Fun at Work : It Pays to Play

A great article by Juliette Denny – MD Growth Engineering, Gamified Learning Technologies

Both my personal ethos and my approach to business has always started and ended with the idea that we should, above all, strive to be happy. None of us can live forever, which means we have only one chance at this thing called life. We either live it now, or waste it. We have a duty to ourselves to be the best, most authentic person we can be. From a business perspective, we as leaders should recognise that companies have a role to play too. In this installment, I will be exploring the role happiness at work plays in keeping your team motivated and engaged.

The Happiness Virus

In a major study of emotions in social groups, Harvard professors Alison Hill and David Rand found that the emotional states of people spread like infectious disease through connected groups like friends, families, and co-workers. The research also found that the rate of transmission of negativity is much higher than that of positivity. A happy friend increases the probability of someone having personal happiness by 11%, while a sad friend doubles the risk of a person experiencing personal unhappiness. Your workforce can be viewed through the same spectrum. If unhappiness is a contagion, it is one that can spread to a sizeable proportion of your workforce. And it can start with just one person.

92,120 Hours Later

The average adult who works from the age of 18 to retirement will spend approximately 92,120 hours at work over the course of a lifetime. Imagine if you had to spend this much time engaged in work you didn’t enjoy? Imagine how demotivating, how depressing that would be. Now imagine that this unhappy person was a part of your team. Even without significant research to back it up, it stands to reason that this person will have a negative impact on the states of mind of his co-workers. On the flipside, the study found that happiness (or positivity), though less transmissive than negativity, also has a flow-on effect.

Why is this important? Put simply, negative states of mind in your workforce are costing your company a lot of money. Unhappy employees take, on average, 1.25 sick days a month, which equates to 15 days annually. Compare that with happy employees who take approximately 5 sick days a year. A survey by PwC in 2013 found that the UK economy loses £29 billion every year to sick days and other absenteeism, which equates to £967 per full-time worker. In the US, the problem is much more pronounced. According to research by Forbes magazine in 2012, the bottom-line cost to the US economy of absenteeism is $576 billion (£374 billion) per annum, or $4,800 (£3,100) per full-time employee. This is a staggering thirteen times greater than UK numbers, even though the population of the US is less than five times greater.

How Do We Tackle This Problem Of Infectious Disengagement?

Going back to Rand and Hill’s study, it was suggested that the answer to controlling negative emotional contagion from your peer group was not to get new friends. ‘The better solution,’ Rand concludes, ‘is to make your sad friends happy.’ The same logic can be applied in response to negativity or ‘sadness’ in your workforce. The best antidote for disengagement – whether that’s just a single employee, or many – is not to find new employees, but to make your sad employees happy. There is where the idea of having fun at work comes in.

There has been a lot of research into the importance of having fun at work. After all, 92,120 hours is a very long time to be miserable. In his study, It Pays to Play, Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisation Psychology and Health at Manchester University, concluded that ‘being connected to, and excited about, your role at work is an important aspect of people’s ability to be happy, healthy and productive’. His research also revealed that 62% of employees who had taken no sick days in the last three months had experienced some form of fun in the workplace, compared to 38% of those who had not. Fun in the workplace also helps to build relationships, increases productivity, and encourages creativity and greater innovation. To a young child, there is no differentiation between fun and work. To them, fun is learning and learning is fun. Perhaps as adults we should think of fun at work in similar terms. If ‘it pays to play’, then it is absolutely imperative for leaders to introduce fun into the workforce.

Introducing Fun At Work

The main problem faced by leaders is the fact that very idea of ‘fun’ is inherently personal. Fun means different things to different people; in fact, what you consider to be fun might well be torture for others. Also, the widening generation gap within your workforce will highlight different views of the concept of fun at work.

When managing generational differences in this respect, however, it’s worth bearing in mind that the chasm may not be nearly as wide as it initially seems. In reality, the idea of having fun at work is not a new idea ushered in by Generation Y; it is just the interpretation of what fun actually is that has changed. Before the credit crunch brought a lot of corporate entertaining crashing to a halt, baby boomers and Generation X had fun at work by networking over long, boozy meals which were charged to the ubiquitous corporate Amex. Those days are now largely in the past, and the idea fun at work has simply shape-shifted, and now tends to involve team-building games and activities. As Lindsey Pollack, a thought leader on millennials in the workplace, writes, ‘The ping-pong table is the new three-martini lunch; free snacks are the new expense account dinner; casual dress is the new power suit’.

