Transcript: Episode 196 – How to Quit Your Job Without Burning Bridges
June 3, 2024
Show Notes: Episode 197 – Building Thriving Teams through Games and Play (with Alexandra Suchman)
June 17, 2024

Click here for this episode’s show notes.

This transcript was created using an automated transcription service and may contain errors.

Alex 00:01
On their surface, games let you see the whole person behind your colleagues and know what motivates them. What brings them joy? How do you have a shared moment of joy and laughter together?

JoDee 00:15
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and with me is my friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, also an HR consulting practice. Today we are talking about playing games at work. Hmm, sounds suspicious.

Susan 00:50
Sounds fun.

JoDee 00:52
Let me tell you, if you Google those words, “playing games at work,” a lot of interesting topics pop up. We, of course, want to talk about the positive ways you can do this, via structured games, to build teams, give people an opportunity to bond, and/or to get to know each other. You know, Susan, as Mary Poppins used to say, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game! And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake.” Well, I agree with Mary Poppins. That’s totally true. When employees are having fun, everything else seems to fall in place. Let them play more games and you will see that you can build a productive and fun work environment. In a few minutes, we will hear from our guest from BarometerXP. Purple Ink has used Barometer internally with our team, and also during trainings with many of our clients. I love the way they offer different ways to play based on your goals. They break them down between bonding, building, and development. Bonding is to promote better relationships and shared moments between colleagues to impact joy and connection. Building creates space for individual and collective learning through interactive reflection, which can impact trust and awareness. And development prioritizes how to apply new knowledge and change, which can lead to greater productivity and success. In an article I found on waldner.com, they listed four benefits of playing games at work. Susan, why don’t you take the first one?

Susan 02:58
Oh, sure. Games initiate team bonding. You know, when you play games together with your coworkers, it can really foster strong relationships. You know, you get to laugh, you get to know each other at a deeper level, and that’s going to lead to better communications and teamwork. If you really do want a close-knit team, because that’s the key to success and productivity in the workplace.

JoDee 03:17
Yes. And number two, they said games are a great and fun way to release stress. Gaming allows employees to fully immerse themselves into something enjoyable, to be competitive, and/or to release up that pent up stress. It also boosts morale in the office.

Susan 03:39
And number three, games can create a work environment of trust. Games help create a relaxed company culture as it allows employees to see their work environment as more than just a place to work. Adding games to the office signifies that the company trusts employees to be able to efficiently manage their time while having some fun.

JoDee 04:00
And number four, games promote productivity. I know that one seems a little backwards, but we do know that taking short breaks while working is proven to boost cognitive functions significantly. It has been reported that micro-breaks lead to a better quality of work due to the fresh mind reset from gaming. Gaming during break lets your mind completely detach from anything work-related.

JoDee 04:32
In a May 2023 article in Fast Company, Suneil Kamath explains how he did not have a good relationship or communication with his own manager, and so he vowed to have one with his own team members. He started by asking his team if they wanted to play a game after work. What he initially believed would be spent – time spent socializing and simply getting to know one another evolved into something greater. He observed that teammates felt more comfortable not just with him, but with one another. The game forced team members to not only chat about life, but to strategize and work together creatively. When they were curious about why he went one way on a project’s direction, or wanted clarification on a topic, they were more comfortable asking him questions or pushing back if warranted. And while working on a project thread, they were more comfortable reaching out to him to gather feedback. Although he did not start the games intending to improve psychological safety, it appeared that was a direct result. Suneil also acknowledged, though, that playing games and team building activities at work sometimes have a poor reputation. A pair of coworkers can become too competitive, draining the fun from others, for instance, and honestly, no one likes to take part in mandatory socializing. So he recommends that teams pick games that are accessible and interesting to all the members of your team, and allow them to vote for what they’d like to play, and do not make the activity mandatory. If a couple of team members are constant no-shows, maybe try changing the timings or asking them in private how to alter the activity so they attend in the future. Susan, I thought that article was especially important to think about as some people might be thinking, “Uh uh, we’re not gonna be playing games at work,” you know, but but could you play a game over lunch or after work or, you know, just something simple. It doesn’t have to be in the middle of the work day.

