideal place to have fun while working? Why do many owners reject the notion of workplace fun?

A. When customers are looking for a gift or something for their homes their mission is to have fun while purchasing that item. Store owners should make their gift stores places of fun. [However, some business owners tell employees] "Hey, you're just lucky you have a job. Why do we have to make this fun?" There is tons of research that shows that when employees are enjoying themselves and are celebrated, recognized and appreciated, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down, it's easier to recruit new employees and customer satisfaction goes up.

Employees appreciate it when they're known as a person, not as their role. Do your customers want to be waited on by a clerk who looks like she's been sucking on a pickle—or a person who is cheery? Customers can sense when a store environment is geared towards fun. If you treat your employees like they're lucky to have a job, they'll say "Take this job and shove it." You want them to want to "Take this job and love it!"

Q. How is today's down economy affecting fun at work?

A. In his foreword to my book, Ken Blanchard, author of One Minute Manager, says there are two things that will drive out fear in the workplace in these economic times. Faith will drive out fear. Fun will also drive out fear. Fear paralyzes, and prevents your employees from doing normal everyday tasks. When people are having fun, it switches their focus away from fear.

[But] you must address the other needs of employees first before bringing fun into the workplace. If you're laying people off every other week, it is almost counterproductive to try to make the job fun when there is ever-present fear. Look at Maslow's "hierarchy of needs." You have to meet the need for safety and security at a basic level in order to implement fun. Otherwise, employees will say "You're trying to con me" if you introduce fun. Fun won't make up for a bad work environment.

Q. What are other benefits to creating a fun workplace?

A. Sometimes people think fun at work is playing a bunch of games. It is more about creating an enjoyable environment in which to work. I'm not saying you have to walk around laughing all day long. My co-authors and I maintain that if organizations are too serious, they deprive employees of a powerful need for fun, humor, joy and spontaneity. This deprivation contributes to employee boredom, stress, absenteeism and turnover, all of which are negative consequences for employers.

If you have trained people, you want them showing up. When your employees are excited about their jobs and it's time to hire temporary staff during the holiday season, staff recommendations are best. These employees will want to keep your store a great place and keep your customers excited.

Having fun at work also results in higher levels of respect and caring for coworkers, strengthens communications, increases energy and enthusiasm, reduces complaints and creates self-satisfaction. It's about giving recognition and encouragement, and catching people doing things right.

Q. Why is it important for managers and store owners to bring fun into their own workday?

A. A parallel to this is the question "Who gets sick more often? Mom or dad?" You may not always feel like it, but mom is mom. The Navy Seals have a saying: "You don't have to like it, you just have to do it." You owe it to your employees—they're looking to you for guidance. If I'm the leader, I have to model what I want to see from my employees. If I want them to lighten up and have more fun, they have to see that I'm willing to do that, too.

Q. Can you offer some examples of ways to have fun at work?

A. Go on and look for funny clips that you can play during lunch break. One of my employees was going on a family vacation. I told the staff I'd found a great airline for the family to travel on called "Ryannair." Of course this is not a real airline, and the videos show that it's poorly run. You can imagine how everyone was talking about having been on an airline like that! Finding a funny video on is easy to do, and everybody enjoys it. Laughter is the best medicine!

Post baby pictures of employees on a board in the back room and have staffers guess who's who. Or you could add photos of customers, and put the board up in the gift shop. Now customers are engaged, too.

Hold a two-week contest where, if your team achieves a certain level of sales, they get to dress you [the owner] up anyway they want for a day. The dress can't be offensive to customers, but other than that everything is fair game! Be sure to tell customers about the dress-up day.

Q. What are your guidelines for ensuring that fun leads to productivity?

A. Fun at work has to be built on a philosophy, not just a mechanical process. You could say, "OK, fine, the fun thing we could do is bring in pizza every other Friday." There's no philosophical basis to this. My philosophy is that I want to create a work environment where people are sad to go home! Be as inclusive with employees as possible, while respecting the right of anyone to opt out [of fun activities] without censure, ridicule, pressure or criticism.

Prime the pump and engage others in carrying the fun ball. Set up a schedule whereby each [employee] agrees to take primary responsibility for planning and initiating one or more fun ideas during one month of the year. Create fun job titles for this position like Funciliator, Goddess of Fun or Funmeister.

Don't get stuck in a rut, despite the temptation to hold the same events, tell the same jokes and pass out the same awards year after year. Have employees assess their perceptions of your fun work environment. Make a series of statements about the amount of fun-related opportunities you have now, versus the amount employees feel you should have. This could include the amount of humor, entertainment, games and stress-relief activities that your store has and should have.

Note: Log on to to purchase The Fun Minute Manager. Send your receipt to to receive the book's audio version as a special bonus.

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