The Fun Factory

So, given the high degree of subjectivity associated with it, and varying attitudes to it, how can leaders bring fun into the workplace? Forcing your people to participate in a specific kind of fun may only serve to alienate those within your team who can’t relate to the particular kind of fun you have chosen. As such, this approach can be extremely counterproductive. The answer lies not in imposing fun, but in fostering a permissive attitude to fun within your organisation. Rather than providing fun, leaders should simply create a positive work environment which is conducive to fun. Allow your team to be creative, empower them to use their own initiative, and give them the freedom to express themselves. By giving your people permission to have fun, in whatever way they interpret the concept, you will most likely find that spontaneous and different kinds of fun will be the result. And if your employees enjoy their time at work, it will not feel like work – instead, it will feel more like an extension of their lives. It’s worth remembering what Branson once said, ‘I don’t think of work as work, and play as play. It’s all living.’ It is, after all, a philosophy that has worked for him, isn’t it?

Creating an Inspiring Presentation From an Inspiring Story

Nick Bramley, now Director of Impact (CEO) at IMPACTUS Group recently worked one-to-one with Stuart and the story below is an inspiration to us all…..

Stuart Parr has had an adult life blighted by drug addiction from the age of 17.  He is now 47.  He has had numerous relationships break ups, been on the run from the law, had a spell in prison, been involved in petty theft to fund his habits and on more than one occasion, spiralled from heavy drug user to drug dealer.

His adult life has been a dangerous cocktail of dark places, liaisons with criminals, drug highs and incredible life lows.  He has had and lost many jobs, crashed a lot of cars, been threatened by drug gangs in various cities and on three occasions, girlfriends have tragically lost babies through miscarriage, all connected in some way to Stuart’s drug filled lifestyle.

His rollercoaster of a story makes for salutary reading and would make a great script for a powerful film or documentary.  And yet, he is still here!  Moreover, he has now been clean for 12 months and is in the middle of creating a vehicle for sharing his story to hopefully benefit others.

Stuart will readily admit to having had a number of sober and clean periods in his adult life, but each one was punctuated by some kind of environmental, relationship or circumstantial situation that meant his sobriety did not last – this time it’s different.

Stuart has written a “script” of his life story, warts and all, not seeking pity or forgiveness and not full of self-pity either.  It is frank, honest and powerful.

Nick Bramley, then Head of Business Development at World Wide Pictures and World Wide Training worked with Stuart to help shape his raw story line into a structured, inspiring presentation format that can be delivered to a variety of audiences, each with a different expectation and perspective, but each likely to be hooked.  We have also worked with Stuart on managing a series of Q&A sessions which inevitably follow his presentations.

Stuart is already working as a Volunteer at Foundation in Wakefield, West Yorkshire – responsible for re-housing and supporting homeless people and Leeds University Drug & Alcohol Department, sharing his story with social worker students and the wider student body.  He has also worked with Stephen Eacups at W.R.D.S.   Stephen really inspired Stuart to turn his life around.

His ambition is to now work with young people through schools, colleges and youth groups, more Universities to widen the net of education and of course, pre-graduate social work students to help them to understand some of the environments which they will encounter post-graduation.

With Nick’s help, his presentations will inspire, engage and educate across the audience mix and Stuart will achieve one of his ambitions – to give something back to his community.  He would also like to help people to understand some of the real dangers of a life on and around drugs and to hopefully help them to make some good choices, but he will not preach!

His story is both moving and inspiring and he will be a great success as a speaker.  Nick is delighted to have worked with Stuart and wishes him the very best for a very successful and clean future.

Stuart is available for presentations if you have a group that would benefit from hearing his story.  You will not be disappointed.

Top Tips to Maximise Inbound Calls

A set of practical tips from Nick Bramley, Director of Impact (CEO) at IMPACTUS Group

The following represents the process for the effective management and handling of inbound telephone calls.  This process is tried, tested and proven to deliver significant results and confidence improvement at all levels, whilst improving customer service and sales opportunities into the bargain!….

What would improve your performance?

Any incoming call could be a sales enquiry or opportunity.  The problem is you don’t know which may be sales opportunities and which are more general inbound calls?

Also, unlike if you are making the call, when receiving them, you are never at your best in terms of preparedness……

This is often reflected in a poor qualification of the real opportunity and a less than satisfactory handling of the enquiry into the right area of the business to deal with it.

Result – a lost opportunity!

When dealing with inbound sales or enquiry calls that could lead to sales, there are a few general principles to follow;

  • Despite a lack of preparedness, readiness or willingness to take the actual call, stop what else you are doing and concentrate on listening to the caller.
  • Let the caller outline the nature of their call – no interruptions.
  • When they have finished, ensure that as a result of listening and making any notes, you are fully aware of their requirements.
  • Start from a position of agreeing with them and not starting off as dismissive or defensive, whatever they have said….. Assuming that they are not right for your business through receipt of a short burst of information, or from their telephone manner is dangerous.