Susan 07:05
Yeah, one of the things in that article that really resonated with me was where they talked about how a boss really was able to kind of let down their some of their walls and help employees felt better asking them questions about work projects after they had had some fun with them. I can remember when I was in Chicago for an off-site meeting and our head of this particular part of HR for the company I worked for, I found to be very intimidating. I mean, he was just this real gunner and everything was just go go go all the time. And I – that night, after we went to a business dinner, they assigned us various teams to do a scavenger hunt, and lucky me, I was on his team. I thought, oh, this is going to be really hard for the next couple hours. And you know what, for the next couple hours, we raced all around downtown Chicago. And for, for me, this is much later than I normally stay up. But I mean, you know, probably like nine, you know, eight to ten o’clock. And we had do all these wild things and get photos of ourselves. I will never forget all of us climbing in the, in the storage area of a great big bus that had, was there unloading some musical group or whatever it was, and we’re all in there just trying not to make any noise. It was so funny. And after that, even though, you know, he still was a very impressive guy, I was not intimidated anymore. I felt like I could tell him when I thought something wasn’t right. And when I had a question, I didn’t feel bad at all about asking it.

JoDee 08:22
Love it. I love it. And by the way, that is a fantastic activity. I did that once with a volunteer group in Washington, DC. And although I knew of most of the people in my group, I hadn’t really, I didn’t really know most of them. And what a way to bond with people. And I tell you, we laughed and laughed. And we learned a lot about Washington, DC.

Susan 08:57
There you go. Right. Yeah, that’s a fun one. Real fun.

JoDee 09:00
So now for our guest Alex Suchman. Alex is the CEO and co-founder of BarometerXP, the company I mentioned earlier. They are a company with a mission to make work a place you actually want to be. Barometer uses games and play to build thriving team cultures and bring genuine meaning and connection to the workplace.

Susan 09:29
Alex, we are so glad that you’re here. Thank you for making the time.

Alex 09:33
I’m so excited.

Susan 09:34
So our first question for you is why are so many people resistant to the idea of games and play at work?

Alex 09:41
I think there’s a couple reasons for that. And this is actually one of my favorite questions to answer. The biggest answer is probably because we’ve all experienced some pretty awkward team building activities in our days. And that might be for a couple of reasons. Maybe the person who was leading it just wasn’t that great of a leader, it takes a lot of energy to get people engaging in an activity, especially if it’s either something they haven’t done before, or it’s with people that they haven’t spent that type of time with before. Also, a lot of the times, people will, really well-meaning, will just pick an activity that they think is fun, and not really think if it’s a good fit for this group, or for the event, or the overarching goals. If you have – I heard a great example just last week of a woman who worked in finance for a long time, and their HR wanted people across different teams to know each other better and have more interaction. So a lot of introverts in finance, which I think is pretty common. And they would go on bowling trips each year, they would do a bowling thing. But bowling is a pretty solitary activity, you’re actually one at a time going up, but then everybody else is sitting around and maybe talking to each other, but there’s nothing that really forces people to interact. So if that’s what you’re after, that was a pretty poor selection. So I think a lot of it comes in picking the right activity and designing the experience to really meet the needs of a team of where they are and what journey you’re trying to take them on.

JoDee 11:08
Good point. Yeah, I think sometimes just saying the word “activity,” or “game,” can bring out groans from some people, right?

Alex 11:11
Oh, I get that a lot.

Susan 11:12
Yeah, I worked in banking for many years, and when I was the chief HR officer for one of our businesses, our annual fun thing was a bowl-a-thon. And you know what? I look back on it, you’re right, that really wasn’t probably the best. Thank you. Thank you for that insight.

Alex 11:36
Yeah. And other examples that I’ll hear is, they’ll pick an activity that’s really competitive. And if you have a group of people who are competitive, that’s not going to foster a sense of camaraderie, or even really leave a lot of time for socializing and sharing stories and getting to know each other, because people might be very focused on winning, or the people who are less competitive will feel very uncomfortable, because they don’t like that feeling. So one of the things that we do, and we could talk about this later, is looking at different games and activities, and what are the interpersonal interactions that happen? And how do you categorize games by that, by how people have to interact within them? And then you can better choreograph or engineer the experience so that you’re meeting the needs of, of that group and that event.

JoDee 12:21
Yeah. That is one of the things I love about Barometer, is that you don’t just throw out games. You’ll ask “What is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish?” And you have very different answers of games based on what that goal is. Alex, what are some of the benefits of bringing more play into the workplace?

