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Business and pleasure: mixing work and fun makes for a motivated, productive workforce.

Except for the fact that employees must wear company-made shoes, there is no dress codes at DETNY Footwear Inc. That comes in handy every other Friday, when the New York-based footwear designer's 11 employees gather around an in-house putting green to try their luck at golf while chomping pizza.

"We strive for a creative atmosphere," says 31-year-old co-CEO Shawn Ward, who founded the company with his twin brother. Shane, in 2002. On track to earn $1.2 million in sales this year, the company installed a wide-screen television in its lobby as well as wireless Internet access and comfortable couches where employees can kick back and "get creative."

Ward says that creating such an environment is important to DETNY, which specializes in contemporary "footwear for jetsetters." He says the company knew that it would have to go beyond the typical workplace to attract a youthful, energetic team of employees. When asked if things ever get too fun around DETNY's offices, Ward says: "So far, we haven't had a problem with that." That's because employees are more productive when they're part of a team that works and plays together, says Ward.

Dot-com companies that conjured up images of week-long casual Fridays with employees playing foosball all day were the brunt of a lot of jokes in the late 1990s, but according to a 2002 survey from the Society of Human Resources Management in Alexandria, Virginia, there was some method to their madness. The Society found that 75% of human resources professionals feel companies that promote a fun work environment are more effective than those that do not.

"People think a productive workforce and a creative workforce are diametrically opposed," says David Magellan Horth, senior faculty with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. "In reality, creativity in an organization directly correlates with productivity. If your workers see themselves as creative, they'll be more apt to also see themselves as highly productive."

With that in mind, business owners and experts shared the following strategies for creating a fun workplace:

* Forget everything you learned about how professionalism and fun don't mix, then replace that notion with the realization that you can take yourself lightly and still be productive and professional:

* Don't exclude customers from your fun environment. Invite them to office pizza parties, outings, and other events.

* Recruit volunteers to serve on a "fun team," which is a small group of employees who develop strategies and activities that keep an organization and its team members "in fun,"

* Don't be afraid to have too much fun. Odds that employees will end up spending too much time having fun and not enough time working are slim in today's business world, where most companies take themselves entirely too seriously.

* Purchase a few fun tools (wide-screen televisions, video games, table tennis, putting greens, etc.) and put them in break rooms and gathering areas where employees can let loose for a few minutes during the day.


As author of Don't Oil the Squeaky Wheel and 19 Other Contrarian Ways to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness (McGraw-Hill; $14.95), Wolf J. Rinke has some simple advice for business owners and senior executives who have yet to discover the value of a fun workplace: "If it's fun, it gets done."

"People who have fun don't really go to work," says Rinke, president of business consultancy Wolf Rinke Associates Inc. in Clarksville, Maryland. "That's because if you're having fun and building on your own strengths, doing what you love to do, and having a good time doing it, it's really not work."

Rinke says there are a few steps small businesses can take to start infusing fun into the workplace, and it starts with recruiting three to five volunteers to serve on a fun team. Armed with a small budget, the team will come up with fun stuff to do during and after work. Ask for feedback from employees who participated, whether it was a pizza party, birthday celebration, or an afternoon trip to a local museum, then use that information to plan and tweak future events.
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Title Annotation:Management Advice
Author:McCrea, Bridget
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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