Should Work Be Fun?

Six Components of a Positive Workplace Culture
by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey

There's no denying that this isn't your father's Corporate America. Since Don Draper's day, workplaces have become more casual, more connected, more innovative and more flexible. But have they become fun? Maybe so—or at least, that's what the latest crop of employees hope to find when they settle into their new cubicles.

According to a recent report from Accenture, 60 percent of graduates from the Class of 2015 said they would take a pay cut to work for a company that had a "positive social atmosphere."

Most employers don't actually need to see the results of a study to know that a positive, even fun, company culture is a deciding factor for young people who are entering the job market. And since millennials now account for the largest share of the U.S. work force, those employers had better take this generation's expectations seriously—even if they themselves are members of the “it's called work for a reason” camp.

Don't worry, you won't have to put in a basketball court or bowling alley—and actually, injecting a little more fun into your organization will benefit everyone.

It's a myth that productivity improves when company cultures are rigid, serious, and businesslike. The reality is, productivity improves when people enjoy being at work and enjoy the work they're doing, regardless of the decade in which they were born. Here are six components of a positive company culture:

Fun. While going to work might not ever beat a day at the beach, it's still possible to make time at the office enjoyable. When possible, allow your employees to work in highly collaborative teams and make group work areas available. Give these teams clear goals and celebrate when they're accomplished. You might even want to introduce a little friendly competition.

Beyond that, strive to create a fun environment. At Barefoot, we designed colorful work spaces with natural light and playful graphics. We let employees choose their titles and encouraged wine-related names. (I was “Head Stomper,” if you're curious.) We also gave plenty of time off, celebrated birthdays, and didn't mind a little silliness as long as the work got done. All of this helped our people to stay fresh and involved, and kept morale high.

Respect. Yes, your new millennial hires will be the low men and women on your company's totem pole. But that doesn't mean they can be treated dismissively or viewed as a cost. No one, regardless of age or experience, will enjoy coming to work if they aren't treated with respect and viewed as an asset.

A good way to show employees respect is to create a know-the-need culture instead of sticking to a need-to-know policy. Practice transparency. Share company challenges and ask the entire staff for solutions. Your people are full of intelligence, ideas, and passion, and you may be surprised by the ideas they come back with. And, of course, be sure to recognize your people for an outstanding performance and acknowledge their accomplishments publicly.

Philanthropy. A 2014 report by consulting firm Achieve revealed that not only do millennials think it's important to give back to their communities, 57 percent would actually like to see their employers offer more company-wide volunteer opportunities.

It's a good idea for your company to stand for more than "just" the mercantile value of its goods and services. All of your employees, regardless of their age, will be proud to work for a company that's committed to a better world, not just a better product. (And if some of them share your company's good deeds on social media, so much the better.)

From the start, we aligned Barefoot with several social 'causes' including local parks, civil rights, and environmentalism, which we had felt strongly about long before creating our company. Even when we didn't have cash to spare, we still donated bottles of wine and encouraged our employees to volunteer for our partner organizations on company time. Knowing that their work was governed by a higher set of principles gave our employees a higher sense of purpose and increased their engagement, morale, and loyalty. They were truly proud to say that they worked for Barefoot Wine.

Flex-hours. If your company has a rigid attendance policy, you should seriously consider: Why? Thanks to technology, many of today's jobs don't require employees to be in the office, at their desks, from nine to five. And believe it or not, almost half of millennials say they'd choose flexibility over pay.

Employees feel positively about companies that give them time to live their lives outside of work when possible. Set up deadline-based timetables rather than strict work schedules, and allow for home office work as much as possible. This will help your people save gas and commute hours. Think of it as paying for performance, not attendance. At Barefoot, we found that when we trusted our people to do what we asked them to and left the when and where up to them, they were more focused and productive. They thought like entrepreneurs, not clock-punchers.

Appreciation. When your employees work hard on your company's behalf, they deserve your thanks and appreciation. Don't take it for granted when your employees put in extra hours, land a coveted client, or turn out an incredibly well-thought-out proposal, for example. Make sure they know that you have noticed their efforts. For that matter, don't even take it for granted that they show up every day. (As the economy continues to improve, employees have an increasingly wide array of potential employers to choose from!)

A great way to build team spirit and nurture a positive culture is to send out written acknowledgments or make an announcement when a person does something that positively affects business. At Barefoot, we did this on each employee's anniversary. Not only does saying 'thank you' as publicly as possible give individual employees the warm fuzzies, it causes the whole team to gain more respect for their coworkers.

Family. Accenture's report also revealed that only 15 percent of 2015 grads "prefer" to work for a large corporation. Today's employees want to be known and treated as individuals, not merely as "human capital" or cogs in the proverbial machine. They value kinship, shared values, and being part of a supportive group that has one another's best interests at heart. They want to feel proud of their "tribe" and look forward to the company of the group with whom they spend the majority of their waking hours.

All of the advice we've shared here will help you to create a workplace “family.” In addition, we recommend setting up a mentorship program. When a new employee comes on board, try to match him up with a more experienced worker who can advise, teach, challenge, and encourage him. Mentoring relationships are a win-win because they guarantee that valuable institutional knowledge is passed on while knitting your team more closely together.

You may have noticed in Accenture's report that 70 percent of the graduates surveyed are still being subsidized by Mom and Dad—but don't assume that they'll be willing to settle for less in the workplace for the sake of a few more bucks once they're on their own. By that time, your competition will woo them with higher salaries and a positive company culture. Now is the time to get in front of the curve and attract the folks you need to build your company.

Shouldn't work be fun anyway? Isn't that when we all do our best work? Isn't that the fertile ground that allows the best solutions and disruptive ideas to grow? And isn't that the basis of company loyalty? With the right people in the right environment, your company will be more likely to hit its numbers and be able to provide those increased salaries when Mom and Dad pull the plug.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are coauthors of The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People. For more information, visit www.TheBarefootSpirit.com.

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