need more employee engagement? allow for weirdness at work

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cake with candles

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 41st birthday the same way most engaged employees do–by going to work.

Not long after I had settled in for the day, my team had gathered around my cubicle, signed birthday card in hand, ready to sing to me for my special day. After a few knowing looks between team members, they cleared their throats and started to sing in their best sixties-era, folk-song voices ”¦

“All the Leaves are Brown (ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROOooWN)”

“And the sky is Gray (AND THE SKY IS GRAaaaY!)”

I went for a walk”¦ (I WENT FOR A WAAaaLK!)

On a Summer’s day (ON A SUMMER’S DAAAAY!)

It was a horrible rendition of the Mama’s and Papa’s classic ballad. The whiny falsetto of some singers mixed sourly with the loud, pitchy attempts at harmonization of others.

Simon Cowell would have hated it, but I loved it.

You see, we don’t sing ‘Happy Birthday’ on our team. We instead choose to take requests from those celebrating their birthdays–songs like ‘Happy Trails’, ‘The Gilligan’s Island Theme’ or ‘Tainted Love.’ We then take glee in butchering the execution of the vocal performance with a loud, obnoxious performance.

It’s a downright weird way to celebrate a birthday – and our team thrives on it.

Encouraging a little weirdness at work is certainly nothing new. The fact that a little creative and strange fun in the workplace is being embraced by those that occupy the C-suite offices is very new.

Take Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, for example–he chose to write the need for weirdness into his company’s core values. Says Hsieh, “When you combine a little weirdness with making sure everyone is also having fun at work, it ends up being a win-win for everyone: Employees are more engaged in the work that they do, and the company as a whole becomes more innovative.”

His logic is sound. Engaged employees are the ones thinking up the great ideas that save money, drive profitability and increase customer service.

Research done earlier this year by the Gallup Organization proves that happy, engaged employees are thriving during this economic downturn, and their good feelings in the workplace might just be what the doctor ordered to bring about more employee engagement.

So, how does a company bring a dose of weirdness to work? For starters, let your employees figure that one out for you. Give them permission, set the basic ground rules and then step aside while they bring weird to the workplace. They will not disappoint you. In fact, you might be surprised at the innovative ideas they bring to the table. To get you started, read the Zappos blog for some zany, fun-filled weirdness at Zappos.com.

By patrick poyfair
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