Alex 12:21
I think there’s layers of benefits. One is, especially right now where a lot of teams are virtual or hybrid, or even if it’s in person, people have flexible schedules. Everybody’s relying on technology. And so if you’re in the same room, you all might still be communicating via Slack because somebody is off that day or lives somewhere else. You know, there’s all sorts of platforms that we use for keeping track of things and communicating and writing, so there’s not a lot of time to just have conversations and be together as people. So on their surface, games let you see the whole person behind your colleagues and know what motivates them. What brings them joy? How do you have a shared moment of joy and laughter together? We really underestimate how important it is to experience joy and have some moments of levity with the people that we’re working with and that we depend on. So that’s just the surface level. The deeper level of why it’s so important is because, as I mentioned before, every type of game or activity has some interpersonal dynamics built into it. And a lot of those are exactly the same dynamics that happen in the workplace. So you can actually use the games to practice how you work together. For example, how do you clearly communicate instructions or expectations? That’s not a natural skill for most of us. Most of us do what makes sense to us, but that might not be what makes sense the person that we’re actually trying to convey the information to. So how do you be more aware of what other communication styles are? How do you balance different values or different motivating factors? And so the games offer a really nice low stakes, almost controlled experiment environment to, to try different ways of communicating and collaborating and being in different roles. It’s really valuable.

JoDee 12:45
Nice.

Susan 12:47
Alex, can you give our listeners some ideas of the types of games that you see businesses often want colleagues to play?

Alex 13:26
Yeah, we use all different kinds. A couple of my favorites are games where there’s some, you, it’s, somebody’s giving a clue, and other people have to guess the clue. But whether the clue is written, whether it’s verbal description with really specific parameters, it forces people to think about clarity in their communication and thinking not just what makes the most sense and what’s intuitive to me, but seeing in real time how other people are interpreting that message. And so we have a game called Visionary. That’s a drawing version of that, where one person is describing a picture, and everybody else has to draw it only based on the verbal instructions. And I might be looking at a picture of a fruit basket, and I say, “It’s a fruit basket and there’s bananas in it.” And to me, that’s, that’s all I need. But if people aren’t seeing that picture, well, is it on a table? Is it on grass? How big is it? What shape is it? Are bananas the only thing in it? There’s all of these things that, implicit assumptions that we make about what makes for really clear instructions. But you know, what’s based on the information that we have or our experience. So I like communication games like that. Also, sort of escape roomy type things where it takes a lot of different perspectives of problem solving and negotiating and weighing different ideas and synthesizing different ideas, where you have to do that within a short amount of time. And that really allows for practicing some of the negotiating and collaboration and active listening skills that, that are really important. So those are two of my favorite types of games.

Susan 16:20
Yeah, those are great examples. I’d love to see some of those pictures, at the end some of those drawings, I bet they are very funny.

Alex 16:26
They’re incredible.

JoDee 16:27
And let me tell you, I’ve played, I’ve played that game a few times. And one day, we were playing it and this, this was at a association meeting, so I didn’t know a lot of the people there. But the the gal giving instructions, had a picture of Kermit the Frog with, I forget what else was around them, but the big part of the picture was Kermit. And she had no idea that it was Kermit, or even a frog. And so she was trying to describe this to people and it, and I could see the picture, like, she was on a different team. And we were just like, it didn’t take long to figure out she didn’t know who that was. But I thought, too, it was a great example of, like, generations of people. She was very young, and Kermit just really wasn’t a big part of her life like it was for so many of us. And that was so funny.

Alex 17:39
Yeah. And JoDee, that brings up another really great aspect of the games and why they’re so valuable, is because they offer everybody playing, no matter what role you’re in, even if you’re observing, an opportunity of self-awareness and reflection to think about, “oh, wow, there’s a timer on this activity and that really stresses me out, and I know I’m not performing my best,” or “I’m not hearing the level of detail I need in the instructions or in the conversation, so I don’t really know how to engage,” or “I’m not good at this type of thinking, so maybe there’s no role for me.” But those are all assumptions that really shortchange ourselves and just recognizing what are our needs? What helps us thrive? What holds us back? And how do you better lean on the people around you so that you can all be performing your best or close to your best all the time?

JoDee 18:27
Right. And Alex, I have used the, we’ve used the games for our team, but I’ve also used them several times when I was doing a training workshop or, or a session. And how do you think that games can complement other learning and development initiatives? And I’ll just say, for me, it was the getting people up out of their seats and interacting together, but what else might they do?

