It was July 17th at 1:30 PM- the hottest part of the day in New Jersey. The temperature was 98 F, and humidity levels were also at a cruel level. The Australians jokingly say that only mad dogs and Englishmen walk in the midday sun, however the real world has real people working in extreme heat. The workers at the chemical plant were repairing a compressor out in the full glare of the sun, and everyone had drips of sweat running off the ends of their noses. As they grunted and groaned undoing large bolts, the unusual melodic sound of ice-cream truck music could be heard. Suddenly, an ice-cream truck came around the corner, and there at the side window of the truck was the chemical plant safety manager smiling, laughing, and waving wildly. The ice-cream truck pulled over, and the safety manager started handing out ice-cream cones. In a few moments of joviality, he also took the time to remind the workers that the temperature was in the range where people start making mistakes. He reminded them to keep hydrated, and also to keep an eye out for each other. He emphasized that if anyone had any signs of heat exhaustion, they had his full permission to shut down the job. He then drove away to the next group of workers.
SO WHAT DID THE WORKERS GET FROM THIS?
a. A few minutes of joviality
b. A welcome distraction from the heat
c. A renewed focus on heat stress and the job at hand
d. Maybe they had some additional respect for the safety manager and thought “that safety manager is tough on us, but you know, I think he really looks out for us and he has a fun attitude”
e. Maybe they have some additional respect for the company and think the company just does not talk about safety, it really cares about us and is prepared to “walk the talk”.
When I go to different workplaces, I like to ask people what fun stuff goes on to energize workplaces and empower employees. There are some really creative things going on and the ideas come from all levels of the organization. What I love about this story is that the idea came from the chemical plant secretary. She is on a monthly safety team whose goal is to find fun ways to get a safety message to employees. She was beaming with pride telling me about this initiative, and it gives me great pleasure to share this with you. This is just one of the many fun things that they do.
Since then, I have learned that another chemical plant in Louisiana has purchased a snow cone machine for more than $1000, and during hot weather, they pull it around on a trailer with a golf cart with volunteers to feed in the ice, add the flavor concentrate, and hand out the cones. Brilliant!
TEN IDEAS TO INCORPORATE HUMOR INTO COMMUNICATIONS
1) Form a team that meets routinely to come up with creative ideas to make work fun
2) Encourage involvement at all levels of the organization by having competitions and prizes for the best suggestions.
3) Provide global recognition of people who come up with unique ideas to encourage them to continue this pursuit
4) Senior management should support balanced levity in the workplace
5) Set a personal goal for your personal involvement
6) Help each other make presentations, meetings and training sessions etc. more fun
7) Carefully use humor to deflect the potential for conflict when delivering negative information
8) When a meeting is scheduled what can you do to “decorate” the room to let everyone know that there is an atmosphere of playfulness (e.g. A cartoon on the first PowerPoint slide that relates to the subject matter of the meeting)
9) Be creative, be different, let down your guard and take measured risks
10) Read books such as The Levity Factor, and 1001 Ways To Energize Employees to get additional ideas (link to the resources page of my website for more details)
p.s. This may seem a daunting task for some at first, but once you experience the benefits, you will find that there is more creativity in your organization than you can ever imagine.