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A morale booster that literally broke the ice

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

workplace partyAfter an unusually frigid winter in 2010-11, Larry Schoenecker knew he needed to lift the spirits of his employees. So he announced a series of policies that he called “the Summer of Love.”

Schoenecker is president of BI World­­wide, a Minneapolis-based company that helps organizations engage their em­­ployees. After a winter with 86 inches of snow (the most in 27 years), everyone seemed anxious and stir crazy.

As spring approached, Schoenecker came up with a plan. He wrote a com­­panywide memo that listed steps he was taking to boost morale.

He promised to host more parties in the months ahead with live music and beer. He also launched a volleyball tournament and dangled incentives to those who signed up, including free T-shirts.

To simplify the already-lax dress code, Schoenecker announced an even more casual guideline from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “Don’t wear anything that will get you arrested,” he wrote. Employees responded by donning flip-flops, cargo shorts and tie-dyed shirts.  

Best of all, Schoenecker promised paid time off every other Friday afternoon for the whole workforce. This meant they could gain three or more days of paid time off over the summer.

“The Summer of Love” was a huge hit. Employees worked harder than ever be­­cause they felt driven to reward Schoenecker’s generosity. And he has reinstated the beloved plan every summer since.

The lesson for leaders is to give em­­ployees a light at the end of the tunnel. If they’re facing adversity, provide something exciting for them to enjoy in the near future.

— Adapted from Widgets, Rodd Wagner, McGraw-Hill.

Tip: Shock and awe to give morale a real jolt. Stuart Reges, a principal lecturer at the University of Washington, doesn't just tell his students that he appreciates their hard work each semester. For every final exam, he bakes enough chocolate chip cookies to feed the whole bunch—that's about 1000 students. It demands two whole days of mixing and baking during a busy time for college lecturers, but the University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award winner believes the work is worth it.

Tip: What is your Fun Club telling you? Keep a close eye on the attendance to the morale-building events, parties and get-togethers your office holds. If you have a growing number of people who never come to them, that’s a red flag that people feel crushed and dispirited by their workload—or possibly that your Fun Club is making too many assumptions about what people really want in an extracurricular activity.

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