Result – a lost opportunity!

  • They may have a number of requirements, a headline – “I want someone to come and meet me to discuss….” and a subplot – “I have a number of things I would like to discuss with someone” or “I may be interested in…”
  • Deal with the headline first in a positive manner with phrases such as “I am sure that we can sort that out for you”, “I would be happy to arrange that for you”, etc, etc….
  • The purpose of this is to put the caller at ease on the assumption that they will be getting what they want. Clearly this is not always, or even anywhere near always the case, but remember, non-defensive and non-dismissive at this early stage.

Now is the time to establish what happens next?

  • Now, with the caller at ease you need to establish of their request is valid or whether they are not for you or the business. You do this by stating “in order to establish who would be best to deal with your requirements (meeting request, points of interest, enquiry, whatever), I need to ask you a few short questions and then we can arrange (whatever their headline or sub-plot is).
  • Even if you think they are a time waster by their tone, manner, nature of their call etc, you cannot assume so unless you have asked the questions. To do so would potentially lose a valuable opportunity just because the caller had an unusual manner or approach.

Questions

These are non-standard depending on the nature of the call, but could and should cover some of the following (not necessarily in this order);

  • Can I ask why you thought of (our company) for this particular enquiry?
  • Can I ask if you have spoken to anyone else at (our company) previously?
  • What are you looking for from us today (apart from the meeting request)?

Then, and only then will you be best placed to respond to the caller’s headliner and sub-plot either by;

“Thanks for the information – on the basis of what you have said, my colleague, Mr A or Miss B will be best placed to deal with this.  I will just put you through to them”.

Here, you MUST precise the call and the nature of the enquiry to your colleague to avoid the caller having to repeat themselves……

You may even make a recommendation to the colleague regarding the headline request for a meeting etc if appropriate.

The alternative is a kind and polite……

“Thanks for ringing (name of company) with this opportunity, however on the balance of what you have told me, I regret that this is not one for us”.

There is little or no need to have to justify your decision (especially to a time waster) but if you have to it is likely to be on the nature of what you provide or do against the nature of their actual requirements and not having a meeting of the two…..

Remember – It is not combat. 

Agree with their request at the outset, however strange it may seem.

It is easy to say no later on, but always from a position of knowledge not assumption.

Stop and listen and be ready to make notes!

Good Luck & Remain Positive!

Top Tips for Creating an Employee Social Media Policy

 

A long, but valuable article by Victoria Tomlinson of Northern Lights PR (now Next-Up)

How are your employees using social media?  And do your employee policies advise them what you do or don’t find acceptable business behaviour?

If your first instinct is that your business does not need to worry about social media – have you checked who is on LinkedIn? What if colleagues mention a client on Facebook when they go home in the evening?  And is your recruitment policy clear about whether a YouTube clip of a candidate drunk should affect the decision to hire them?

Here are our tips for developing an employee social media policy that will both protect and add value to your business.

Please note:  these are guidelines only.  Any social media policy should be checked and approved by your HR and legal advisers.

Consult with your staff on what their needs and uses are

Your policy should reflect your business culture and values and help your employees understand what they can and can’t do.  Few managers will be able to imagine the whole range of ways that your employees are using social media and how it is impacting on their jobs.  And it is changing by the month.

Bring together a steering group of employees to say how social media affects their jobs, where the cross-overs are between work and personal life and what they think the policy should include.  They can also advise on tricky areas where there is no clear cut answer.

These employees can become your ambassadors to explain the policy once agreed and get buy-in from colleagues.

The steering group should meet once or twice a year to review developments in social media and revise the policy as needed.

Ensure social media is a part of your core business activities

Social media is still seen by many business leaders as something for ‘teenagers’.  And consequently social media activities are delegated to interns, the youngest recruit or a junior member of the marketing team because ‘they have a Facebook account’.

Social media needs to be understood and managed by the senior management team – it has high risks as well as considerable opportunities.  Rarely will a young employee have the skills needed to ensure it is used strategically.

You need social media to be a part of your core business activities – not an afterthought added on.  It should be included in strategic marketing and internal communications plans.  And these will guide what you need to include in your employee social media policy.

Define the dividing line between employees’ work and private life

This is rapidly becoming one of the most challenging issues for an organisation to decide.

