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Fun and Games

Why all work and some play makes for a satisfied staff.

Smack in the middle of Jamba Juice's San Francisco corporate office stands a structure not typically associated with fast-track businesses: a badminton court. Throughout the workday, employees spontaneously pair up for a quick game--and that's just one social activity provided for the staff at this juice store chain. There are also parties, picnics, and even employee groups that support local charities such as AIDS-related organizations.

Sound a bit distracting? Maybe so, but Jamba Juice execs readily point to the business' strong endorsement of workplace socializing as a fuel that's helped power the company's impressive growth. Starting with a single store in 1990, Jamba Juice has mushroomed from 11 outlets in 1994 to more than 100 today.

"With today's [employees spending] long hours on the job, there's a blurring in their lives between work and social activities," says Chris Baer, Jamba Juice's vice president of human resources. "Because we play here, too, employees think it's OK to spend the long hours here that they do. Our employees are more productive, and there's less turnover and less stress. When you're stressed out, [you can] grab a badminton racket, go to the court, and forget about your problems."

Across the country in Alexandria, Virginia, the 57 employees at digitalNATION, a high-speed Internet data company, are treated to a medley of social activities that include spontaneous Chinese buffets catered in the office, bowling nights, paintball outings, excursions on a 62-foot sailboat--even scuba certification classes. The company's goal: close employee relationships.

"Put two people under water sharing [an air supply], and there's some bonding going on," says company founder and CEO Bruce Waldack. "Employees want good salaries, but today, they also want more. They want to like their co-workers and hang out with them. We create opportunities to let them do that."

To these company leaders, the concept is far from just fun and games. "In the Internet industry, employees change jobs as often as they change underwear," says Waldack. "Not at digitalNATION. I've had five employees quit in the past two years--two came back, and we rehired them." The company's client list is studded with prestige names--The Discovery Channel and Hamilton Beach/Proctor-Silex among them--and its bottom line is strong. "We're growing at 7 to 12 percent monthly, and for the fiscal year that ended last September, we netted $1.4 million," says Waldeck. "We're a financially healthy business, and our social activities only help us."


Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or comments, e-mail rjmcgarvey@aol.com

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This article was originally published in the April 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Fun and Games.

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