Why You Shouldn’t Discourage Silly Behavior

A Mandy Moment – The foam dart wars

When I first started working at my current job, I was a bit nervous. It was a new industry for me, although related in a lot of ways to some of my previous work experience. I received some training and then took up my place in the cubicles to get started. It took a bit for me to be comfortable talking with my new coworkers, which is quite unusual for me. Normally, I’m the first one to strike up a conversation.

It was clear that this company was different than any other place I’ve seen or worked at. Everyone seemed to know each other and get along together much better than I’d ever seen – inside jokes everywhere, a whole language I didn’t understand, relationships and friendships outside of work… I felt like the new kid at school who just moved there from some backwards place.

After a few weeks, I started to really understand the dynamics of the office. It was actually a very well oiled machine from the inside. All of the camaraderie was just one of the things that makes this place unique – and awesome. And that’s when it happened.

As I sat at my desk working away collecting data, organizing my day and what not, I heard a snap (or maybe it was a crack.. or pop..) and a yellow foam dart flew just inches over my head. Well, what the heck was that? Laughter ensued and more darts went flying around. One of the sales guys was walking behind me and so my coworker thought, let’s just shoot him with a nerf gun. Alright, I can get into this!

Before long, I was handed my very own nerf gun. It was like some glorious coronation ceremony or initiation into a fantastic secret club. When I fired that gun for the first time and narrowly missed hitting someone in the head, I felt like I belonged in this group. This was not just a place to work, not just a software development company… It was, and still is, like being on a winning sports team or part of a Brady-Bunch-kind-of-happy family.

Oh, Mandy!

You may be thinking that I’m going to advise you to stock up on foam darts to give out to your employees. That might be cool, but that’s not my advice here. What employers and managers can take away from this is that work can be fun. I posted once about how organizational culture can have far reaching effects; encouraging a fun work environment goes along way to improving employee satisfaction.

During particularly busy periods, whether expected or not, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, drown in your work and become stressed,IMG_20131205_165547 frustrated, even bitter. When the work starts to pile up and reality sets in regarding deadlines or the scope of a particular project, it’s tough to stay positive and motivated. That’s where the nerf guns come in. When tension gets high around the office, someone’s bound to fire a random foam dart in an attempt to mock-assassinate a manager or rival sales person. One of my managers tends to get the bulk of my wrath, only because I’ve grown fond of the sneak attack as he has to walk past my office door  to get in and out of his office. I’m lucky he’s a good sport.

Let your employees blow off steam. If you see them forming a bond over something (something SAFE and appropriate!), encourage them to continue, or at the very least, don’t discourage it. There’s a time and a place for everything, so don’t shoot your boss with a nerf gun when clients are around or if it’s just clearly not a good time. Maybe you shouldn’t get your boss at all, that’s all going to depend on the kind of dynamic your workplace offers. What’s important is that employers recognize these kinds of rituals or diversions as healthy ways to blow of steam.

If your office doesn’t embrace any notable behavior like this, be proactive and offer up an activity that anyone could do. Maybe it’s been a long busy month and there’s a hockey game going on in your town, a new restaurant open nearby, bowling.. anything that may be interesting and fun. Offer ideas so that your employees know that you recognize their effort, that they’ve been working harder than usual or helped complete a major project that benefits the whole organization.

You may not accomplish the close, family style relationship you want with your employees but you will notice an appreciation that goes a long way. Happy employees are productive employees. They are also more loyal. These kinds of things extend to your employees’ personal lives, too. When I head home after a hectic day at the office, I can smile to myself because ‘I totally got Ryan with that dart today!’ and it’s a funny story to share with my family.

Leave a comment with some of the ways your office keeps things fun!

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Affecting Organizational Culture

A Mandy Moment:

Some time ago, I worked at a fairly large call center. Inside the beautiful glass building, up the elevator and into the call center’s main floor, I would enter through the electronically secured doors to a sea of fabric cubicles and soft “productivity green” walls. Luckily, there were always seats available, but sitting at the same desk for more than a few days at a time was unheard of. No problem, all this girl needs is a desk and a computer that works. And a coffee.

Hmm. Didn’t have time to grab my Tim’s on the way in. Going to have to go at least 2 hours before getting a coffee, but that’s ok I get a 15 minute break. Wait. I’m on the late shift today so my first 15 minute break is at 1pm. That means I’m going to have to fight through the lunch rush hour to get to Tim’s half a block away, stand in line behind 28 people getting a toasted panini sandwich then boot it back to my desk. I can do this… Then of course, I have to give the queue monitor the ol’ “Sorry, I had to wait for the elevator…” 😉 story.

Oh, Mandy!

It’s no secret that an organization’s culture has a major impact on employee performance and retention, but what can employers to do to improve their culture? I’ve worked in a variety of environments ranging from chain retail stores to one-shop operations to call centers both big and small. Although large, corporate environments may seem to lack any real character, it’s still easy to see what kind of small, seemingly meaningless things can contribute to a positive organizational culture.

Clearly, the old adage “you can’t please everyone” rings true when it comes to organizational culture. What you can do, however, is look at your physical environment and make sure that environment is conducive to promoting a positive culture. Whether you are large or small, here are some things to consider:

Where are you located? Downtown with lots of public transportation and restaurants? Adjacent to a popular coffee shop? On the outskirts of town? In a business or industrial park? Are you open outside of regular business hours?

  • Public Transportation Subsidies – Everyone has travel expenses, that’s a given. Why not offer a partial reimbursement program for public transportation expenses? Employees will appreciate the offer and there’s a hidden benefit to this one! In this age of environmental consciousness, your company will be seen to encourage public transit which has a positive impact on the environment. Another way to deal with transportation issues would be to encourage carpool programs; grab an employee who’s shown some initiative and suggest they arrange a carpool program. Provide some space on a bulletin board or provide access to internal communications to facilitate such a program.
  • Coffee Time – If you’re not located next door to a Tim Horton’s or Starbucks, a quick and easy cultural pick-me-up is making coffee (or tea!) available in the office. Single serve coffee machines are all the rage and employees can contribute to the “coffee fund” so that supplies can be replenished. You could ask a frequent coffee drinker if they’d mind keeping tabs on it for you.
  • The Most Important Meal of the Day – When you’re located in a downtown core or business park where there are lots of restaurants, convenience stores and amenities near by, your employees have access to things like a donut or breakfast sandwich on their way to work. But what if you’re not? Bring in a box of donuts, croissants, fruit or other easy to grab breakfast treat for the office. Start small, maybe every Monday. You’ll be surprised how quickly your employees will start bringing in their own treat to share!

Why do these things make a difference? When you reach out and provide some of these kinds of comforts to your employees, it shows empathy. When your employees feel that you’re going beyond (even if it’s not far beyond) the needs of the organization to make their work day more enjoyable, the rewards are measurable. You may notice that employees are more productive in their daily activities, more friendly with coworkers and more committed to the company’s vision. Even if you’re only one department of a large company, this kind of cultural improvement very well might be contagious!