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Celebrations in the Workplace

Workplace celebration: waste of time or time well spent?

Workers Toast in Office, Pizza Beer Office Party, Work at 50+, Celebrations in the Workplace

Jetta Productions/Blend Images

Celebrations in the workplace can build a sense of team and strengthen employee engagement.

For the small business owner, there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done. Can we really justify taking half a day off to “celebrate” someone’s great idea or cheer the half-way point of the fundraising mark? Yes! Even in businesses with only a handful of employees and an overflowing work load, celebrations are “critical” says Malinda Lowery, co-founder of Multiple Choice, Inc., a leadership development company.

“Anything great that’s ever been accomplished had a team attached to it. Celebrating success gives people an adrenalin rush,” she says. “They think, ‘Wow, I’m part of this!’ It’s about knowing that you’re a piece of something bigger than yourself.” Celebrations create energy and engagement, the lack of which seems to be a growing issue in the workforce. “Employees ‘show up’ but they’re not energized,” says Lowery, “It’s the level of employee engagement that differentiates companies, and the research says only 52 percent of the workforce feels engaged.” An employee’s connectivity to a task or goal is vital, and it’s even more critical that the small business person pay attention to this.

To the complaint that there’s no time or money to adequately celebrate, Lowery responds, “By making celebrations a regular event, you’re buying more time to spend on growing your business,” she says. “You can spend your time cheering success or you can spend it dealing with issues that wouldn’t be issues if people were excited by what they’re doing.”

The Pay-offs of Office Blowouts: Celebrations in the workplace can take different forms but they all have a positive impact on: building a sense of team strengthening employee engagement, reducing negative behaviors like tardiness and absenteeism, elevating a company from mediocre to good—or even good to great Even celebrating mistakes can strengthen a small team and therefore the company. Kyle Zimmer, CEO and co-founder of the non-profit First Book, Inc., believes that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying enough new ideas. Within her organization of fewer than 20 employees Zimmer says, “We want people who have tried things and have failed and have risen above it.” Zimmer values going full throttle on ideas even if there’s a chance they might fall short. “We give out a Brick Wall Award for an idea that should have gone really well but ended up crashing into a brick wall. It’s a way of saying ‘It’s OK, you did the thinking, you gave it your best shot and it crashed, but it was an honorable step.’” Celebrations have another benefit, according to Zimmer, “I have grown to respect the importance of spending time with people. There is no substitute for [it]. All the technology in the world doesn’t replace [people spending time together].”

Celebrating on A Dime: Philip Maung started a supermarket sushi business at his kitchen table. Initially, his focus was almost entirely on making money to support his family and to keep his small business afloat, but after Maung read Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he realized that “it shouldn’t just be about money.” Still, Maung didn’t have a lot of discretionary cash so he improvised on work motivation ideas. Employee picnics were pot-luck affairs. Low-cost or no-cost employee celebrations took the form of outdoor kickball or honoring a birthday with everyone singing around a $20.00 birthday cake from Costco.

Maung did something else that cost him nothing but gained him everything: He invited his staff to help him visualize, articulate and adopt 11 core values that would form the foundation for everything the company would ever do. Those core values – which include mottos such as “Work Hard, Play Hard,” and “Compassionate & Humble” – give employees a reason to celebrate their workplace every day. Maung’s kitchen table enterprise – Hissho Sushi – has since grown into a veritable empire, but Maung stays strongly connected to the humble roots that first grew around that kitchen table. “Employees are people, not just workers,” he says. “Changing your perspective on that can change everything.”

Making it your own: We asked small business owners about their best ideas for low-cost, high pay-off celebrations to help with motivation in the workplace:

–A Segway tour of the city cost us only $35 per employee. We got to spend quality time together, do something that none of us had ever done, learn about each other and had a mini lesson in overcoming fear of the unknown.–E.W., Baltimore

-We keep a ping-pong table in the warehouse. Once a month we have a contest where teams picked randomly have to play backwards, with one hand tied behind their back, or partially blind-folded. Winners get to choose where we order lunch once a month. So everyone benefits. Time at the ping-pong table takes an hour; lunch is about $7.00 per person. Everyone loves It, and it costs the company virtually nothing. – J.L., Charlotte

-Employees didn’t want me deciding what our team building activity schedule would be. I told them they could make the decision as long as a) it stretched them as people and b) they could prove to me that by doing the exercise they would grow as employees and we would grow as a team. They have come up with some of the most amazing ideas and they love being empowered to do so. – R.B., NYC

Although workplace festivities can be as elaborate as a tropical cruise or as simple as a sing-a-long, Lowery points out that the idea of celebrating the team is nothing new. “Maslow was talking about it way back in 1943 when he identified the human ‘hierarchy of needs’,” she says. “All of us want to be part of something larger than we are. We keep searching for it.”

Stay Motivated at Work


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