Category Archives: Office culture

5 Tips: How to Increase Employee Engagement with Workplace Wellness Programs

The key to a successful workplace wellness program is employee engagement. The reverse is also true. That is, one way to increase employee engagement is a successful wellness program.

Yesterday we were in a client’s break room, waiting for a meeting room to open up , and I noticed several flyers on the bulletin board about various wellness offerings. I was surprised by my initial reaction, which was, “Who would sign up for those?”

Why did they strike me as loser offerings? Because they seemed preachy and goody-goody and completely devoid of anything fun. One sounded like the school nurse was going to take you through a lecture on the five food groups. I’m not suggesting that wellness should be a barrel of laughs, but a good program creates energy and involvement. The more employees you can get to participate, the stronger your program will be.

An effective wellness program will do more than just increase productivity because people feel better and have more energy. It also gives co-workers a chance to do something together that’s unrelated to their usual work roles. It equals the playing field, so to speak, in a way that lets junior employees spend some time on an equal footing with those who rank above them in the company hieirarchy. It will also build relationships between people in different departments, which helps smooth the way to better teamwork and increased collaboration.

So how do you create a wellness program with plenty of employee engagement? Here are five tips:

1. Ask the employees what they want. Particularly in a small company, you can solicit input from the group. You can do a survey, if you want, but it might be easier just to ask people about their wellness concerns. Are they looking for ways to find time for exercise? Do they really wish they could quit smoking? Are they trying to eat healthier?

2. Get their help in constructing the program. Give some influential employees ownership of developing the program. If the group wants a yoga class at lunch, let an employee track down a good yoga instructor willing to do a class in the conference room. If they’re interested in a buddy-system diet, let an employee research South Beach vs. The Zone vs. WeightWatchers.

3. Make sure management joins in. The top level people in the company need to suit up and show up. If you give the impression that the boss is too busy for exercise, for example, employees might interpret the fitness program as something meant only for those who aren’t as serious about their work. Besides making it clear that you’re committed to wellness, it adds extra motivation for participation, at least by those employees who want more chances to rub shoulders with the boss.

4. Add an element of competition. Put together a contest with some level of cash prize, or a free day off, or something employees will see as worth their while. Look for a way to compete that doesn’t automatically give an advantage to the fittest among the group. For instance, instead of a contest to see who can bench press the most weight, compete on who can complete three workouts a week for the most weeks.

5. Create a collaborative goal. If your group tends to get a little too competitive, choose a goal they work towards together. Maybe after the employees collectively walk or run 10,000 miles, the company donates $1,000 to a worthy cause. Or let the collaborative goal benefit the employees more directly. After they lose so many pounds as a group, you’ll hire a massage therapist to give chair massages on Friday afternoon.


Building a good place to work. Not Utopia.

Tribe studioIn a market where good jobs are at a premium, it’s been surprising that so many of our recent job applicants have been strikingly unprofessional. Actually, self-focused might be a better description. Confused, maybe, about the way business works.

My small company is in the process of interviewing for a new staff accountant. At Tribe, as in most ad agencies, that’s the position that truly requires a buttoned-up personality.  The writers and art directors and other creative types here can get away with being a little flaky or free spirits, but not the person we’re trusting to add up the money and pay the bills.

We had one highly recommended applicant decline a phone interview because she was “busy running errands all day.” Another spent much of her interview explaining how she really needed a company that understood where she was in her life and “what she needed in terms of life balance.”

It’s true; Tribe does support work-life balance. Our company purpose is To Make Life Better, and part of that is supporting our employees in enjoying better lives. We generally don’t work long hours or weekends, we bring in a company-paid healthy lunch several days a week and we have a meditation room that gets a good bit of use. We host an annual company fitness competition and allow employees to use up to five work hours a week for exercise. In the spirit of balance, we also keep wine and beer cooling in the fridge and will often share a late afternoon sip of something as we’re finishing up work.

But that often seems to be misinterpreted by outsiders to mean that work comes second. It doesn’t. Tribe is a business. The first obligation of any business is to make money. If a company doesn’t make money, it won’t be in business for long. If it goes out of business, all those employees have to go, too. (And having a job remains a pretty important part of that coveted work-life balance thing.)

