FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Anna Fladrich and Mindy Tani joked around during last weekend's Best Buy employee mixer, Sundae Sunday. Companies in Hawaii and nationwide are finding events like this one increasingly important to retain employees in a tight job market.
In a tight labor market, more and more Hawaii companies realize...
Employees just wanna have fun
SHERWINE Arios of Kalihi likes selling home-theater systems so much that he's done it for the past 10 years, but due to dissatisfaction with specific employers has never stayed with the same company for more than two years.
The fun-should-be-a-part-of-this-job mentality at Best Buy, where Arios has worked since June, could cause him to break his pattern, he said.
"They have the mentality that if an employee is happy then the company works well," said Arios. "It's not unusual to see people rotate jobs every three months in this industry, but we still have most of the same staff and we've even added a few."
Hawaii's robust job market, with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, is no laughing matter for employers who are struggling to find and retain skilled employees. Employers are now routinely offering workers higher wages, better benefits greater flexibility, but companies like Best Buy that want an extra edge also are searching for ways to make work more fun.
Nationwide, companies are finding that it is cheaper to keep employees happy than it is to hire new ones, and that's especially true in Hawaii, where the tight labor market has made recruitment tough and forced employers to hire and train inexperienced workers.
"Fun is the only profit strategy to manage people in tough times," said Bob Basso, the California-based author of "This Job Should Be Fun" and one of the nation's top corporate motivators.
On-the-job entertainment is quickly becoming a work expectation among younger workers, who do not have the same sense of loyalty to their employers in previous generations, Basso said. Keeping these workers satisfied and engaged demands that employers turn the traditional workplace environment on its head, he said. The lesson for corporate America, especially Hawaii-based companies, is that fun has become a serious business, Basso said.
In Hawaii, where there's a great chasm between prevailing wages and the cost of living, the little extras are even more important, he said.
"People need to enjoy themselves because that's all they have," Basso said. "Many people in Hawaii are working two and three jobs, so it needs to be fun."
As Hawaii's low unemployment level has dragged on, employers who have already raised wages and benefits as high as they can must search for less expensive ways to increase employee satisfaction. Many are finding that when it comes to creating a pleasing work environment for employees, it's the little things like picnics, ice cream socials, sports leagues, free tickets and general silliness such as office dance-a-thons, comedy improvisations and karaoke contests that give morale and productivity the biggest boost.
"People in Hawaii have a built-in twinkle in their eye, and bring a sense of play and ohana to their work," Basso said. "When you leave work for the weekend in Boise, Idaho or Delaware, Maryland, you don't see your coworkers again until Monday -- that's not true of Hawaii, which has the most bowling and softball leagues of any state in the union."
The initial absence of a fun work environment nearly sank NCL America, the U.S.-flagged unit of Norwegian Cruise Line, Basso said. As many as 50 to 60 workers a week were walking off the job as the company struggled to make the transition from a compliant international crew to an all-American crew, he said.
"The work on a cruise ship is extremely difficult if you aren't a third-world employee," Basso said. "If an American is unhappy with their job, they'll tell you to take this job and stick it where the sun doesn't shine."
NCL America brought in Basso, who has consulted with four White House staffs and helped Bill Gates lighten up his image with Microsoft workers, to help turn their ship around.
"Americans can make as much money at McDonald's as they can on a cruise ship so if you're NCL America you'd better provide a fun environment -- and I don't mean jumping up and down and wearing red noses," he said.
Beefing up orientation, managing expectations and hiring the crew its own social director helped NCL America stem the losses that were threatening to put the operation out of business.
The company now offers employees perks such as karaoke, crew parties, card tournaments, Bible study, book clubs, video games, jogging, basketball, bowling, crew spa and retail discounts, a dedicated crew sports bar and gym, said Denise Hayashi, a spokeswoman for NCL America.
Best Buy plays volleyball and holds dance-a-thons during staff meetings to keep its "geek-squad" generation energized about the job, said Malcolm Inamine, human resources director for Best Buy.
"In this market, anything below a 50 percent turnover rate is awesome -- it's becoming unusual for someone to stay at a company for more than two years," Inamine said. "We have about a 33 percent turnover rate at Best Buy because we have created a culture where the employees are treated as owners."
Stephanie Pietsch, who owns Wahoo's Fish Taco along with her brother and sister, said that when it comes to pleasing employees even little things count.
"We pass on the free tickets that our suppliers give us to employees, and that's all they talk about," Pietsch said. "Having fun really matters."
Building up its reputation as a fun place to work helped the newly opened franchise recruit and hire a full complement of staff, which was no small feat in Oahu's tight labor market, Pietsch said.
"Word of mouth is our best recruitment campaign," she said. "Respect is so important in today's workplace."
The values of the younger generation of workers are very different than those of their parents, said John Wright, regional trainer for the Fort Worth, Texas-based Leaders Institute. The institute trains managers and develops leaders around the world using tools like comedy improvisation to teach managers how to listen to workers and increase their job satisfaction.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Above, (from left) Joe Welden, Sherwine Arios, Michael Bruce and Michael Bruner chat over ice cream.
"We have studies that show that the percentage of people who just show up for a paycheck and aren't in any way shape or form interested in the company that they work for has increased by about 50 percent," Wright said.
"Companies that don't create a fun environment are going to lose their top talent to more innovative ones."
Poll results from Gallup Management Journal's latest employee productivity study seem to bear Wright's comments out.
Gallup reported in a press release that month that 52 percent of U.S. employees say that they are not engaged at work or that they are essentially checked out.
Lower productivity from these workers costs the U.S. economy an estimated $370 billion annually, according to a recent press release from Gallup.
Findings in a similar Gallup poll conducted in 2005 indicated that employees who have positive relationships with their supervisor and are happy with their work conditions perform better on the job.
Almost half of employees who said they were passionate about their work and strongly connected to the company reported that a great deal of their happiness is related to work.
Having a good time is essential to sparking creativity and producing out-of-the box thinkers, Wright said.
"Engaged people are more productive," he said.