At some point, every business finds that staff morale ebbs. People become complacent; they don't seem to care as much about their work as they once did. Tardiness and absenteeism increase, which usually means productivity does not. But sometimes, all it takes is an occasional game or good-natured contest to put a smile on employees' faces and a spring in their step as they enter the office door.
Hallways are the perfect shape for mini-golf, and it's a game anyone can play. Set up an inexpensive putting green in a hallway, with a backdrop to catch stray balls. You'll need several putters, but rather than buying them, ask your office golfers if they'll lend one. If your staff is small enough, have everyone gather around to cheer on each player. For a larger group, ask each department to play at 15 minute intervals. Give prizes for the best scores -- gift cards are universally appreciated -- and post the winning scores or have a mini awards ceremony.
Hallways are also sized for relay walks -- no running in the halls! -- which can be used as a fun team-building game. Make teams within departments, or mix it up so staffers can interact with employees they don't work with often. Choose a meaningful relay hand-off item, such as a microphone for an entertainment business or an unbreakable tile for a flooring company. Have several heats of teams and a playoff, or time each team to choose the winner.
Some companies have increased morale by signing the office up for a softball or basketball league. This only helps those who participate, though, so encourage employees who don't want to play to attend games and cheer everyone on. Supply a cooler of drinks and water to keep everyone hydrated. The advantage to being in a league is that games are regularly scheduled for you. It's also a good way to network with other businesses in a friendly environment.
Another idea is to form interoffice teams and play each other. Let the teams pick their names, decorate T-shirts in a theme, and even have cheerleaders -- the sillier the better so no one takes themselves too seriously. Have the staff vote on what game they want to play, from basketball or ping pong to marbles, croquet or bocce. Have a tournament and award prizes -- perhaps tickets to a local ball game. Switch it up next time by picking a different game.
The key to using games to boost office morale is to keep it lighthearted, fun and fair. If someone played basketball in college, for example, pick a different sport. It should never be "a given" that any individual will win any contest.
Give rotating departments or teams the "job" of putting together a quiz for holidays throughout the year. For February, a Valentine's Day or President's Day quiz; a patriotic quiz for the Fourth of July. Encourage out-of-the-box the questions that can't quickly be researched online to get people thinking and talking. Be sensitive to everyone's beliefs. Instead of a Christmas quiz, include all religious holidays or adopt a neutral "snow" theme.
Whether it's chili, barbecue or homemade pies, everyone loves a cook-off. Let entrants choose a partner, as teamwork builds camaraderie. Half the fun is in the planning, so allow at least a few weeks for people to perfect their recipes. Give extra time at lunch for tasting the concoctions, or hold the event on a weekend and invite families. Award food-themed prizes, such as restaurant gift certificates or humorous oven mitts.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more, as well as advertising copy and materials. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.