The little things that encourage social interaction can make a big difference

By: Bill Zolis

What is a happy workplace? Or, more specifically, what is it about some workplaces that make employees describe them as happy places to work? 

This goes to the heart of the well workplace and creating an environment in which employees feel they can commit to being fully engaged (as I discussed in a previous blog). 

So, yes, the fundamentals – a sense of shared mission, opportunities for success, recognition for performance, fairness, team spirit top to bottom in the organization – need to be front and centre, but what can we do along the way to add that extra, essential element of “happy”?  

And fun. Happy and fun are not the same thing, but they do tend to go together. 

The best ideas, I’ve found, are the ones that come about spontaneously, and are generally bottom-up rather than top-down. A group of people have a shared interest. They get together on their lunch to go for walks. Others join in. And a new workplace tradition is born. 

Bottom-up is good. But that doesn’t mean we, as employers, can’t occasionally prime the pump, as it were. Start something. Start small. Provide support and encouragement. See if it flies. Here are some of the successful ideas I’ve seen over the years. 

  1. Lunch and learn. We can start with HR doing a 20-minute presentation on, say, What You Need to Know about Your Benefits Plan. Or the IT department can send someone to talk about 10 Great Tips and Tricks for using the corporate software package. Or How to Keep Your Personal Information Safe on the Internet. Come for the lunch, stay for the learning. And use the opportunity to ask participants what other topics they would like to see covered, and whether they themselves have an idea for a session they could lead. Any topic – it doesn’t have to be work-related.
  2. My job. Ask employees to host short talks on their own job and function in the organization. One of the frustrations faced by many people is that others don’t understand what it is they do. One very successful account manager I once spoke to told me, “You know, a lot of people think my job consists of smiling and chatting and taking clients to lunch. What they don’t see is the three days I spent studying that client’s business, figuring out what they really need, and working out how we can help them achieve success.” 
  3. Organize a slo-pitch game at the corporate picnic. Or pickle-ball. Horseshoes… whatever works for the five different generations of people who make up today’s workplace.
  4. 4. Engage with community groups. Ask representatives of community groups and charities to come and talk about their work and their goals, and to explain opportunities for volunteering.
  5. 5. Vote on what non-profit to support. Have employees choose a charitable cause to support, and have a fund-raising drive, perhaps along with a corporate donation.
  6. Create an office exercise group – or groups. A lunchtime walking invitation. A fitness challenge. Or provide a personal trainer to work with individual employees on their goals and exercise programs.
  7. Mark anniversaries and milestones. Share the “wins.” Share accomplishments of individuals and the organization as a whole – a big part of “engagement” running both ways. 
  8. Have a talent show at your holiday party or annual conference. One organization I worked with had a tradition of working half a day before the Canada Day long weekend, then hosting a lunch and awards session – a perfect opportunity for fun and games.
  9. Start a book club. It can begin with a simple book exchange. Drop off a book, pick up a book. And, if there is a group of dedicated readers, the next step of getting together to chat about books is a natural one. And there’s no rule that they have to talk just about books. It could be films, or music or almost anything else.
  10. If you’re lucky enough to have a corporate gym, find ways to encourage usage. Give recognition – like the commercial gyms do – for regular attendance, or milestones, or achievements. 

Let your imagination, and the imagination of your people, run wild. Once the perception that this workplace is open and receptive to ideas for enhancing the shared experience of working together, all kinds of ideas will start to pop up. Some will catch on, others fizzle out.  

The guiding principle should be, If anyone wants to try it, and it’s reasonably doable, let’s give it a chance. Pot-luck lunches. A choir group. Sign up for a group night at a ball game. Casual Fridays in summer. A fashion show. Cooking lessons. Arts and crafts groups. A holiday gift exchange.  

The possibilities are endless. 

There are also some possible pitfalls – the main one being shared activities that can end up being divisive. It’s probably best not to have written rules – that, in itself, can be divisive. But there should be a general understanding that some things, such as politics, are off limits. 

In my experience, it is always tricky for management to make it happen. I think that we almost always get far better results if we quietly and subtly nurture an environment in which it can happen, and then, when ideas from employees float to the surface, let it happen – and then get behind it with moral and perhaps logistical support. 

So, on that happy note, we find ourselves at the end of another year. Can we say the first post-Covid year? I certainly hope so! And I would like to take the opportunity to wish all my readers, your families and friends, a very safe and happy holiday season.  

Enjoy the break, and all the very best for a Happy New Year! 


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I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at 

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