We make money by doing good work for our clients, over and over again, consistently. We do good work by hiring people who are very, very good at what they do. There is not one person at Tribe who doesn’t perform at an extremely high level. To do that, day after day after day, requires a level of professionalism that doesn’t put business obligations or opportunities second in line to running personal errands.

I hope Tribe is a great place to work. I believe it’s smart business to support our employees in living good lives as well as in doing good work. But Tribe would be a much less satisfying place to work without the passion and dedication that makes us all proud of what we do.

How does a small ad agency manage to launch an iPhone app?

APP-001-ScreenshotPageOne-v1bBack in April, I read an article in the New York Times titled “The iPhone Gold Rush” and came into the office the next morning mumbling about how we should try making an iPhone app. Yesterday, Tribe‘s first iPhone application launched in the App Store and on iTunes.

This is a perfect example of how quickly a small company can do something that would take a large corporation months of meetings before they even got going. A small team of talented and capable people can move mountains — or in this case, launch an iPhone app in something under six months.

Here’s how it happened: We took it one step at a time. First, we kicked around ideas for the app and decided to start with a mini-version of a printed product we’d recently developed for entrepreneurs. The Start Your Own Company deck, from our Starter Cards division, is a stack of 52 cards that breaks down the process of launching and building a business into manageable steps.

Second, we started poking around for partners who could supply the programming skills we don’t have in-house. Through a friend, we found a team of developers who wanted to try their hand at an iPhone app. (Extra kudos and love to those programmers: Stephanie Baird and Ladd Usher.)

Next, we went through the process to be approved as a registered member of the Apple  iPhone Developer Program. It’s a somewhat daunting application, but between our designer, our accountant and our programmers, we managed to fill in all the blanks.

Then our creative team worked to design and format all the screen shots required and the programmers did their thing. We went back and forth on whether the screens would flip or slide and if the type should be a point size larger or smaller, and eventually arrived at a design that pleased us all.

We submitted the Start Your Own Company app, and sat back to wait. In less than a week, we received word that it was approved and ready to be launched in the App Store on September 10. In the past few days, we’ve whipped out press releases and shot a demo video for YouTube and figured out how to submit the app to reviewers.

Like many projects in a small company, this one was touched by every hand in the house. I tossed the idea out there on the table, but the team took over from there. Here are what I consider to be some interesting lessons in this process.

1: There is great momentum in making a decision. We didn’t hem and haw about whether to do it or not, and we didn’t overthink what that first app would be. Sometimes there are many right answers, and there’s power in picking one and moving on.

2: A good size for a team is the number of people you can get in a room right now. If you’ve got to coordinate several departments and calendars, you can spin wheels for a long while. A smaller team is less cumbersome and more efficient.

3: It  helps to have a range of skill sets on the team. This particular team included a writer, an art director, two programmers, an account manager, a traffic manager, an accountant, a president and a CEO. That covers a wide range of strengths.

4: If you need outside help, create a win-win situation. We couldn’t have done this without Stephanie and Ladd. We needed people who could program, and they were interested in adding an iPhone app to their resumes, so the partnership worked for all of us.

The wisdom of the water cooler: Why it pays to let your employees socialize

Coffee KlatchAs a business owner, do you get impatient when you see employees standing around chewing the fat? Try thinking about it another way. By establishing close social connections, your employees are doing something very positive for the company.

Giving your employees a chance to develop personal friendships means they’ll be better able to work as a team. Blake Ashforth, a management professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, agrees that building these social ties can be good for business. “When you come to know people on a personal level,” he says, “you’re far more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt and to have goodwill in your dealings. And that’s a tremendous buffer against the itches and pains of everyday life in organizations.”

Small companies have an advantage over large ones here. The most cost-effective (and probably the  most powerful) way to promote this feeling of belonging and connection is to allow room for it to happen organically. In large corporations, these sorts of social ties — beyond those with immediate co-workers — have to be created artificially, through team-building exercises or other initiatives that employees are likely to find sort of hokey. Small companies generally have their people all under one roof, and few enough employees that they all bump up against each other every day. 

