Why I Struggle With Workplace Parties (Especially When HR Plans Them)

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Jul 22, 2015

Does it strike you as odd that the July/August HR Magazine features a seven-page article titled 25 Fun & Easy Ways to Boost Morale?

On first glance, this looks pretty neat. The writer crowd-sourced ideas on social media and shared them in the article. The ideas range from movie tickets to time off to an ugly sweater contest. Each story exclaimed how excited the employees were with the activity.

Well, call me a spoil sport, but the article hit me the wrong way. My first thought was: Our profession has been trying for decades to get out of the role of party planner, so now our professional association magazine is touting party planning?

And then I thought to myself, “You really are a grouch, aren’t you?”

I read through the details and found that most of the activities were actually conducted by a wellness department, or by committees formed to engage employees. OK, so it really isn’t HR that is giving the party. That made me feel better.

Not everyone likes a party

Then the introvert in me looked at the pictures of employees hamming it up for the camera, or hanging around for free food and I thought, “Oh wow, let me have that ‘time’ you are giving me to have fun to go home and have fun there. And PLEASE don’t make me show up in an ugly sweater!”

It reminded me of a conversation at a client’s leadership retreat. They were considering a white water rafting experience for the employees. The introverts recoiled, the couch potatoes frowned, and the sensitive ones worried for those not in good physical condition. They opted for a potluck instead.

I think, though, that my real problem with fun approach to making employees happy is that it only makes a few happy, and only for a short time.

If your ultimate aim is engagement, this ain’t gonna do it.

Strive for commitment

While many consider happiness a synonym for employee engagement, I do not. I think commitment is a much better synonym, and certainly more productive for business outcomes.

Employees commit to a vision and get excited because their work makes a difference to their organization. They commit to a leader because they feel valued. They commit to their teammates because together they produce so much more.

They commit to an organization that authentically listens to their personal needs and finds a way to, if not fulfill, at least explain why they cannot fulfill.

They commit to a leader that makes a connection with them personally and works hard to build an authentic business relationship. They commit to a team that capitalizes on everyone’s strength, and supports everyone’s struggles.

And with that commitment to the organization, the leader and the team, they are productive and achieve business outcomes that generate pride in their work.

There is one idea I liked

The one idea in the HR Magazine article that thought had promise is On a Personal Note. This HR team asked directors to write personal, handwritten notes to employee who went above and beyond.

What a lovely practice. The client I mentioned above did something similar, and executives took employees who did something noteworthy to lunch.

The “Personal Notes” described in the article though, had HR sending the notes to employees’ homes. Perhaps that HR team had the capacity to do work that didn’t actually drive the business, but I think that’s unusual.

Unless the inclusive cost of this process produced measurable results, I suggest the director could get a bigger bang for the buck by walking the personal note over to the employee and shaking their hand in front of their peers. Or better yet, sitting with the employee and asking them how their work is going, and what would make their job easier.

Call me a grouch, but I think activities done on the company’s time should make a measurable contribution to the bottom line.

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.

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