Fun at Work Helps Retain Employees

Top organizations recognize that great employees are far more likely to remain long-term employees when they allow employees to lighten up and have a little fun. Here are several examples on how progressive organizations increase their retention of great employees through allowing themselves to lighten up.

Have Fun or Get Fired: The unofficial mission at the innovation-driven Paradigm Communication, the St. Petersburg, FL software developer, “have fun or get fired.” Realizing that their high stress and long hours is prime for massive burn-outs, Paradigm’s owner, Dan Furlong, also enforces a specific and well thought out dress code and attendance policy. Here is their entire dress code and attendance policy at Paradigm: show up for work, and wear something.

No Class E-mail: It can be incredibly frustrating trying to weed through mounds of e-mail attempting to figure out which ones are important and which ones are not. Tandem Computers came up with a light-hearted twist to their internal communication system. Tandem now has three levels of internal e-mail:

o”First Class” e-mail is all business and it should be read.

o”Second Class” e-mail is for interesting ideas and suggestions, a good place to go for hot topics and concepts.

o”No Class” e-mail is for humor and classified ads, a great place to stop when you need a quick mental break.

This e-mail classification structure allows everyone at Tandem to quickly sort what is important, good to know, and just plain fun.

Back to School: The 2008 annual meeting for financial analysts at innovation-driven Cognex, the Massachusetts optical products giant, was organized like any other financial analyst meeting – a day in elementary school. After being picked up in a yellow school bus, the analysts were driven to a meeting facility decked out with blackboards, lunch boxes, and even pop quizzes. Naturally, the annual report was made to look like coloring books. What else would you expect from a company that calls all its employees “Cognoids” and carefully trains staff to properly execute their official company salute modeled after, who else, the Three Stooges (right hand sharply brought to the bridge of the nose). With the strength to lighten up, Cognex consistently attracts and retain great employees from throughout the Northeast.

20 Percent Impact: At the spirit-driven McGuffey’s Restaurants chain, fun is taken very seriously. Fun is so serious that 20 percent of a manager’s annual raise is tied to how much fun he or she is to work with. Management fired their number two producing manager because he was an absolute tyrant and was not uplifting to his team. This best practice beautifully illustrates how creating a fun environment should be driven from the top-down and consistently reinforced.

Stump the CEO: Many great organizations are finding fun ways to keep executives in the face of employees while simultaneously showing the lighter side of business. One such company, AGI, Inc., the Melrose Park, IL cosmetics packaging company, awards prizes during their monthly employee meetings to the person who asks their CEO the toughest question. By demonstrating a willingness to be held accountable for the tough issues and to do so in a humorous way, operational excellence-driven organizations like AGI create strong connections that help drive the retention of great employees.

Be Loose and Have Fun: Aligned companies need not have fancy, page long, eloquently developed mission statements to retain great employees. Often, the simpler the better. One example comes from Great Harvest Bread, the spirit-driven franchise natural bread retailer, whose mission is to “Be Loose and Have Fun.” Given only minimal operational guidelines, their franchise agreement specifically reads “anything not expressly forbidden by the language of this document IS allowed!” No two stores look alike. Franchisees are allowed to tinker with pricing and recipes. There are no home office inspections. By living their spirit-driven mission, Great Harvest builds powerful retention connections with its diverse franchisees.

Happiness Barometer Team: The wonderfully progressive and spirit-driven Rosenbluth International Travel Group is known for their innovative, proactive employee relations strategies. They understand that happy employees are most often more productive and more likely to stay than sad employees are. One technique they use to keep tabs on employee morale is the Happiness Barometer Team, a group of employees who are charged with conducting a benchmark attitude and enjoyment needs survey every six months. Just with a name like Happiness Barometer Team, employees realize that Rosenbluth is serious about their happiness, so why leave?

Let ’em Surf: With facilities located near the Pacific ocean in Ventura, CA, the management team at Patagonia extend employees a very special perk tailored to their unique location. Realizing that you never know when great waves will hit, management allows employees to go surfing whenever they wish. With the flexibility to hit the beach when the waves are high, employees remain sky high throughout the entire Patagonia facility. Just imagine another organization attempting to lure a Patagonia employee away when the employee asks about their surfing policy.

Stay tuned. I’m on my way to pick up my son at school in the middle of the weekday afternoon. I’m lucky enough to work for an enlightened employer.