Play at Work?

Work is hard, it is mean to be. That is why the majority of Americans don’t work outside their homes unless a paycheck is involved. And, these days, average length of time
anyone stays at a company is 4 years. Employees job hop over money more than anything but also work environment. So why don’t employers look closer at what goes on at work and what they can change?

I learned that 57 million people are involved in Fantasy Football in the world, the majority here in the States. It is estimated that the average employee spends one hour a week working on their picks, status, standings.  Most times this is done at work, on company time. Thus, some companies ban it during the work week as they see the time spent costing them money. Newer studies are showing employees participating in Fantasy Football during the season have a better overall morale at work and are more productive!  What an easy way to improve morale by looking the other way.

Too often companies see no value in allowing a stress reduction exercise unrelated to someone’s job duties. All work and no play is their motto for the day and every day. Time wasted is money lost.  Combine this with a working population that sacrifices more time away from families than ever before just to make a living, modest at that. Is allowing some interesting activity for employees at work really wasting man-hours on the job?

I worked years ago, while in college at a company in Cincinnati Ohio, F & W Publications.  It wasn’t very long after I started of the Ping Pong Battles.  Oh yes, in the basement of the building was a large ping pong table the company had choose to keep.

Everyone in the company was given an acronym similar to their name. The board was posted multiple places and in each department of the competition, complete with winner and loser brackets.  Each quarter anyone wanting in the competition had to put money in a pot, a nominal amount.  Then arbitrarily all the games were listed by dates and by times.  There were no more than usually 3 a day.  It was the players responsibility to check their time and date. No shows were automatic forfeits!

I was shocked, when attending a meeting, that someone vital was missing because it was his scheduled time to play ping pong! But, I learned, ping pong playing can be very serious.  The top three places won money out of the pot and with a lot of employees, it made for a nice chunk of change.

They alternated between championships for singles and one for doubles. When the players were on teams, they were not allowed to pick their team-mate! They were assigned someone outside their department.

What I observed in my time spent working there is camaraderie over a simple game that was complex.  Through this table top game, workers bonded. They laughed, yelled and walked out of the basement happy to be a part of something joyful that reminded them abit of their childhood, and the fact there is more to life than working.  What the employer netted were happy campers!  Many told me, during my tenure there, they would drastically underpaid but stayed there because of the climate, best exemplified by the ping pong tournaments. 

My quantity of jobs worked is too long.  However, it has provided me with a vast array of management styles and work environments.  Never, since that job, have I ever seen a more complex work set-up for employees to actually enjoy time together in a healthy competition that continued year round.

Employers need to see the value of fun at work. It’s a healthy way to bring tempers down and help workers find a common ground with co-workers. This alone will aid in team development.  This time is productive contrary to what many bosses would think.  It builds morale.

Another employee at one company maintained a candy stash.  Her job was to have her deep desk drawer filled with candy, all kinds.  The employees knew this and would come to her desk regularly to purchase candy. It was much lower in cost than the store or the vending machine. Also, she allowed for candy requests.  With the money she made, she put it in a fund. Then, every so often, the money would be used for a small party of some sort for the office employees adding to that fund simply by purchasing candy. 

This little ‘candy store’ created human interaction, much as a water cooler does.  Grown adults requesting she buy skittles, gummy worms or Reese’s Pieces may not have seemed productive to the bosses, when they got wind of this. But, the overall point was lost, allow employees time to chat about something minimal and it works towards bonding, friendship.  Who cares if it is over ping pong or candy, the point is morale is boosted, and less people quits.

It is pure and simple, there is a tremendous value to these activities that seem frivolous
to employers.   When the candy store was shut down, employees held their heads low, there was grumbling followed by more complaints about the company.  Many felt the company’s inability to let them purchase candy and an employee oversee it was representative of them seeing people as work machines.  I fail to see how management let something so small become a major hurdle in people’s minds about working there. No source for candy in the middle of the day made some folks irate.  Next, they are showing up for work for only one thing, a paycheck. Employers note, someone will always pay them more than you are!

Making employees happy increases the chances of them being loyal.  Companies need to get on board, in these financially challenging times and help employees be glad they employed with them.  Little moments of fun speak volumes.  It shows recognition of management that there is more to life than just showing up to work, putting in the time and repeating it 5 days a week.  Activities that take up a minimal amount of time and that create a positive vibe among employees is priceless.   Not having HR, bosses or upper management involved saves time.  Stifling fun is asking for unhappiness.  Give employees more reasons to stay by making it okay for them to play.

Recess time!