Beyond Party Balloons and Birthday Cakes

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of things to make work a crazy, fun, and wild place. I’ve tried playing rock music in the morning, having group lunches at noon, throwing parties later in the day, and arranging for sports after work. But whatever crazy thing we try, it loses its novelty after a while and people sometimes tire of the same thing. However, they do help bring your office alive, they give people a chance to have some fun together, they add a human face to your management style, and they are another way to show people that you care about them.

In the end, I find that the bottom line is that people come to work because they want to work—not just to play games and have silly parties. Beyond the money, people expect more and more out of their work today. They want to contribute; they want to see that their contribution is making a difference; they want to learn; they want to grow; and they want to feel that they are part of a successful enterprise that is making a difference in the world. It’s achieving these kinds of satisfactions that really keeps people coming back to work every day—not just the party balloons and birthday cakes.

5 Ways to Make Work Rewarding for Your Employees

Here are some specifics that you need to do to help ensure that their work is satisfying to the people who report to you:

  1. Today’s workers at all levels want to know why they are doing something. Don’t just say, “Drop everything you’re doing and rush this shipment out.” Instead, take two minutes to explain why.
  2. Today’s workers want to work hard and have pride in their work, but they need appreciation and recognition for their contribution. Be generous with compliments.
  3. Today’s workers want input and accessibility to their managers, but many shy away from giving input unless you make it easy for them. Small group meetings where you ask for suggestions are a good way to get people involved.
  4. Today’s workers want to feel that their work is making a difference. Explain why their work matters. Tell them success stories about people who use your products and post press clippings on the bulletin board.
  5. If you’re like me, you’re an entrepreneur, you’re in a rush to make things happen, and this kind of pausing to explain the bigger picture doesn’t come naturally . . . but nonetheless, you want to push yourself to do it. People will appreciate it!

Good Employees Want to Grow and Learn

For many employees, it’s important to feel that they are always growing, learning, and progressing. With the few employees at small firms and flatter management structures at larger ones, it’s a challenge to fulfill this need. But it’s important that you do, because often it’s the best employees who most feel the need to learn.

Recently our webmaster—the person who runs our website—left for another job. The manager of this area wanted to get a qualified candidate from the outside because none of the four internal candidates had all the necessary skills.

On paper he was right: the best candidate would be from the outside. But I wanted our company to go out of its way to retain people, give them new challenges, and make work fun for them. So we divided the webmaster job among several people, giving them all a great chance to grow and learn something new. In the short term it might be inefficient, but in the long run a highly motivated staff is priceless!

Remember, You Set the Tone!

A while ago, one of my managers pointed out to me that when I make a comment on people’s work, they pay a lot of attention to it—something I tend to forget. Another time, another manager told me that when I’m in a good mood it helps boost up everyone else—but when I’m not, it darkens people’s days.

As a manager at any level, you’ve got to try to project a positive attitude no matter how crummy a day you are having, and you’ve got to go out of your way to make sure your comments have a positive effect on people. I’ve even got a little yellow sticky note posted on my computer reminding me to always be positive!

First thing in the morning is a great time to pass some positive energy and appreciation on to others with an enthusiastic greeting and a little small talk. And at the end of the day, no matter how rough it has been, I always try to wrap up with people on a positive note.

How Often Should You Celebrate?

My experience is that about once or twice a week during working hours is the right time to spend on those silly, frivolous activities. The mix of activities could depend quite a bit on the nature of your business, the average employee age, and the professional level of the workforce.

Here’s a list of activities that worked for me in my previous book publishing company, which had a diverse workforce, including a wide variety of ages and professional levels:

  • Friday morning bagels
  • Friday afternoon theme parties
  • Occasional lunch outings such as miniature golf, bowling, or billiards
  • Seasonal decorations at the entrance
  • Company crosswords and contests

I’ve tried a lot of elaborate events outside of working hours, but they’ve almost always been disappointing. Attendance was mixed; people would arrive late, and managers felt pressured to attend.

A high-level technical manager told me that the single thing that impressed him the most about our company during his first month was that he went bowling and played miniature golf during company hours.

And don’t forget when employees socialize in these group events, they don’t just tend to feel better about the company and the management; they also tend to feel more connected with one another. And that’s the kind of thing that can lead to a happier workplace and to employees who will be much less likely to leave you for the latest and greatest new thing somewhere else.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Employees want to know their work matters and how it fits into the big picture.
  • Employees want to acquire new skills.
  • The tone starts with you!
  • Company events can help make people feel connected.