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Employers Use Fun to Fight Turnover
By Gregory P. Smith, President, Chart Your Course International

Everyone has had a bad hair day, but how about a bad tie, bad hat or bad shoe day? More and more companies are putting together contests on the ugliest dressed. Why? Another company sponsors an annual turkey bowl. Employees go out on the loading dock, take a frozen turkey and try to knock down as many empty wine bottles as possible. This is not evidence of companies gone nuts, but tactics used to stem off a serious business problem.

The biggest problem facing business today is how to find, keep and motivate workers. The other problem slapping them in the face is high turnover. Just like the Titanic, today's mobile employees jump ship for as little as a $1.00 hr raise unless something keeps them. That something may equate to a fun, flexible workplace that gives them more freedom and responsibility. Wouldn't it be great if you enjoyed going to work? Where your supervisors showed appreciation for what you did?

A company experiencing high turnover has a serious financial problem. It costs anywhere from $4000-$15,000 to recruit, hire and train a new employee. One Atlanta company lost 420 of the 431 employees they hired this year. If it cost them $4000 per employee that equates to a $1.7 million loss. Unfortunately, most employers do not know how much turnover is costing them.

Gregory Smith is the nation's leading authority on workplace innovation and employee motivation. He says, "Money may get employees in the front door, but you need something else to keep them from going out the back door." Smith recently produced a training video called, How to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Workforce. The video focuses on creating a motivating work environment based on the principle of FAST-FUN.

F-Focus on the behavior you want to reward
A-Avoid bureaucratic judging and committees
S-Simplicity, do not make your program too complicated or formal
T-Team Ownership, let the employees run it
FUN-Make it fun, entertaining and spontaneous

Here are a few examples of fun workplaces:

Humor Corner: Give employees one corner of a break room or other area to post cartoons, illustrations and other items designed to relieve stress. At the end of each week, the staff can award a prize for the best submission.

Man Overboard Award: CIGNA believes in rewarding employees who go "over and beyond" for their customers. The "Man Overboard Award" is a life-saving ring, which the president presents to an employee at a special ceremony. CIGNA also pays teams for implemented ideas that improve productivity with awards as high as $25,000.

Flextime/flexshare: First Tennessee Bank, (city, state) believes that if you treat employees well they in return treat your customers well. The use of flextime and flexshare programs has resulted in double the loan volume handled since 1992 with no increase in staff or major changes in systems or technology. An additional bonus: a giant leap in customer service ratings.

The Talking Stick: Try introducing the "talking stick" into your office. This idea originated from a Native American tradition. Each month a different person in the office receives the talking stick which provides that person certain rights and privileges (which vary from office to office) for the month. For example, the "owner" could provide fellow employees one hour a month administrative leave.

Employee Dollars: At Phoenix Solutions Inc. employees award an "employee dollar" to fellow employees who do something special or exceed company expectations. Each month the employee with the most dollars gets movie tickets, dinner, and a plaque with their name as "Employee of the Month."

Dancing the Macarena: Employees at PeopleSoft, Inc. still haven't forgotten the day that CEO David Duffield danced the Macarena in front of 500 happy co-workers. Duffield doesn't act like a boss. His office is a cubicle; he answers his own phone and opens his own mail. Annual employee turnover is three percent, or one-quarter of the national average. Employees who earn outstanding service awards get either $500 in cash or 100 stock options.

"Management by fooling around": Herb Kelleher, CEO and founder of Southwest Airlines, combines fun and hard work into something he calls "management by fooling around." At the nonconformist airline everything - from the tickets and boarding passes to the casual dress and occasional costumes attendants wear - clearly demonstrates that something is different.

Payday: The Milwaukee office manager for Manpower Inc. doesn't just give out paychecks on payday - employees also receive a Payday candy bar with their check.

Gregory P. Smith, author of The New Leader, and How to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Workforce. He speaks at conferences, leads seminars and helps organizations solve problems. He leads an organization called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. Phone him at (770)860-9464 or email More information is available at

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