These relationships are built one water cooler conversation at a time. Try not to begrudge your team the time to socialize. It will pay off down the road when they’re better able to problem solve together or to work as a tight team to meet a challenging deadline. At Tribe, our people spend a lot of the day laughing and teasing and telling stories. But I think that’s part of why we’re such an incredibly productive company, despite our small staff. 

Personal connections among your staff members — and with you — can also build loyalty to your company. When people feel like they belong, that they’re cared about, that they’re appreciated for who they are as people as well as employees, they’re far less likely to be looking around for other opportunities.

Small Business Strategies: Creating workplace wellness programs

Guy in suit meditatingYou know that your employees will be more productive if they’re well, but how do you put that into action? If you’re not a huge corporation, you may think you can’t afford a wellness program, but there are plenty of things you can do to create an environment that supports healthy living.

Wellness programs are also great for your office culture. Not only does such a program reinforce the idea that your company is somewhere people live healthy, balanced lives, it also can be powerful for building relationships among your staff. Doing something together that’s not work related, like a yoga class or a fitness contest, takes the corporate  hierarchy out of the equation and lets employees relate to each other outside their job functions.

As the boss, it’s important for you to participate as well. Not only does that speak volumes about your commitment to wellness, it also allows your staff to interact with you in ways that don’t involve you being the top dog. So put on those running shorts and put your ego aside. And remember, it’s okay if some of your employees can run faster than you. 

Here are some ways you can promote wellness in your company, at a range of price points:

1. Keep fresh fruit in the break room. Or any sort of healthy snacks. When employees feel a little blood sugar slump, it will be easy for them to grab something that won’t make them crash again later.

2. Start a lunchtime walking group. Or an after work running group. This can be a casual employee-led group. You don’t need to hire an instructor. (Although you may want employees to sign a waiver acknowledging responsibility for any potential injuries.)

3. Give wellness hours. Allow employees to take an extended lunch once or twice a week for exercise. Or to take an hour during the day, whenever their schedules allow. At Tribe, we allow everyone to put up to 5 hours a week of wellness hours on their timesheet. This gives them the idea that it’s okay to work out during the workday, but they very rarely use more than an hour or so of wellness time a week.

4. Set aside a meditation room. This can be an empty office, or you could let the conference room be used for meditation, when it’s  not needed for meetings. At Tribe, we  have a small office containing nothing but a couch and a CD player. Two or three people will often do a short meditation after lunch. I once asked a friend to come in and lead a lunchtime meditation lesson, but Tribe folks also use a lot of guided meditations on CDs.

5. Sponsor a yoga class. We used to do Yoga Fridays at lunch, which meant anybody who had time piled in a car and drove to the nearest yoga studio. Occasionally, I’d treat everyone to a company-paid class, but most times we all paid our own way. The important thing is that they didn’t have to feel guilty about that company-sanctioned two-hour lunch.

6. Spring for a massage. This is especially appreciated in the midst of a busy season. You can offer a gift certificate for a massage to one employee who deserves it, like after pulling off a particularly challenging project, or you could have a massage therapist come in and do 10-minute chair massages for the whole group. 

7. Establish a company fitness competition. We do this every year at Tribe, and it’s created some significant changes in a few employee’s lives. Our fitness competition lasts for 12 weeks and starts in February, right about when we’ve all abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. If you’re interested in setting up a similar plan, you might find some helpful ideas in my blog titled “How to launch a workplace fitness competition.”

Small Business Strategies: Ever thought of writing a book?

bookWriting a book can be a great way to promote your business. If you are truly knowledgeable about your industry, or a certain niche in your industry, then you have expertise you can share. If you are willing to go out and interview a bunch of people about some area related to your business, you will have interesting material to share. Even if you just devote some time to researching a specific topic, you can become an authority on that subject and have information to share.

Authoring a book positions you as an expert. There’s something about a book that impresses us, even in this age of blogs and texts and Kindles. The assumption is that if you wrote a book on the subject, you must know what you’re talking about.

Clients like working with experts. It makes the purchase decision much easier for them, because you’ve already been validated by the publication of this book. 

