Workplace Time Wasters or Morale Builders?

Weighing in on 5 Familiar Job Rituals

Know an employer who treats work and fun like church and state? We’ll show you a company where productivity is down and turnover is up. Whether you’re part of a company of 5 or 500, morale is the major artery into retention and productivity – it’s the reason behind everything from the Employee of the Month to nap pods.

But some workplace traditions that began as morale-boosting efforts may have outlasted their usefulness. Could ubiquitous workplace rituals actually be killing efficiency as well as morale? Wonder no more – the verdicts are in on five of the most common rites of being an employee.

1. The Birthday Party

While some consider the workplace birthday party a much-needed sugar break away from the desk, others may consider it an overlong gluten-fest made worse by their mandatory attendance. It may seem like streamlining office productivity should begin with ditching the parties, plastic forks and all.

In fact, breaking up the day to honor a co-worker’s birthday does more good than harm. Some of the most successful companies credit breakroom antics – birthdays, retirement send-offs, or just quick games of ping pong – with improving employee happiness. Why? It’s a perk – from coffee to recreation, employees take respite in workplace extras, especially those that involve cake. Parties are relaxing, and that balances sometimes monotonous work with something social.

In exchange for a few lost minutes, the birthday party ritual is a mechanism that greases the workplace wheels on a number of levels. Instead of scrapping it, make it less painful by keeping financial responsibilities small (or anonymous), and celebrate just once a month rather than individually if the employee list is long.

Verdict: Morale Booster.

2. The Office Outing

Whether office barbeque or annual industry seminar, office outings can bring mixed feelings. Why clear a busy schedule to spend a long weekend with co-workers you spend most of every day with anyway? It’s a surefire time-waster…or is it?

Office outings can sometimes be awkward, but they can also reap rewards that last long after it’s over. Outings allow time to meet coworkers in a new environment that can spawn creative thinking and allow workplace hierarchies some distance. They can provide a time to celebrate accomplishments, and they are excellent for breaking up repetitive workplace routines. They can even be a way for individuals to show off their talents – maybe by providing the music at the company picnic, or letting the office paddle boarder time to shine by teaching everyone else the strokes.

Verdict: Morale Booster. 

3. Meetings

Meetings seem to be on everyone’s top time waster’s list. Hours in the meeting room is time you don’t get back, and without effective meeting management, they can cause staff to bleed productivity.

Some regular workplace meetings can be flabby, but they are more than just a time suck – they can serve genuine morale-boosting purposes. When everybody gathers, important questions are answered, issues are aired, and continuity in the workplace develops. Meetings allow managers and team leaders to lead, and hone their skills at doing so. And, that face time makes employees accountable and allows them a space to communicate IRL – an increasingly undervalued experience.

Today, many companies have given their meetings a makeover to align with the business trends of shorter times and stricter agendas. Follow suit, and your company will be better off keeping the weekly meeting on the schedule.

Verdict: Morale Booster.

4. Interoffice Emails

Jokes, political viewpoints and photos of puppies that have fallen asleep in their food bowls can seem like major time wasters when they stack up in your inbox – especially if the sender’s taste in humor, politics, or canine antics doesn’t match yours. Many office email policies limit emails to work-related content only, preventing bad-taste communications, or just those that cause distractions.

But emails that share inspiring stories, employee announcements, and corporate news and newsletters is no outdated ritual. CEOs and employees alike agree that their value is enormous, even if it’s hard to calculate. Sharing information or on-the-job achievements with employees is vital to helping employees feel like they are more than a number. When employees are in the loop about the company and its achievements, it helps them feel their work has a higher purpose – the number one morale boosting ingredient.

So keep up communications, but solve the inbox inundation by shutting off email for designated stretches instead, and encourage managers to institute a kitten-free email policy from eight to five.

Verdict: Morale Booster with Limitations.

5. Fantasy Teams

Fantasy gaming in the U.S. has surged. According to the Fantasy Trade Sports Industry, it has become a multi-billion dollar industry with over 40 million players. It’s no surprise that fantasy sports is woven tightly into the fabric of the workplace, where teams are created and closely monitored, sometimes obsessively.

As a result, much has been made about productivity losses when sports seasons are in full swing. But why rain on the gaming parade when the comradery and competition can be morale boosting for those involved? Here’s why: most companies can’t afford the mounting distraction it creates for their workers. Recent studies suggest that Fantasy Football players are costing between 13 and 18 billion in lost productivity. That’s a serious penalty.

While some companies have responded to the distraction of fantasy gaming by blocking access to fantasy sports sites, others have designated after-five conference space to fantasy sports play. Both approaches allow companies to tackle potential productivity losses head on so they won’t be blindsided.

Verdict: Sorry sports fans. It’s a Time Waster.

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