Special Report: Motivation – The power of fun

Injecting fun into the workplace can have dramatic results, and needn’t cost a bundle, says Alison Coleman

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Efforts to boost staff motivation have resulted in employers becoming more creative in devising schemes, often injecting an element of fun. But do on-the-spot recognition schemes such as lucky dips and prize draws really boost employee motivation?

Peter Thomson, director of Futurework at Henley Management College, believes that in certain working environments they do. "Where you have a lot of sales people out on the road, or where technology allows more desk-based jobs to be done remotely, it is harder to motivate people. "Management have had to get smarter at rewarding results rather than presenteeism, and are finding that people do respond to fun, particularly when it is unexpected." But fun schemes aren’t appropriate in every company.

John Sylvester, executive director of motivation at performance improvement company P&MM, says: "In some situations, fun on-the-spot motivation schemes are just what is needed to focus attention and break bad habits. In others, they would just die a death. "In order to be really effective, this type of activity needs to be part of a bigger and well considered plan that is working towards a permanent change, rather than simply buying short term attention."

Neil Barber, director of research at Maritz, says that some schemes have been extremely successful and points to one company that introduced a game with a theme based around a film with related questions and prizes. "The game became part of the fun, with employees wanting to make a sale so they could get to the next round. The incentive was to beat colleagues at the game as much as win a prize." Another proven method to motivate staff, is to offer ‘money-can’t-buy’ rewards, such as backstage passes to concerts or a trip to see the opening night of a global tour with flights and accommodation thrown in.

Similar to the lucky dip idea, those rewarded pick a numbered card, the number correlating to a prize. In order to generate excitement, the container with the prizes can also fit a theme. "Having a prize draw on a specific day each week maintains the immediacy and excitement," adds Barber.

In some workplaces, employees also like to be given the opportunity to show customers that they have been rewarded for their hard work, for instance, by wearing ‘Employee of the Month’ badges, a motivational tool particularly suited to customer-facing environments. "McDonald’s is a very good example of an employer maximising the motivational impact of local, on-the-spot reward schemes, awarding worthy employees with a star rating that is clearly recognisable to customers," explains Thomson. But, the key to introducing novel schemes is to ensure that they are administered fairly, with every employee feeling confident that they have an equal chance of winning."

Making a fun scheme work

Ensure that the scheme will appeal to staff. Choose suitable themes and prizes according to age, gender and tastes.

Make sure that prize draws or similar competitions are fair and open to all.

Timing is important. When staff have worked particularly hard and exceeded targets, employer appreciation should be reflected in the value of the reward.

Where appropriate, provide the winning employee with a badge or plaque that can be displayed to customers, for additional kudos.