On the one hand most of us instinctively say that a person’s private life is just that, private.  On the other when you are confronted on Google with evidence of your employee saying something shocking about your most important customer – most bosses would say that was unacceptable.  Even if the post had been made in the privacy of their home.

A good example of why this is so important was when the new head of MI5 was exposed for a major breach of security.  It was not he, but his wife who put details of their holiday on Facebook, without any privacy settings.

What would you do if an employee posted on Facebook in the evening ‘Had a s..t day at work.  Had enough’

  • If they mention the company name?
  • If they don’t mention the company name?

There is a Facebook group called ‘You’re Fired’ for employees who have been sacked for what they wrote on Facebook in their evenings.  It would be a good exercise to look at these stories and decide, in principle, what you would have done in these circumstances – this will help you shape your social media policy.

How far do you want to control employee social media profiles?

Most of the corporates we have worked with have decided that if an employee creates any social media profile which mentions they are an employee of their company, then this means they must follow corporate rules.

As an example, if they are on LinkedIn with their corporate job title

  • they can only join LinkedIn groups that are relevant to the company or their job role – not ones, say, for classic car enthusiasts, if this is just a personal passion
  • they can only post comments on their profile that are professional and business relevant
  • they cannot tick the box that says they are looking for a job and are happy to accept job approaches

It could be argued that some of these are starting to infringe a person’s private life.  The Human Rights Act 1998 suggests that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.  It also gives a ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence’.

And it could be said that linking up with classic car enthusiasts is just another form of networking and might bring in new business.

All of this is for you to decide.

What counts for recruitment purposes?

The Independent newspaper reported “At Cambridge, at least one don has admitted ‘discreetly’ scanning applicants’ pages – a practice now widespread in job recruitment.  A survey released by Viadeo said that 62% of British employers now check the Facebook, My Space or Bebo pages of some applicants and that a quarter had rejected candidates as a result.  Reasons given….included concerns about excess alcohol abuse, ethics and job ‘disrespect’.”

This could potentially be regarded as a misuse of personal data, contravening the Data Protection Act 1998.

You need to agree clear guidelines for anyone recruiting to your organisation.  Questions to consider

  • Is what someone does while a student relevant to their working life?
  • Is it reasonable to look at whatever appears on a simple Google search?
  • If you find a lot of photos at drunken parties – should that count?
  • Do you have different rules for different levels of seniority and roles?

Who should manage your social media accounts?

Generally, corporate social media accounts are managed by the communications team who understand the protocol of social media and how to use it to build relationships with customers, suppliers and targets.

A few companies encourage all employees to use social media – particularly creative ones.  A number of chief executives who are good communicators are starting to use Twitter to engage with employees and customers (though it has to be said some ceos are not as good communicators nor as strategic as they think they are!).

Whatever you decide, your social media policy needs to state who can have accounts and what they can and can’t say.

You need to specify that whoever creates and manages any corporate social media accounts, must use a corporate password and registration details; keep a record of the password and ensure their manager and colleagues know what this is – to enable access over holiday periods and in emergencies.

There also needs to be a process for when employees leave a company that they hand over all site passwords and that these are changed.

Disciplinary procedures

You need to link your employee social media policy to other relevant policies, particularly your disciplinary procedures.

You will need to give clear examples of what will be regarded as gross misconduct, such as posting derogatory or offensive comments on the internet about your company or a work colleague. Acas research suggests that employers should weigh up the possible consequences of an employee’s actions – for example, is an employee merely letting off steam or do their comments actually harm the organisation’s reputation?

 Define who owns the content and contacts

Most businesses will accept that LinkedIn contacts are personal to an individual and can be taken with them when they leave.

However, Hays recruitment firm argued in court that an employee’s contacts were built through his job – and the court ordered the employee to hand them all over.  What is your position?

 Consider the impact of regulation in your social media

The most obvious issue here is for quoted companies.  Say, an employee unwittingly announces information that could affect share prices.  You can see how a junior manager might post on their LinkedIn account “Really excited, major breakthrough today in version 3 of our product.  Should be on the shelves within six months.  You’re going to love it”.

You need to work through particularly sensitive regulatory issues for your business and identify potential threats.  These should be specified and explained in your social media policy.

  1. Reflect your business culture

This is really important.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to social media policies.  They need to support your business plan and your values.

Social media can escalate issues – a customer complaint for instance.  You need to give your employees very clear advice about what they can and cannot say and how to handle various scenarios.

Time and again, badly handled crises have gone viral.  Look at the case of Ryanair and the comments their IT employees posted online.  This is now a case study in just about any handbook or blog on how (not) to handle crisis management.

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