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Joy and Laughter in the Workplace: Lessons From the Land of OZ

Turbulent Twisters

You've read about it in the headlines and experienced it first hand... rapid change and constant stress. We're talking about mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, lean and mean, working harder not better, work and personal life completely out of whack! These all too familiar realities reflect the turbulent nature of corporate life. Against this backdrop, motivation, satisfaction and fulfillment can seem like remote, faint recollections of how things were supposed to be and how they used to be.

When turbulence sweeps through your life whether it is wind storms at work or hurricanes on the home front, fear and uncertainty dominate. Joy is probably the last emotion you feel capable of expressing.

But, it's important to laugh for "laughter is the best medicine". By re-discovering the joy that often eludes us we can:

- re-charge our batteries
- relieve stress
- renew hope and optimism
- release the energy to generate creative solutions to the challenges that confront us

The Magic of Myth and Metaphor

As a member of the senior management team, you play a critical role in fostering a climate of renewal and hope in your organization. One rarely used strategy that you have at our disposal is the magic of myth and metaphor.

For example, The Wizard of Oz is a powerful story filled with important lessons for modern corporations.

At the beginning of the story, Dorothy struggles with her own turbulent twisters, literally and emotionally. As she visits each character in the story, she learns, grows and develops the resources to cope with her turmoil.

What lessons can YOU learn from The Wizard of Oz?Lessons From the Wizard of Oz

Ideas From the Scarecrow

In many companies, expressing your feelings is a taboo. When employees are pressured into a repressing their emotions, it is difficult for them to find the energy to generate new ideas and solutions. Movement, music and authentic emotional expression stimulate our senses and makes it possible for us to take full advantage of the power that lies within the brain.

We tend to take our brain power for granted but, from the first time we meet the Scarecrow, it is evident that he views the brain as a marvelous gift from our creator.

The brain contains an array of tools and resources to help us resolve problems and develop new strategies for addressing customer and employee concerns. At one end of the spectrum is our right brain, the storehouse of our creative faculties. At the other, is our logical left brain.

With the right brain, you can paint vivid pictures of your vision for the company. You can also harness the creative energy of employees to generate ideas about how to improve translate that vision into reality. For example, by incorporating relaxation exercises and guided imagery into strategy and project planning sessions, you can begin to take advantage of the creative sparks generated through the right brain.

With the powers of analysis available through the left brain, you can use a logical, linear and step-by -step approach to formulate a concrete and detailed implementation strategy.

You can increase the effectiveness of the executive forums we described earlier by involving some of your customers and suppliers. After your presentation and question period, small facilitated groups can provide an opportunity for employees, customers and suppliers to express their concerns openly and generate possible solutions. Brain storming tools such as storyboards, mind maps and collages unleash the power of both sides of the brain.

During these sessions, you can recruit volunteers to serve on small cross-functional, multi-level teams to which you assign the mandate of addressing some of the most pressing issues that employees and customers have identified.

To function effectively, the brain needs constant stimulation. Looking for a low cost way to provide stimulation and release brain power? Encourage employees to place colourful objects such as stress balls, cube or metallic puzzles, play dough and slinkies on their desks. Allow them to "fiddle" with these objects during meetings or periods of reflection. If you start the ball rolling and lead by example, you'll help eliminate some perceived taboos and send a clear signal about what is permissible.

Lessons from The Tin Man

The Tin Man learned that emotions help us deal effectively with change and uncertainty. They impel us to take action to reduce our pain or increase our level of satisfaction.

In many corporations, there is a taboo against expressing emotions. Employees are encouraged to walk around like the proverbial clown, laughing on the outside and concealing the pain within. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" seems to be the company slogan. In fact, departing from the party line or expressing concerns about management decisions is definitely a career limiting move.

It's time to put the "heart" back into corporate life. There is no need to fear the expression of genuine emotion. Even negative emotions are not a threat if we view them as signals that employees need opportunities to re-energize and renew their emotional states. If we recognize the need for change early, we can make adjustments before the onset of crises.

Like the Tin Man, we can cultivate a healthier and more relaxed environment through music and movement. Music is like a magical elixir that restores spirits that are dejected and discouraged. It stimulates the brain and refreshes the body. You can use music before meetings, at break time, during training programmes, and as a part of brainstorming and project management sessions. Some companies even allow employees to bring small radios or CD players into their work areas. Others offer opportunities for movement by providing fitness and recreational activities on company premises. IBM, for example, has teamed up with the Governor General's Horse Guards to make a riding club for their employees on weekends and evenings. Team leaders in many Japanese companies lead their employees in gentle streching exercises or Tai Chi once a day. If you can't do it, maybe one of your team members can do it. When I was at Bell Mobility, I used to invite David Roth, a marketing professional who was also a fitness instructor, to arrive at my sessions around 2:30, announce "I hear there are people falling asleep in here and lead the group in a work out. You can also harness the skills and creativity of your people to incorporate music and movement into your corporate culture.

