Fun and Recognition on a dime…

In 2008, when the economy fell out from underneath us, I was faced with a challenge that many of you were faced with, too. We had to cut back on what we were spending.  Part of my job was to create fun events and programs. My budget was cut, cut again, and cut yet again. The only thing that wasn’t cut was the expectation that fun and programs still had to exist. Actually, it was even more crucial to our culture as we faced layoffs, our employee’s spouses were facing the same, and Las Vegas (where our employees call home) was getting hit hard with the housing crisis.

So, what do you do with little to no money?  Here are some things we came up with:

Birthday Budget: Our budget was cut to just $5 per person. We had always given gift cards in the past, and we knew it was going to be hard to stop that and go with something else.  We had to give our employees the benefit of the doubt, and hope that they preferred the gesture more than the gift. During this time a customer of ours phoned the call center and just happened to be in the business of making ducks for his company Celebriducks. We have an ongoing theme of handing out ducks at different functions.  I don’t know why we do that, but we do, and employee’s cubicles are lined with years’ worth of ducks.  It seemed like a perfect fit. We worked with him, and he created something special and meaningful for us. It was relatively painless, and the best part is that it was within our budget. The back of the box had a blank area for coworkers to sign, which allowed us to do more with less, and avoid the additional cost of a card.

Anniversary Program: Our office is filled with cubicles. No one has offices, and we all sit in big, open areas.  This is how we like it.  It can get difficult, though, to find someone in the maze of cubicle rows. To help out, our employees started printing their names on paper, sticking it in a sheet protector, and hanging it from the ceiling with a shoestring.  This is where our anniversary program idea came from.  We decided to do custom license plates for employees when they reached one year. They could then hang the plate above their desk, and do away with the paper version. Like any good license plate they needed a registration tag. So, in the corner of each plate is a sticker that shows how long the employee has been there. Every year on their anniversary they get a card with a new registration sticker for their plate. Total cost for year one is roughly $8.00 per person; each year after just a few cents for the sticker.

Events: Our event budget was hit hard. It was almost nonexistent. We had always tried to have 1 or 2 events per month and, though our budget was gone, we persisted. Here are a few things we came up with.

Food Challenges: Our people like food and they love a challenge. We decided to do an Oreo cookie eating competition – who doesn’t like Oreos? Cost was about $20.00, and we were surprised at the outcome. We had about 10 employees compete, but had over 70 employees leave there desks to watch. We couldn’t have asked for a better turnout. The competition was nail biting,with someone claiming victory only to discover that an Oreo had sunk to the bottom of his milk, and someone beat him at the last minute.  We did a Ding Dong eating competition a few months later that was just as cheap and just as successful. The employee who won still claims his title proudly and impromptu rematches have happened a few times.

Carnival: In the past we had done carnivals where we rented games from a local company, set them up in front of our building, and invited our employees to come out to win little prizes and raffle tickets for bigger items. We decided to do a carnival again, but this time witha mere $200.00 budget and a theme of Oktoberfest. Creativity was key here.  I got together a little committee that helped plan events in the past and we set out to hand make games. We created a fishing game with just a dowel and string. We put up a plastic table cloth and someone sat behind it. Employees would toss their line over the tablecloth and pull out a surprise. We ordered little prizes from a cheap online store and again stuck with raffle tickets (this time with prizes donated from some of our vendors). At another booth we took glass steins and employees would toss in pretzels. I found a website that had instructions for creating an Oktoberfest hat out of construction paper, so we set up an arts and crafts booth. In total we had 7 game stations, and it was a blast.

Editors Note: Thanks to Jamie Naughton, former Cruise Ship Captain and current Speaker of the House at one of my favorite companies for writing this post. There’s a lot more to come from her here at Culture Fanatics in the future.

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About Marisa

Marisa Keegan is a leadership coach, trainer, and HR consultant for quickly growing organizations who are passionate about strengthening their employees, their brand, and their culture. She has helped lead the HR, culture, and engagement initiatives at two nationally recognized great places to work; Rackspace as Culture Maven and Modea as Talent Manger. She is an author at Fistful of Talent and Culture Fanatics. Marisa has her Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology and currently lives with her husband and twin boys in Richmond, Virginia.
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