‘Campground morale’

As we head into another short but welcome Wisconsin summer, I’d like to share with you some innovative summer work practices that TEC members have followed over the years to have happier, more productive employees.

Most of these should be familiar. What I call “campground morale” can keep your employees focused during the summer, when staying focused is difficult.

What does it mean? Think back to when you visited a campground, either with your parents, or when you went away to summer camp. The paradox of a camp is that it always has rules and assigned responsibilities, but it’s fun.

If you were the type of child who wouldn’t keep your room clean or help around the house, you might have discovered that something about doing your chores at camp was different.

So let’s take a look at developing “campground morale” at work.

Flex time

This isn’t a new concept, but the way it’s applied, especially in small companies, can be.

At TEC, our 10 employees rotate Fridays off. Workloads shift, if needed, to accommodate the absent employee. And, yes, it is a paid day off. Almost everyone keeps their cell phones nearby and responds to email.

The flex hour component works a little differently. Assuming a 40-hour week and a one-shift operation, employees start their workday up to an hour earlier, and end the day up to an hour earlier.

Why offer this option?

It’s especially helpful for single moms whose kids are involved in after-school programs. You also have what I call the “early starter” employees whose productivity is at its peak during the first four hours of work.

If you conduct an anonymous survey, you might be surprised to learn that some employees will report that after several cups of coffee and a couple hours of getting organized for the day, they finally kick into high gear.

Working offsite

There’s nothing new about working at home, especially for employees with disabilities, or caregivers who would otherwise find working in a normal work environment impossible.

Working at home, however, requires a disciplined employee and a trusting employer. The actual working environment in the home, and the technology there, need to be as similar as possible to the workplace. Supervisors at work need to be especially sensitive to the different requirements of largely electronic supervision.

Most employers want to know if they can be certain that this can really lead to productive work for a solid eight hours. The truth is, employees who work at home, on average, will get their eight hours of productive work done in five or six hours. Again the keyword here is trust.

Break time

Here are some campground ideas.

Organize employee breaks so that natural employee teams can do outdoor “walk-arounds” together. Consider adding five minutes to at least one of the break times. It gives a little extra time for a team to assemble. For the extra five minutes, the team leader should discuss a particular issue the company is facing, and ask for the team’s input.

Here’s another idea for break time. As CEO, how about designating one day in June, July and August as a company break time? Pick the last hour of work, and just take a walk. Leave a skeleton crew behind and rotate them. Go out and have some fun. Play a game. Offer an award to the winner.

For example, “What’s the best thing we can do for our customers this month?” Have everyone write down an idea on a slip of paper. Put the ideas into a hat and draw one at random. The winner receives a restaurant gift certificate.

Campground lunches

Many TEC members have outdoor grills for employees to use during the summer. Employees work out the details such as who will be the chef, and who will collect money for the burgers.

Choose one day a week. The best way to organize this is by using company teams. With planning and preparation, lunch can be served and eaten during a typical company lunch period of about 30 minutes.

A company picnic

A longtime favorite of TEC members is the annual summer company picnic. It’s held offsite at a nearby park, with activities and entertainment for the entire family. Employees are given a half-day off. The company pays a skeleton volunteer crew overtime to handle basic company operations.

The one major change we’ve seen over the years is that most companies don’t serve alcohol. When they do, the company provides transportation for the employees. The company gives each adult two tickets for beer or wine. But the preferred choice is no alcohol.

Before you panic…

I know what you’re thinking. Time off. Paid time off. Summer hours. Picnics. Is there any time left to run your business and still make a profit?

Yes and yes. What you will gain in employee productivity and loyalty will show up on your bottom line.

Until next month, I hope you and your company will have fun, productive “campground” experiences this summer.

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