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October 14, 2008

Does having a fun workplace make business sense?

Filed under: HR — Nicola Rowe @ 4:41 pm
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Schluss mit Lustig (loosely, “No more fun!”) demanded the German advertising executive and author Judith Mair von Eichborn six years ago in a book arguing that EQ, flexitime and a culture of trust and fun had no place in the modern workplace.

It was a clarion call in 2002, but it went unheeded even in Ms Mair’s own country: Prussian virtues notwithstanding, the internet boom had left enough of a mark on German culture to make even old-economy firms want to offer their employees an enjoyable working environment. And now, with market indices sliding down around our ears, who would want to deny that work should be fun? Certainly, überguru Tom Peters has been plugging the idea for more than a decade.

While the idea of an enjoyable workplace sounds worthy – praiseworthy, even – should employers pursue it? Does it make business sense, as well as emotional sense?

It turns out it does. Former Harvard Business School Professor David Maister studied 29 firms across more than 15 industries in 15 countries. He concluded that firms scoring in the top 20% of his sample for “commitment, enthusiasm and respect” financially outperformed the average of the other four-fifths by 63%. Firms in the top quintile for employee satisfaction outperformed the other quintiles by 42%; for empowerment, 32%. So getting the atmosphere right at work makes business sense: the soft stuff matters.

Google does not reveal the fate of Mair und Andere, the advertising agency which Ms Mair co-founded and where she worked (in a dark-blue uniform) at the time Schluss mit Lustig was released in 2002. But she published Fake for Real, a discussion about the social conflation of truth and fiction, in 2005. Two books in three years! Might Ms Mair’s diligent application of the pen imply that she is… enjoying herself?

September 4, 2008

Five ways to reward employees without spending money

Filed under: HR — Nicola Rowe @ 6:28 am
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Want to reward your employees, but lack the budget to splash out on bonuses or raises? Here are five ways to reward your employees effectively without spending a cent.

 

1. Praise

Often overlooked, praise is the simplest and most effective way to reward individual acts. Praise should be specific. Explain what the employee has specifically done well and why it matters to the company – not just “well done”, but “You did a good job managing Mr. Jackson’s complaint this morning. You’ve just created another satisfied customer who will bring more business to us.” Praise is more effective when it’s delivered in public, so don’t shy from praising your employees in front of others. Remember, though, that individuals aren’t always the right target for praise. If a group has done well, praise the team, not just the leader.

 

2. Time

Everyone wishes they had an extra hour or two in the day. So why not give a top employee a well-deserved break? “Anna, it’s great that you’ve finished the library job a week early. I’d like you to go home early this afternoon.” If you’re worried about productivity, schedule the time off for Monday morning or Friday afternoon.

 

3. Events

People relax when they’re out of the office. Getting your employees together for an activity off-site can be a fun way for them to kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labor. It doesn’t have to be bowling: you can go indoor-climbing, play theatersports, or even learn to make sushi together. If you don’t think employees will stump up the cash to go, why not do something free, like a pot-luck picnic in the park? It doesn’t have to cut into work time, either: arrange to get together one evening after work.

 

4. Services

Liaise with local businesses to see whether you can swap your services for credit. If you’re an accounting business, can you swap a few hours with a style adviser? For the time it takes you to do her taxes, she gives you a set of one-hour sessions. Your employees would probably never think of “getting their colors done”, but they’ll jump at the chance to have a style consultation for free. Or, if fashion isn’t their thing, why not barter services with a local physiotherapist so you can hand out massage vouchers to staff?

 

5. Status

There’s nothing more galling to an administrative employee than feeling like a cog in a big machine. Next time you make a supplier visit, take your secretary along. They’ll probably enjoy meeting the people they only know from email headers and the telephone. You’ll benefit, too: once she can put faces to names, you’ll find that communications become warmer and more congenial.

 

In sum, you don’t have to spend money to show your appreciation for your staff. Recognition, unexpected breaks, get-togethers, unusual services and signs of esteem go a lot further toward applauding your employees than a little extra cash. And they’ll thank you for it, too – not just with words, but with increased motivation and more effective work.

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