2015: The Year of Leisure (and Profits)

Written by Paul Marchildon, on December 23, 2014.


Genentech’s long-term workers can take advantage of paid six-week sabbaticals. Epic Systems one-ups that with overseas airfare and accommodations for you and a partner. NutraClick’s people are given objectives – and then set free to achieve them wherever and whenever they want. And don’t even get me started on Google.

With innovative and extensive programs like this, incorporating a leisure culture may seem overwhelming – not to mention outrageously expensive – for many companies. It’s not. It doesn’t take a Google, or a google of zeroes in the budget, to make it work. You can afford leisure; in fact, in today’s high-stress, high-test corporate climate, you can’t afford not to take action. This January, resolve to make 2015 the Year of Leisure.

Integrating Leisureology In The Workplace

You don’t have to break ground on a new gym or hire a Michelin chef (but don’t let me stop you!). What about starting with a sample platter of sashimi before you dive right into a whole raw squid, know what I’m saying? No? Start slow. Find out what works for your people, budget, and workplace. See what they like. (Now you get the sashimi/squid thing. Right? No? I’m not giving up on it.)

Here’s a beginners’ guide for making your workplace “leisure-friendly”:

1. “Seek First to Understand”
“Seek first to understand then to be understood” may be the 5th habit of Highly Successful People, but it’s the first step to integrating a leisure ethic successfully. Understand your employees. What do they need? What motivates them? What are they driven by? Now, how can you leverage that knowledge and insight to build a culture of leisure?

You need to provide the framework, funding, and support for leisure initiatives – and then let your people run with it. Which activities do they want to try? What gets at their interests and skills? When employees own these things, they buy in. They’re engaged.

We found this out, in spades, when we gave up ownership of our Monday meetings and rotated the chair position. The chairs routinely put great thought into what their peers wanted, what would keep the meetings interesting for them. Another thing we noticed; People were often arriving late, so instead of the meeting being from 9am-10am, we changed it to 8:45am-10am. From 8:45am-9am the new Agenda item? Social and Icebreaker. The chairperson would ensure the coffee and healthy treats were ready so that folks could chat about their weekend adventures. As well they were responsible for introducing a fun 5 minute icebreaker/creativity exercise. The results? Well that component turned out to be one of the most anticipated parts of the meeting…and people showed up for it – 15 minutes early!

2. Give It A Try.
As I was saying earlier, you’ve got to see what works for your people. Say there’s interest in working from home. Why not take a month to test it? People could try it once a week, or take a few afternoons off. You could play with the flex time to make it work for everyone. That’s just one idea. What do your people want/need?

At Hot Studio (recently acquired by Facebook), it was time with their babies! After parental leave is over, new moms and dads can bring their infants in. But the crying, the diaper-changing, the feeding, the crying…isn’t that disruptive?

They tried it and found that, no, it’s not distracting. It allows parents to work, providing consistency and productivity to the company. Other benefits:

• Higher morale.

• Better teamwork.

• Increased retention.

• Increased customer/client loyalty.

• Greater ability to recruit candidates.

• Cuteness!

Remember, Casual Friday was once an experiment too! Folks used to dress to impress every day. A weekly khaki day led some companies to go to a Casual Monday – Friday model because their people were more comfortable and productive. And, for some, it didn’t shake out that way. Not every initiative will work for your particular needs, and that’s fine.

3. Build A Solid Team
Team-building activities are critically important in leisureology. Bundle up and take a winter walk or host a chili cook-off to bring people together. Once a week, try a morning coffee lounge. Supply the coffee and fixings so employees can drop in and socialize with those they may not otherwise talk to. There’ll be personal chitchat (which is a benefit in itself) but inevitably talk will turn to business. New ideas can come out and get some fresh air. This is how innovation is fostered.

It’s also how productivity is boosted. MIT professor Alex Pentland found that teams that engaged with one another were more productive. “It’s the stuff around the coffee pot or at lunch or just in the hall,” he says, that facilitates these relationships. To get their people bonding, one software company organized social events, like beer nights, to no avail. But then they made the tables in the cafeteria longer so more people could sit together. That one small change increased productivity by 5%.

What can you do to encourage these informal social encounters in your workplace?

4. Pay Attention To Personal Development
What can you do to promote personal development (don’t forget about your own, either!)? In November, we talked about providing employees with tools to create a list of life/work goals and objectives. Maybe you gave them a template or facilitated a goal-setting session. So, here we’re almost in the New Year: what’s the next step?

You could ask a facilitator or train a manager to do a check-in. How are you coming along on your goals? What have you done? What do you plan to do? This can help keep the resolutions alive and well instead of fading into the abyss of “Ah, maybe next year.”

5. Build A Culture of Trust.
In many ways, this could just as easily be Step #1. Without trust, people may not be willing to try leisure initiatives. They may not be motivated to come into work or happy to socialize, create, and innovate with their colleagues. This is a workplace culture that invites atrophy instead of growth.

In 100 Best Companies to Work For, Amy Lyman writes, “Companies whose employees praise the high levels of trust in their workplace are, in fact, among the highest performers, beating the average annualized returns of the S&P by a factor of three.”

Trust is a fundamental building block; with it as your foundation, you can try, test, pilot, implement, and tweak initiatives. Your people will know that you’re doing it for their benefit, and that can only enhance the results of whatever you choose to do.

If the “Year of Leisure” is too intimidating, make January the month to introduce the idea of leisure. When your people come back on January 2, start with one small step. Small and cost-free can be just as effective as a Google-worthy, Epic-sabbatical extravaganza. Think coffee pots and hallways as early wins for your employees, steps toward a new work culture of engagement, growth and productivity.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.