Bringing music and movement into your corporation doesn't have to be a big ticket item. It can be as simple as:

- playing relaxing music at the beginning of a meeting and doing some gentle stretches

- taking shorter but more frequent breaks during meetings so that people can stretch their legs (5 minutes once an hour) playing upbeat vacation videos during breaks

- a two minute workout during notoriously low energy periods such as 11:00 A.M., after lunch or 3:00 p.m.

For our final lesson from the Tin Man, contrast the image of a bright and shimmering rainbow with the drab and dismal surroundings in which some employees work. Research has shown that colour and lighting levels have an impact on our moods. Your facilities group needs to take this into account when designing office space and establishing corporate standards for work locations. Companies like Xerox have used this information to create a colourful, upbeat and positive working environment for their employees.

You can get the same results, without spending a dime to paint offices, purchase new furniture or upgrade fixtures. How? All you have to do is encourage employees to add a personal touch to their work areas with colourful posters and photos. Personal objects that remind them of the things they enjoy can help them boost their spirits during periods of turbulence and change.

Of Witches and Wizards

Joy and laughter can never thrive in the midst of negative interactions. As Dorothy discovered, some of the people around us can sap our energy due to their negativity, harsh criticism and well meaning but discouraging advice. Others can disappoint us time and time again by failing to honour their commitments. To maintain your creative edge, it is important to reduce the frequency and intensity of these relationships that empower drain you. As a member of the senior management team, it is important to remember that, when volatile and aggressive individuals are placed in leadership roles, they can cost your company in terms of poor morale and stress-related short term disability costs.

Equally destructive are the insecure "know it all" wizards who can kill the creativity and innovation organizations need to thrive and remain competitive. By refusing to be open to the feelings and ideas of employees and customers, some of the best ideas are never harnessed.

Spending time with negative individuals can cause employees to feel disempowered, vulnerable, even ill. This can make it difficult for them to cope with change and stress. When your organization is facing turbulent times, you can't afford to subject employees to critical managers who demoralize, discourage and demotivate them. As senior executives, we need to use tools like behavioural interviewing to ensure that we place people in leadership positions who can create a positive climate . A focus on the technical or financial aspects of leadership is not enough to ensure that the right people are "minding the store".

In their ground-breaking research, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden, authors of Contented Cows Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Relations and the Bottom Line, established a connection between the quality of employee relations and organizational success.

They identified the following "best practices" in employee relations:

- Get people committed

- Show them you care

- Enable them for the performance of a lifetime

It may not be rocket science but it works.

For Dorothy a Home

In contrast to the "witches" and "wizards" who erode organizational effectiveness, there are other relationships that encourage and inspire employees. Some individuals have a knack for saying the right thing and helping us find humour and hope no matter how bleak the circumstances. They add a sparkle to everyone's day and serve as excellent role models of how to smile in the face of adversity.

When emotional reserves are low, it is important to increase the frequency of your interaction with positive individuals. Spending time with supportive and positive friends relatives and colleagues is therapeutic. It can help you recover from the toxic effect that some of the pessimistic individuals with whom you have to associate during the course of your business day.

Like Dorothy, we often overlook the most supportive individuals around us. Why? They are usually too involved in doing their work and making a difference to engage in the political gamesmanship that has become a part of moving up the corporate ladder.

Through employee recognition programmes, we need to be proactive, search for these individuals and turn them into corporate heroes and heroines.

We need to give these individuals a higher profile within the organization. With their support, you and your employees can find the courage to take the risks that can make your vision of corporate life a reality.

Conquering Fear Through Risk-Taking: The Legacy of the Cowardly Lion

As the Cowardly Lion discovered, our fear of the unknown can be the greatest obstacle to our effectiveness. Even though we realize that our corporations need renewal and our employees are badly in need of refreshment, we cling to the security of the traditional.

Five years into a new millenium and we still find it difficult to shed the outmoded paradigms and management practices that we inherited from the previous millennium. What will other executives think of you if you introduce some radical new ways of doing business? Will your Board of Directors support you if you step out, take some risks and experiment with a few of the ideas presented in this article? It's risky but you'll soon discover that "the only thing to fear is fear is fear itself". Your employees will thank you for creating a more relaxed and humane work environment. Every risk you take will help you transform your company and equip employees to face the challenges that lie ahead. It will also bring you one step closer to re-discovering joy and laughter in your workplace.

2005 Executive Oasis International - All Rights Reserved

Reprint Rights: Ezine publishers may reprint this article, as long as the following information is included:

- the summary about the author and her company (see below)
- all links are active
- all key words above the links below are included as part of the active link when you publish it on your site

This permission does NOT extend to trainers, speakers or consultants with competitive services or companies that want to place articles on their intranet. Contact us directly for permission.

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President and founder of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based consulting that helps executive teams in Canada, Jamaica, Asia, and Dubai generate strategies to thrive in a turbulent economy. For more information about their services, visit their web site:

Executive Oasis International, Specialists in Executive Retreats and Executive Consulting: http://www.executiveoasis.com/executiveretreats.html

Over the Rainbow: Joy and Laughter in the Workplace is available as an interactive keynote: http://www.thetrainingoasis.com/rainbow.html

You can find more articles by Anne Thornley-Brown in: Spice of the Month: Accelerated Learning Ezine http://thetrainingoasis.com/ezine.html


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