Here are a few things to know, before you start writing:

1. You will probably not make money on your book. In fact, it’s very unlikely. It’s more probable that you will spend money on your book, especially if you decide to aggressively promote it. Think of the book as visibility for your company, and not as a moneymaker. 

2. Don’t plug your business in the book. This is not an advertisement. This is about informing and educating and maybe even entertaining. Stay focused on what the reader wants to know about the subject matter as opposed to what you want them to know about your company. That’s not to say you can’t mention your company. Examples from your own experience can be useful in the text. Just make sure you’re not beating them over the head with a sales message.

3.  A book doesn’t have to be that long. I’ve spoken with some business owners who are intimidated by the idea of writing an entire book, but a book might be shorter than you think. In fact, shorter is sometimes better. Your audience may not be interested in reading a business book the length of “War and Peace.” Maybe you should shoot for more like 60,000 words or so. 

4. You might spend more time promoting your book than writing it. For my book on women entrepreneurs, I backed myself into a tight deadline with the initial manuscript and completing it on time became a Herculean task. I had the idea that finishing the manuscript meant reaching the finish line. But oh no,that was just the beginning! I spent the next year and more promoting the book, even after the lengthy edit process that followed the initial manuscript. I hired a book publicist from a big firm in New York, and still the promotion ate up hours and hours of my business day for months on end. 

5. If you don’t promote your book, no one will know it’s there. Of course, you can still use it as a door opener to potential clients, but it’s much more effective if they’ve heard about the book somewhere else. It’s a tree in the forest sort of thing. If no one is there to hear it fall, does it make an impact?

6. There’s a difference in a publisher and self-publishing. The traditional route is to offer your book, or a proposal of your book, to a number of publishers, usually through an agent. If a publisher bites, you’ll get a contract and an advance on royalties. That advance is often the only money you’ll ever see from the book, unless it goes into a second printing and becomes backlisted in the publisher’s catalog. This process will often take a year or more, from proposal to publication. If you choose to self-publish, you are essentially paying a company to print your book and taking on the job of distribution yourself. This is faster, and is becoming a more respected way to go than it was years ago, when a vanity press was not something to brag about. You can put your book on Amazon, sell it through your own website, or set up a card table at speaking engagements. Once in awhile, a self-published book becomes such a hit that a publisher makes an offer to do another printing. 

7. Get clear on why you’re writing the book. If you see the book as a way to create visibility for your business, then this process is very manageable. Start with the end in mind and work backwards to create a book that will be relevant to your target market. But if you just want to write a book, then go ahead and write it. If your dream is to be an author, you don’t need a business reason. Just know your expectations before going into the project.

Small Business Strategies: Managing employee performance — with a criticism sandwich

woman with staff brickIf you’re a boss, you have to occasionally give some negative feedback to employees. But plenty of people react to criticism defensively, and either begin offering excuses or get so upset they shut down completely. So how do you say it so they can hear? 

I’ve found one of the best ways is to offer a criticism sandwich. First, you talk about something they’re doing well. Then you offer the criticism. And finally, you top it off with another compliment. 

This sandwich approach is based on the assumption that you hired this employee for a reason and that he or she offers many strengths. The criticism is regarding only one small part of your employee’s performance, and is not by any means your entire experience of this person’s work. Often the very thing you’re criticizing is in fact the flip side of a strength. Perhaps this employee is not so good at catching details. But the flip side is that he or she shows a strong ability to see the big picture. 

So you might first talk about this strength, and how valuable it is to the company. Then, calmly and unemotionally, discuss the issue you need the employee to correct, such as a growing tendency to let errors in the work slip past. Finish up by once again praising this employee’s strengths and your confidence that he or she can overcome this one issue. 

Everything you say must be true, however. If you praise your employees for things you don’t believe they’re really much good at, you’ll undermine their ability to trust your feedback, whether negative or positive.

Some will also catch on to your technique. I once told a friend about the criticism sandwich, which he then used successfully with many employees. Until one woman stopped at the door to his office after such a discussion and said, “You know,  you say f**** you nicer than anybody I’ve ever known.”