The Company that Plays Together, Stays Together
Kerry Alison Wekelo
Keeping your wellness program fresh and fun is key to employee participation. At Actualize Consulting, we offer at least one company-wide wellness challenge each year, and have discovered that healthy competition is a major motivator.
In the past, our wellness challenges focused on nutrition and movement, which was perfect for the wellness gurus, but not relevant enough for those who are not as in tune with their inner workout warrior. We wanted to reach a broader employee population, so decided to add FUN as a theme.
This year, we used Tavi Health’s Live Out Loud (LOL) challenge package, which emphasizes “making time for things that put you in a great frame of mind.” The system rewards points for 30 minutes of daily fun and movement activities, such as walking, biking, yoga, swimming, playing with your kids or pets, reading a book, cooking, dancing, etc. The system also includes weekly reminders, a leader board to encourage competition, a message board for employee interaction, and useful wellness tips. This combination of fun and exercise proved to be accessible to more employees, and many who had not participated in the past did engage in this challenge.
We decided to add fun and variety to our wellness program because we saw how easily we get caught up in the stress of work and family demands. While some professionals might consider fun a frivolous distraction from work, studies have shown quite the opposite. For example, the New York Times reported on a study of why laughter is so important to our health and wellbeing:
“The answer, reports Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, is not the intellectual pleasure of cerebral humor, but the physical act of laughing. The simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, he said, trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect.”
We all have experienced that feeling of happiness after sharing a good laugh or completing an activity we love. Think back to one of those times, and you will likely remember the energized feeling in the core of your being, while your body actually relaxes. Taking time to enjoy our life as we work hard reminds us to also play hard — a balance essential to our overall well-being.
Our society doesn’t do a very good job of “playing hard.” We are taught to think harder, to put our nose to the grindstone to squeeze out new ideas or clarity. Personally, my creative ideas do not come when I am staring at my computer; they come when I take time to be in the moment exploring nature, playing, dancing, singing or having adventures with my kids.
Why do ideas come to us when we take time away from strenuous brain activity? The brain is like any other muscle in our body, requiring rest between extreme exercises. For instance, if you are training for a race, your trainer will incorporate required rest periods into your training program to avoid over-training. We need to do the same with our brains. In our current age of technology literally at our fingertips 24/7, the amount of our “brain on” time increases each year, making daily enjoyment breaks even more important. Otherwise, we soon suffer the consequences and feel depleted, unable to produce at our highest capacity.
Theresa Santoro, Senior Manager at Actualize quickly noticed the value of these breaks.
“During the Actualize Wellness Challenge; I promised myself I would participate daily and really get myself out of the office to take time for myself and my personal thoughts. I guess that’s why it is called a challenge, because as easy as that sounds, it WAS a challenge for me to do! Thankfully, a gentle nudge from my Director came my way each day, and I started taking her advice to break away, even if only for a 15-minute walk to regroup. Those breaks sparked my creativity! I was trying to think of a new way to reach our network other than the typical email blast, and on one of my walks, I thought of a new idea: to create a monthly newsletter for our network. Now, I have an enhanced regular connection with our pipeline of candidates and am able to share all the latest going on at Actualize. I now make time to step away from my desk daily as I know it is how I can bring more innovative ideas to the firm.” As Robert Iger, CEO of Walt Disney said, “The heart and soul of a company is creativity and innovation.”
A more playful atmosphere is the trend among the most successful companies, such as Google, one of our clients. We have seen first-hand that they purposefully incorporate fun into their office environment. We, however, are a geographically distributed consulting firm, so we had to find a unique way to do this. Our wellness challenge worked wonderfully as an innovative way to bring employees together virtually and encourage creating the space for fun.
In fact, enough employees participated in the challenge that we are seeing the positive impact on our company culture, which is vital to our success since our people are the core of our consultancy business. We have felt the energy lighten and seen conversations flow more freely.
To continue our success with this theme of play, we hired an improv company to join the festivities at our annual all-employee off-site retreat. After our welcome dinner, they performance included inside company jokes in their material (for example, the villain of the show was our “dreaded” time and expense reporting system). The next day we offered a gentle yoga class followed by our company meeting, which we kept light and fun. We celebrated four employees that had been with the firm for 10 years, and played a game of Family Feud to learn a new topic. To close our meeting, the improv company returned and engaged employees in the show.
As Radulian Pop, a Senior Consultant with Actualize, reported, “During the retreat I expressed that it was very refreshing to see everybody so genuinely happy, laughing and having a good time. I was excited to be a part of such a positive group of people and it made for a memorable experience.”
Since our employee wellness challenge of fun/exercise and the playful retreat, the enhanced wellness of individual employees is positively shaping the wellness of our company. The energy at Actualize has been uplifted, and we typically start our conversations with a memory or laugh from the recent event.
As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” We spend at least eight hours a day with our company, so why not make it a daring adventure? The company that plays together stays together.