Want to Inspire Your Staff? Push Them Out of the Office for a Day

Help Staff Take Time Off to Do What Inspires Them, and Then Share Their Stories

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We work in the inspiration business. We inspire consumers to like, love and buy the brands we represent. We inspire clients to take risks, strive, aspire. But how good are we at inspiring our own staffs? We motivate, encourage, reward and promote them. But inspire them? One test is this: Do we celebrate the aspects of their lives outside the office that inspire our staff?

We recently asked ourselves this question as a management team, and we didn't like the answer. Most of the people who work at our agency like us. They like their jobs for the most part. They like the fact that they have a job in this industry in this time that pays them fairly. But they were not inspired at the level we would have liked.

Ours is an industry of long hours, many thankless moments, big pushes and tight deadlines. The thrill of a new business win or a campaign launch fills our buckets. But the energy and effort our teams put forth are not always returned in the excitement of victory.

Years ago, we went to a Personal Time Off approach to vacation and sick time. It is easier to manage, but does not provide a pay out for unused time. We looked into our PTO usage a year ago and learned that less than 60% was being used each year. Our people were not taking enough time to recharge. We are not alone. The average employee in the United States uses only 57% of his or her vacation time each year, according to an August 2010 Reuters poll.

We also saw that we didn't really know what our staff was involved with or interested in outside of work. We knew that some played on softball teams or were involved in their church. But we did not know what they did that inspired them.

So we created "inspiration days." Twice a year each employee gets a bonus day off and $50 to do something that inspires him. The only catch is that he has to take a few photos and write a paragraph or two about what they did that day. We share these inspirational experiences in our monthly e-newsletter and at agency gatherings. Not only is the agency team inspired by their peers, we have been inspired by the choices, passions and generosity of the folks we employ.

Here is what some people have done with their time and money:

On her bucket list for years, one employee took a hot- air balloon ride with her husband. Gliding 1,500 feet above the ground provided an amazing view of the city. Hot air balloon ride, check. Next up, swimming with sharks?

About 12,000 feet in the air, three employees jumped out of a plane for a group inspiration day. After weeks of building each other up to believe that they could actually do it, they teamed to sky dive over Central Texas. It proved to them that they could do anything.

Another employee volunteered at an All Star Benefit Concert for Heroes for Holden. The foundation was started in honor of Holden, a five-year-old boy who has gone through traumatic physical and emotional abuse because his biological mother was strung out on drugs. They are raising money to cover Holden's medical expenses, with the long-term goal of assisting as many young children as possible in similar situations.

Our CFO spent time with kids at a camp for underpriveleged kids. Several employees donated their $50 and gave a day of service to help people affected by the Bastrop, Texas, wildfire of 2011.

Do stories like these inspire you? They did me. Sharing them with the agency has inspired our staff. Besides inspiration day, we have discovered a few other ways to nurture inspiration:

  • Simply showing interest in what your team does outside of work sends a message that it matters to you.

  • Let the staff know that the agency is willing to provide sponsorship dollars to help fund projects like food drives, Girl Scout cookie drives and kickball teams.

  • When you hear in passing that someone just finished her first half-marathon or led a homeless shelter blanket drive for his church, send an e-mail letting them know that their accomplishments inspire you.

  • We recently did an agency-wide survey asking what types of charitable initiatives our staff was most interested in being a part of . We are building programs to match what we learned.

  • We created a community service award. Each employee has the opportunity to nominate fellow staff members. We publish the nominees and their stories, and then the entire agency votes online to determine the recipient. The winner gets cash, as does their designated charity or community organization.

This is a tough business that can suck the inspiration out of anyone. Our agency has benefitted from encouraging people to not only do what inspires them, but having them share their inspiration with the entire team. I hope your business can feel inspired as well.

Bryan Christian is president/principal of Proof Advertising in Austin, Texas.
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