Let’s embrace, not stifle, workplace eccentricity

Let’s embrace, not stifle, workplace eccentricity

A lot of businesses try to homogenise their workforce with uniforms, scripts and policies. Yet as Atomic 212 CEO Jason Dooris argues, business owners should be embracing the random and the quirky to humanise their employees for customers and simultaneously boost staff productivity.

Many businesses want to be the cool kid in the playground – nowhere is this truer than in my own industry (media and marketing). Companies want to create an image to the outside world that working for them is a blast. From slippery slides and sleeping pods to Friday drinks and office ping pong tables.

It’s apparently all in the name of staff happiness and productivity, when it’s often an attempt at window dressing, rather than addressing core staff drivers. Or so the story goes.

Sure, the random, weird and wacky stuff a business does isn’t necessarily going to translate directly into staff satisfaction and productivity.

In today’s world, staff rightly want training and development. They want guidance, mentors and a voice within the business. They want regular reviews and training budgets. They want direct access to senior staff. They want career progression plans. They want the up-tops to keep their promises. They want a work/life balance.

If businesses genuinely want their employees to love coming to work, to feel inspired and productive, then these components are not just nice-to-have, they are must-haves.

What’s more, these are the elements of a business that should operate behind the scenes as a given.

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid random staff initiatives that make your business look original, cool or unique.Street art - brick face made with fruit peels and nut shells

If you have the above-mentioned basics right, then the window dressing can incrementally improve productivity, while also making a statement about who you are as a business. The window dressing blends culture and productivity, and this is the way a company can put its own mark on staff satisfaction.

Don’t get me wrong, if you have the dressing without the basics, then you’re in trouble. But combine the two, and you’re onto a winner.

It’s like the Zoltar Fortune Teller Machine we have in our office. Do people love coming to work just because we have a nifty, nostalgic machine that tells your future? No. Will this make the difference between staff happiness and revolt? Of course not.

But has it generated a few laughs in the office? Does it say something about our creative culture? Is it a positive talking point? You betcha!

So, before you knock yourself out on the sleeping pods and the slippery slides – which, by the way, have been used by one of the world’s most successful companies: Google – keep in mind that a few fun, quirky or random add-ons are not only good for the external image, they can also make your staff feel like they are part of something unique.

MetLife figures show that only 30 per cent of employees in Australia are satisfied with the benefits they get at work, so maybe it’s time to think of interesting ways to engage your staff.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Celebrate achievements in unique ways

Every milestone is worth celebrating. I’m not just talking about staff birthday cakes or a few beers on a Friday. If an individual staff member or a team, or the company as a whole has kicked some type of goal, then you should celebrate. Always.

From a young age I was taught that if you want to reprimand staff, you do it in private; and if you want to praise them, then do it as publicly as possible.

There are heaps of original ways you can do this. At Groupon, they give staff members a bright, green personalised Adidas jacket to celebrate every year they’ve been at the company (their Grouponiversary), while content marketing firm Influence & Co does something similar with a wrestling belt.

At SnackNation, every Friday the team gets in a huddle and every person names someone they think is ‘crushing it’ in the office.

2. Random benefits can engage staff with a twist

Staff benefits are a must-have – bonus schemes,  profit sharing, health care, fringe benefits like phones and cars. Add-ons make people feel loved. So why not get creative and throw in a few random staff benefits on top of the regular, tried-and-tested methods.

At Atomic, we’ve recently built a barbershop in the office, so that every Wednesday any staff member – in fact anyone at all who works in our industry – can get their haircut.

On Tuesday mornings at 7.30am, we host Yoga on the Wharf sessions, which again are free to staff members and anyone from our industry.

Don’t get me wrong – if an Atomic staffer was given the option to choose between a bonus and free yoga, they would probably choose the bonus. And you might ask, what have yoga and haircuts got to do with the marketing industry? Not much, to be honest.

Chef adds garnish to a mealBut anecdotally, staff are telling us that the random on-top benefits make them feel like we’re thinking of them. And that’s why we do it.

It’s the same reason why Google offices have on-site health services; and why the Institute for Integrative Nutrition gives its staff meals created by a professional chef, and provides massages and yoga retreats for its people.

One of the best add-ons you can offer staff is a personalised benefit – something that shows employees you are investing in them as individuals. Whether it’s allowing parents to leave early to pick up the kids from school, or helping someone develop a training program that will see them climb Mount Everest.

Invest in their lives outside the office, and they will invest in their time inside the office.

3. Find interesting ways to have fun and flatten the office structure

We all know about the horizontal business model: modern offices where the CEO works alongside the staff instead of an ivory tower are all the rage. The days of strict vertical structures are fading.

We are entering a world where juniors with the right attitude can manage major projects, where ideas can come from anywhere, and where employees determine the direction of the business.

It’s all about staff having direct access to the up-tops. But it’s also about the up-tops not acting like they’re better than their employees. Senior staff can do this by taking blame and giving credit, being transparent with staff and creating a connection through communication.

You can also have some fun with it, and create an original and unique culture in the process.

You might get staff from junior to senior involved in industry fitness events like the AdNews Challenge or the City2Surf. Or the seniors could enjoy some fun activities with staff during downtime, like the Nerf Gun battles they have at Apportable in San Francisco or the in-house dance sessions at Flickr.

And a little bit of self-deprecation from the up-tops never hurts – we’ve been talking about getting Atomic’s seniors in a dunk tank just for a laugh.

Of course, don’t forget to do some work while you’re at it. The point is to generate productivity by injecting fun activities into the work space, not to have these activities overtake productivity.

4. Find your own voice

I’ve outlined just a couple of ways to creatively focus on productivity. There are heaps of others. The key is to develop initiatives that speak to your own culture and voice.

For instance, at Atomic we found that emails were a productivity killer, so we implemented a policy that reduced the use of emails and encouraged staff to talk face-to-face. This may not work for every business, but it became a part of our own unique Atomic voice and culture, and it generated buzz within the office and outside of it.Jason Dooris, chief executive of Atomic 212

The key to productivity is not the shiny bells and whistles. It is the underlying attitude towards staff.

But if you can find creative ways to express this attitude, then you can develop a specific culture and nurture staff productivity in a way that is particular to your own offering. And that can only be a good thing.

Jason Dooris is the chief executive of Atomic 212.

Let’s embrace, not stifle, workplace eccentricity
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