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Workplace Celebrations-Why They Matter and How to Have Great Ones!

Deck the Halls-Offices and All!: Five Great Ways to Make Celebrating at the Workplace More than Just a Holiday Affair

Mystery punch and eggnog, holiday-inspired hors d'oeuvres, an ebullient co-worker who's had one too many, and those what-in-the-world-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-this Secret Santa gifts...Yep! It's that time of year again-time for the annual workplace holiday party! And while most of us might never admit it, we kind of enjoy getting to spend this festive time with our coworkers and bosses in a fun, casual setting.

Liz Jazwiec says holiday parties provide a great opportunity to reflect on why it is important for co-workers to celebrate with one another. She reminds us all that they are a great way to promote workplace positivity and overall happiness, and that's why they shouldn't just happen once every December.

"We celebrate all kinds of things-big and small-in our personal and social lives," says Jazwiec, author of the new book Eat That Cookie!: Make Workplace Positivity Pay Off...For Individuals, Teams, and Organizations (Fire Starter Publishing, 2009, ISBN: 984079440). "These celebrations help us mark milestones, share our successes, and feel good about reaching life's little dreams and aspirations. They help remind us that not only do struggles and hard work pay off, but when we do reach our goals, they are even sweeter when shared with others. Why not incorporate those sentiments into the workplace more often?"

Sure, family achievements might seem more important to you. Little Johnny acing his science test or Little Mary making the volleyball team are big deals and should be celebrated. But when you stop to consider that most of us spend more of our waking hours with coworkers than we do with our families, it is unfortunate that more time isn't spent celebrating the workplace achievements you reach together.

"The bottom line is that workplace celebrations foster relationship building, improve morale, enhance retention, and encourage employees to achieve results," says Jazwiec. "And if you're thinking, Great! We'll take care of all of that with our holiday party this year, you're wrong. You'd probably be having that holiday party whether you met all of your goals or not. There are numerous opportunities to celebrate for workplace teams throughout a given year, and to achieve true workplace positivity you must take advantage of them."

When planning out when you should celebrate at your organization, Jazwiec suggests thinking about it like you would dieting. Say you want to lose 30 pounds. Would you wait to pat yourself on the back until you reached your target weight? Probably not. And if that was your plan, you'd probably never reach that goal. You need encouragement along the way.

"When attempting weight loss, it's important to celebrate the little accomplishments," says Jazwiec. "You congratulate yourself after losing that first five pounds, then 10 pounds, and so on. Knowing that you get a treat-which probably shouldn't be a pint of ice cream!-at each milestone works as a great motivator. And for that same reason, celebrations should be used in the workplace. When teams have celebrations to look forward to for reaching milestones or a goal itself, it keeps them motivated."

If you agree that celebrations are a great way to improve your workplace but aren't sure how to get the ball rolling, read on for a few tips from Jazwiec.

Make the most of milestones. Several years ago, one hospital with which Jazwiec worked was trying to improve its patient satisfaction scores. The hospital started its climb in the 30th percentile. The organization's leaders decided that although the ultimate target was to make it into the 75th percentile, they wanted to mark other milestones along the way in order to keep everyone motivated. The plan was set. Once the 40th percentile was met, there would be a '40s swing party held in the cafeteria. The 50th percentile would be heralded with a jukebox and sock hop. When the 60th percentile was attained, there would be a Motown dance contest. And at the completion of the journey, the 75th percentile would be celebrated with a disco ball and all the trappings of the polyester-and-gold-chains era.

"The team not only worked hard to reach each and every goal, but they were also able to take time along the way to celebrate their accomplishments and re-energize themselves by enjoying that down time together," says Jazwiec. "Celebrations help teams create urgency by keeping them focused and rewarding their efforts along the way. Once a goal is set, the method for celebrating the goal should be set as well. It is perfectly okay to have several different celebrations planned as various targets are met. It keeps people excited throughout the process."

Sweat the small stuff. We don't always have to hang our hats on the big achievements or the milestones reached on the way to achieving them. Every workplace reaches little achievements at least every week, if not every day. For example, maybe your team went an entire week without an incorrect customer order or without anyone being late for work. Or maybe a client deal that everyone had a hand in bringing to fruition finally closed. Or maybe it's just Friday!

"My point is that celebrating doesn't have to mean a big party that takes a lot of planning or necessitates a huge expense," says Jazwiec. "You can celebrate the little things by providing morning bagels and coffee for your employees or giving them a half-hour longer for their lunch breaks. Celebrating these small accomplishments helps employees (and their leaders!) realize that there are more good weeks than bad and that the workplace can be a place where they can actually enjoy themselves."

Celebrate one person at a time. Celebrations are also a great way to recognize the accomplishments of individual employees or just a great employee in general. Staff reach milestones all the time. Why not recognize the years of service members of your team have put in by celebrating anniversary dates at the department level? Why not celebrate when an individual reaches a sales goal or scores well on a customer satisfaction survey?

