Improving employee Morale While On a Tight Budget

By Meridith Levinson
Fri, August 15, 2003

CIO — Nothing motivates employees better than cold hard cash. In this anemic economy, company bonuses are the exception.

Faced with a tight budget, Alliant Energy Managing Director of IT Gregg E. Lawry knew he had to find a resourceful way to keep his troops’ spirits up, so last August he started encouraging them to organize fun office activities, such as potluck lunches and guess-the-baby contests. (For more about Alliant’s staffing practices, see "How to Create an Agile Workforce," Page 64.) As a result, six IT employees in each of the company’s three offices spend a few hours each month planning activities for the Alliant IT group.

This fun committee has put together tailgate parties, scavenger hunts—even an office olympics. The IT titans competed in six different feats of strength and agility, including Nerf javelin, croquet and miniature golf. The group’s effort to inject some levity into Alliant’s heads-down IT department has been a success, judging by the 150-person turnout for the Saint Patrick’s Day potluck and the boisterous 45-person showing for the office olympics.

Of course, some IT workers think the whole thing is cheesy, says David Jost, the manager of IT consulting services who Lawry selected to serve as instigator of fun. (That role now belongs to Debbie Runkel, manager of IT workstation and corporate access.) As long as the naysayers enjoy poking fun at their colleagues, though, Jost doesn’t care.

Part of the reason the fun committee’s events have been so successful is that they happen every month or two, making them part of the IT organization’s culture. Another reason is that Lawry shows his support by participating. In fact, he won the office olympics. "We think not taking ourselves so seriously and having fun in the workplace is a fundamental strategy, not only for retention but for getting people to want to come into work, and getting people engaged in what they do," he says.

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