Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is there a game on today?

March Madness. For many employers, that phrase often carries a double-meaning: the commonly understood reference to the onset of college basketball frenzy during the month, and the feeling that overcomes many employers because they believe they suffer in productivity because the games are a distraction at work.

No doubt, talk around the office often shifts from the latest inventory count to the latest point count; in-bound deliveries to in-bound plays; turn-around margins to turnover margins--you get the idea. How does an employer beat this game? By beating it at its own game, you might say.

A trend is slowly developing in companies to embrace the madness that is March. Some employers host March Madness lunches--where they bring in food for employees, set up TVs in break rooms, and encourage employees to spend a little more time than usual on their breaks and lunch periods to watch the games. Others allow employees to bring in snack foods for all to enjoy, set up in a common area with a television, and let employees stop in as schedules allow. Whatever the approach, employers are beginning to shrug their shoulders and say, "If you can't beat 'em. . . ."

The theory is that if you don't deny the employees the ability to indulge in the games, if you openly embrace the games, then employees are less likely to sneak during work time to find out what is happening with the action.

Other companies are allowing their employees to wear clothing items showing off their school spirit on the days when their teams are playing. Employees who don't have teams in the tournament (or remaining in the tournament) are encouraged to fly their school colors nonetheless.

Are there any benefits to employers? Sure--employers find that this time of year provides a perfect setting to do something nice for their workers and show them that they mean more to the company than the number of widgets they can turn out during a shift. In a time when the economy is less than stellar, small efforts to make employees feel important and needed can go a long way toward improving employee morale and retention. And with spring fever often coming into full bloom (no pun intended) at this same time, a little mental break for the employees is often welcome.

So next time you think March Madness is getting the best of you and your company, think about flipping the script. Sometimes it's okay to have fun at work.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

DING! DING! DING! And The Nomination Goes To . . .

Well, no one knows just yet. It certainly has been an exciting several months for the campaign trails of many of the candidates. That can lead to exciting discussions in the workplace, too. Co-workers asking who is getting whose vote. Debates about the debates that took place the night before. Discussions on the "true" issues and attempts to peel away "fluff" from candidate speeches. E-mails pinging between mailboxes sharing the latest YouTube clip showing a gaffe by one of the candidates. Sorry--is my political science degree showing? Yes, this is an exciting time for me, I admit it.

For some companies, the campaign season (on whatever level) sometimes leads to heated discussions--many people feel passionately about their political beliefs. It never hurts to have an idea in mind of how much, if at all, you want to foster such discussions. Some companies take a very active approach, viewing these exchanges as a way to build relationships among co-workers. Other companies would rather not have the additional emotion that can accompany an exchange of political views.

Wherever you may fall in that spectrum, take a quick look at your handbook policies (think Ethics, Professionalism, or even Non-Solicitation) to ensure they appropriately address your company's position on the matter. You should also consider talking with some of your managers/supervisors about their roles (big, small or non-existent) in the discussions, too. Remembering that employees can take political discussions very personally, the potential ripple effect when a manager engages with those whom he/she supervises or is viewed to have authority over can turn into a tidal wave rather quickly.

It's campaign season! Happy candidate hunting!