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Enhance employee motivation through play at work


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Keeping your staff members motivated on a daily basis can prove to be challenging with all the responsibilities and demands they face. Staff members must deal with not only their own concerns but also the individual concerns of their patients, says Jody Urquhart, a motivational speaker and author. Urquhart writes the syndicated column “Joy of Work,” which is published in more than 65 magazines and journals.

“The top three things that are most important to people in life today [are] their health, their finances, and their family,” says Urquhart. She adds that these concerns come into play for patients as well. “It makes for a very stressful environment.”

Mary Ann Tyler, a certified medical manager in Glen Mills, PA, adds that unmotivated staff members can adversely affect the quality of patient care and patient satisfaction. They can also hurt your bottom line, decrease productivity, and create high turnover.

But there are many ways to create a work environment that is both positive and productive. Whether you praise your staff members more often or raise funds for a good cause, sometimes all it takes to solve even the most serious problems is a little lighthearted fun.

Praise those involved

Many might think that boosting morale means having to boost staff salaries. In reality, says Tyler, “Money does not keep people happy for long, so trying to get their support and involvement with money just isn’t going to work for you in the long run.”

More often than not, when you give an employee a raise, that satisfaction will last for only about 13 days, she adds. “And then what do you do next? You’re sure as heck not going to give [him or her] a raise every 13 days.”

Urquhart adds, “The top reason people leave their workplace is that they don’t feel recognized, valued, and appreciated. I think it’s because our society is involved in what I call passive recognition, meaning that we know people do a good job, but we just don’t say something about it.”

“Acknowledgment goes a long way,” says Tyler. A simple “thank you,” “great job,” or “wow” can have a lasting effect, she says.

Being playful and getting ahead

Practicing humor at work “puts you in control of your mood, your environment, and builds rapport,” says Urquhart. “It was Plato who said centuries ago that you learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation. So if you want to create connections in your workplace, find ways to be playful,” she says.

Although many may feel that using humor at work is immature or unprofessional, Urquhart believes that just the opposite is true. “I think we need to give ourselves permission to be a little sillier,” she says.

Studies have shown that in companies in which CEOs use humor, staff members are found to be more confident and competent, says Urquhart. One hospital, for example, was having a difficult time getting people to come to staff meetings. “Apparently, [the meetings] were too boring,” says Urquhart.

At the next meeting, as staff members walked into the room, they were told to pick their noses. “They could pick a clown nose, a donkey nose, or a giraffe nose,” explains Urquhart. “This hospital now has standing room only in their meetings.”

Lighten up and laugh

Humor also boosts productivity because of the physical effects that it has on your body. Laughter has been shown to boost your immune system, stimulate your nervous system, speed up your digestive system, and decrease pain.

Every time you laugh or smile to varying degrees, three things occur that instantly decrease stress, says Urquhart:

  • A greater amount of endorphins are released into your bloodstream, which makes you feel good and gives you a shot of energy
  • Oxygen increases in the front part of your brain, which makes you more focused and productive
  • Muscle tension decreases, which breaks the overall stress cycle and decreases stress hormones

    When you make somebody laugh, you change the way he or she feels, thinks, and acts. The way people feel changes because the moment they laugh, they feel good, says Urquhart. “You change a negative emotion into a positive one.”

    Laughing changes the way people think because it forces them to consider a broader, more positive perspective, she says. And it changes the way people act because when we interact in a humorous way, “we like each other so much more. We build this incredible sense of rapport,” she says.

    Keep up the morale

    Having fun at work is also a great way to raise money for good causes and to keep your staff supportive of that endeavor, says Maryann Roefaro, MS, FACMPE, CEO of Hematology-Oncology Associates of Central New York, who started a “fun committee” at her facility four years ago to do just that. The committee is made up of 14 people (one representative from each department), each of whom serves two years on the committee.

    “The [fun committee] does everything from planning the holiday parties to the orchestration of all our stewardship activities. Stewardship is a big part of this practice,” says Roefaro. The primary mission of the committee is to gain staff support for fund-raising. “We do so many activities—like basket raffles, participate in the Race for a Cure for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and a food drive for a local shelter that houses battered and abused women,” she says.

    In addition to the shelter, the committee funds charities and foundations that support research for cancer and blood disorders—the practice’s specialties. It also uses funds to help fellow employees who suffer from a cataclysmic event, providing them up to $500 per year. In four years, the committee has raised and given away more than $15,000.

    Stress is unavoidable in any work environment, but practicing humor and discovering different and unique ways to have fun at work creates a win-win situation for everyone involved. “It’s not the work; it’s how you treat it,” says Urquhart.

    Keep in mind that change doesn’t happen overnight. “The gravity pull of old habits starts to set in the minute change happens, so commit to keeping the conversations alive,” says Urquhart. “Purposeful work comes alive by daring to be caring moment by moment to create a life that is uniquely yours at work. Spend time lifting people up.”