Check your calendar, kids, and start 'fessing up. April 1 is International Fun At Work Day, and when was the last time you danced in your hallways or wore a really ugly hat to the office? It's time to cut loose and celebrate at work. Celebrate what, you inquire? Celebrate your employees, celebrate your customers, celebrate failures, celebrate nothing. In case your overworked eyes didn't catch that, we said put down the mouse, get up and do something silly.
Matt Weinstein and Luke Barber have made a career of being silly as co-authors of Work Like Your Dog: Fifty Ways to Work Less, Play More, and Earn More (Villard Books, $22.95, 800-733-3000). Weinstein is also the founder and emperor of Playfair Inc., a management consulting firm that teaches businesspeople such as yourself what comes naturally to kids at heart: how to use laughter and fun for team-building at work.
"At companies that intentionally start bringing play in, the stress levels go way down. People get a much stronger sense of corporate loyalty," says Weinstein, who's been in business for 25 years and boasts clients like Bank of America. "A company where employees are excited about coming to work and have a sense of passion about what they're doing--that company's going to have a huge competitive advantage. If I walk into a business, of course I'm gonna buy with my head. I'm interested in value and price. But I'm also gonna buy with my gut: What does it feel like, doing business with your company?"
Here are Weinstein's useful tips on making every day a great fun-at-work day:
- Stress be gone! "The Master-Card call center in St. Louis had a dress-up-your-supervisor day," says Weinstein. "Everybody who had direct reports allowed themselves to be told whom to dress like by the people who reported to them. People were dressed like Elvis, biker chicks, nuns. Talk about stress release. And also the message from the top says it's OK to lighten up around here."
- Our loss, our gain: "Find out what people's greatest failures are. Then bring in champagne, pop the cork and toast your failures," says Weinstein. "It's all part of the same culture of trust. It's not like you're being singled out. It's like `Hey, we're all gonna make mistakes. If some of us aren't making mistakes, those are the people we're probably gonna fire because they're not trying hard enough and not thinking out of the box.' Once you've got a corporate culture like that, the employees become proud of mistakes because they're a badge of innovation."
- Nothing, nada, zilch: "It can be so great to celebrate nothing," enthuses Weinstein. The president of one shipping company declared that everyone leave their desk to dance in the hallway at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day. "People can't act creatively if they're doing things they've done over and over again," Weinstein continues. "You have to do something different so people see each other with different eyes and just wake up."
- Sweet rewards: Weinstein says one of his favorite stories in his book is the dentist who, instead of just handing out bonuses, took his employees to the mall for a shopping spree. "It accomplishes so much more than rewarding people," he says. "It gives them a story to tell. It gives them a chance to bond and be a part of a community. And it shows you off to all the merchants as a company that's committed to having fun."
- Getting sensitive: "Hey," you say, "I've been planning on throwing a soiree for my employees." But did you ask for their input on the festivities? "The more you can learn about the actual people and what they do for fun outside of work, the more you can start bringing them into the process," advises Weinstein. Last, but not least, don't forget your customers. You can take a lesson from one Ben & Jerry's franchise where they conduct a Chubby Hubby contest: The wife with the chubbiest hubby gets a free cone with that flavor. Or Weinstein's favorite customer appreciation activity: playing "Happy Birthday" on the telephone keypad. (For the curious, it's "112163/112196/11#9632/969363.")
"When people say `It's just business,' what does that mean?" sums up Weinstein. "People are living lives. It's not just business. It's being alive with each other."
Playfair Inc., (510) 540-8768, http://www.playfair.com