"At one office I visited, I noticed they had posted a bunch of numbers and items," says Jazwiec. "When I asked about it, I was told that the items were prizes that employees received for hitting the corresponding dollar amount in sales. For example, if a salesperson sold $10,000, he could get a camera. Now you might say that is an incentive, not a celebration. But I would argue that it is also a celebration. Think about it. That person's commission is much more than the camera is worth. The commission itself is his incentive for pushing to reach the $10,000 mark. The camera is the pat on the back from his leaders. The icing on the cake!"

Think outside the box. Yes, birthdays and holidays are great excuses for celebrations, and you should definitely take advantage of each and every one of them. But if you just do a little creative thinking, you will see that there are other great ways to celebrate.

"A great way to please employees is to celebrate their anniversaries with the company," says Jazwiec. "It doesn't have to be a big to-do. You might make the person King or Queen for the day, allowing him to park in a certain spot and fetching him coffee or lunch whenever he requests it. Or you can have a small party and personalize the cake for that person. For example, if Marcy has a favorite sports team, a cake with the team's colors would make her celebration even more special.

"Be sure to get your team members' input on the kinds of things they would like to celebrate. It can be practically anything. In fact, I know of one team that gets candy any time they go entire week without any member calling in sick. Or maybe people want to celebrate educational accomplishments or personal ones, such as professional certifications or acquiring healthy habits. You might also establish a kind of inside joke celebration for you and your team by celebrating a specific off-the-wall 'holiday' each year such as Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (celebrated in January for some reason!) or July's All-American Pet Photo Day."

Go traditional. Of course, it is always great to celebrate the obvious as well. Birthdays make great reasons to celebrate. In addition to the December holiday parties, you might consider celebrating Halloween and allowing everyone to dress up. Or establish an annual summer celebration around the 4th of July, Memorial Day, or Labor Day-all great opportunities for a company picnic. You can also establish other traditions. For example, make the first day of Spring "Spring Cleaning Day" at your organization. Give everyone the afternoon to enjoy a leisurely lunch together, clean up their desks (and the office as a whole), and then let everyone head home early.

"Are you starting to get the idea?" asks Jazwiec. "Whether it's a traditional tradition or one you've just made up for your organization, the possibilities are endless. I even worked with one organization that celebrated winter by declaring one day in January 'Snowman Day,' and they would all dress like snowmen."

"The great thing about celebrations is that they are an aspect of work that we can all like," says Jazwiec. "After all, do you ever begrudgingly enjoy a free meal or a piece of cake? It's almost impossible to not have some sense of enjoyment, and if you can eat cake without any joy, well, then, I'm not sure I can help you!"

Speaking of cake...Jazwiec offers up a special anecdote to illustrate another important point about celebrations-their ability to unite those in a workplace.

"I recently discovered that my sister Donna and her family-her husband, Tom, and their two children, Lauren and Tyler-have a special birthday tradition-Funfetti cake," says Jazwiec. "The last time I visited I was chatting with Tom and Tyler in the kitchen. Naturally, the conversation turned to cake. And almost in unison they said, 'We make the best birthday cakes for our birthdays!' Turns out for every family member's birthday, they bake up a Funfetti cake and top it with Funfetti icing. They both just lit up when describing it. I could tell that they reveled in the memories they'd shared as a family simply because of this awesome kind of cake.

"I wanted to include the story about the cake in something I was writing," continues Jazwiec. "So I sent the four of them an email asking about the cake. They all sent helpful responses, but Tom's response really took the cake (pun intended!)."

Here's what he wrote:

I am not sure if it is the moistness and simplicity or the candy sprinkle frosting, but it is wonderful. Friends and birthday plans come and go, but Funfetti cake is a constant whatever we are doing or wherever we are each year. Like pot-stickers and mashed potatoes, it sets a standard from which all else is measured. We have thought about making it on our dogs' birthdays, so we can have it more than four times a year. We have tried other mixes, frostings, and brands, but they are pretenders. Pillsbury is a genius. That simple box pre-mix and can of frosting can compete with the best gourmet bakeries and pastry chefs.

"How poignant is that?" asks Jazwiec. "Four people who have the means to celebrate in any way that they want choose to celebrate with a cake they make themselves from a box of Pillsbury cake mix. Four busy people take the time to bake each other a very simple but special cake for birthdays.

"I include this story because I think it perfectly illustrates how celebrations turn into traditions and rituals," concludes Jazwiec. "It is those traditions-like the annual holiday party!-that unite us together as workplace families. Celebrations, by definition, are an expression of joy. Start weaving them into your workplace, and I believe you will find that their benefits are endless. And with all of the ups and downs of 2009, there has never been a better time to start than now...after all, 'tis the season."

About the Author:
Liz Jazwiec is a nationally renowned speaker, strategist, and consultant who has shared her passion for leadership, engagement, and service with audiences across the country.

About the Book:
Eat That Cookie!: Make Workplace Positivity Pay Off...For Individuals, Teams and Organizations (Fire Starter Publishing, 2009, ISBN: 984079440) is available at bookstores nationwide and at all major online booksellers.

For more information, please visit www.studergroup.com/EatThatCookie.

For a review copy of Eat That Cookie! or an interview with Liz Jazwiec, please contact Dottie DeHart, DeHart & Company Public Relations, at (828) 325-4966.

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