Alex 18:58
I think it’s really important for a lot of learning, especially when it’s interpersonal skills or leadership skills, that you actually practice them. I think that’s what’s missing from a lot of professional development. And I’ve sat through I don’t even know how many leadership trainings where you get a whole bunch of frameworks, and maybe you have a discussion about hypothetical situations, but then I would get back to my office the next day and say, “I don’t know how to use this. I understand that there’s this model, but I have this conversation coming up that I have every week and I still am dreading it. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” And I think games give a really nice opportunity to bring some experiential learning, to give some training wheels to changing our behavior a little bit or challenging our assumptions in real time, to get uncomfortable with the people that we’re working with the most. If you’re playing games with the team that you work with the most to try something new together and go through some of that uncertainty and discomfort together and build that muscle memory, build that trust in psychological safety, so then when you get back to the real world, you know how to do it, you have that practice. And when you think about how children learn anything, there’s so much experiential elements to it. And the idea of, you know, practice. Homework is practicing doing math, you practice an instrument, you have sports practice. But then when you’re an adult, you’re expected to watch a PowerPoint presentation and then become a different person, and that’s so not realistic.

JoDee 20:30
Yeah, great points. So.

Susan 20:33
Oh, my gosh, Alex, I love games, so I love what you’re doing, and I gotta figure out how we get more of it out into the world of work. What’s one small step that people can do in this area to create more joy at work?

Alex 20:45
Yeah, I love that question. I think one thing is, is to just build in some time to not focus on the substance of the work itself and to just be together as people. And it can be as simple as somebody has a joke, or an interesting story, or a very quick game, you know, there’s, there’s a couple of tools where, instead of going around and saying, “This is how I’m feeling right now,” or “This is what I did,” you can draw a little picture. And that just brings a little bit of a playful element. So just building time to be humans together outside of our roles, outside of our responsibilities, outside of the deliverables or deadlines that we have. I think that’s the smallest step. And part of why it’s so hard is because there’s vulnerability there. You don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what play is, is this emergent, this emergent experience. But the more you do it, the more you get comfortable with that uncertainty. And that’s helpful, not just in building relationships, but also in team performance and resilience.

JoDee 21:49
Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I feel like I learned a lot about this topic, so, and I’m gonna encourage everyone to play games at work.

Alex 22:00
Absolutely.

Susan 22:01
Thank you. And Alex, how can our listeners reach you if they want to continue this conversation or maybe engage you?

Alex 22:07
Yeah, I would say LinkedIn is probably the best place. So my name is Alexandra Suchman, and BarometerXP’s the company, and that’s where we post. We have, every month, we have an open game session that people can join if they want to play a game. We have information about our different programs. So I would say that’s the best entry point.

JoDee 22:27
Yeah.

Susan 22:27
Wonderful. Thank you.

JoDee 22:29
Thank you.

Susan 22:31
JoDee, we have a listener question today. And please, listeners, remember, we welcome questions anytime. Here it is. “How do we transition to workplaces that are willing to accept different forms of positions when our structure is very set on full-time positions? I know that we would benefit from job sharing, part-time options, consultants, bringing back retired members into different positions because they already know our culture and expectations, etc.”

JoDee 22:58
I love this question from our listener, because I can tell you, I think about this all the time. At Purple Ink, we do have full-time people, part-time people, contractors, occasionally temporary people. And it is great, I think, for attracting people or hiring or having people on our team who we wouldn’t be able to work with if we only had full-time roles. So I think it’s a huge benefit to the employees, consultants, contractors, whoever. And in some ways, it’s a huge benefit to Purple Ink as well. However, I think you do have to make a case to leadership if you want this to happen, that it can also be more costly. You know, if I have two part-time people versus one full-time person, I have to remind myself that means I’m paying two people to be in a all-employee meeting or training versus one. Your unemployment taxes can double because, at least in Indiana, you only pay on wages up to $7,000, so you would be double until both employees got up to that. But I do think it’s important to, to have some of these options. I just want you to think to your leadership about what other costs they are incurring as well. But also with our labor market shrinking, different structures allow for more flexibility, or for those on different schedules, you know, moms with kids in school maybe can’t get in first thing in the morning or stay till the end of the day, but they can be great team members in a shorter day period, for example. So I wish you luck in talking to this in your organization, and I do think it makes sense, but it doesn’t always make sense. You know, maybe you have a job, too, for example, where you don’t need a full-time person and so you just hire a part-time person, and that can be significant cost savings.

Susan 25:35
Absolutely, I think it’s a competitive advantage the more flexibility that you have, and I think it helps your business resiliency if you’ve got retirees that you could pull back in, that you keep on call, that maybe you use periodically. If you do really look at every job and figure out, do we need to do it, or should we have a consultant doing it? I mean, the more agility that you have, I think the competitive, more competitive you can be for whatever comes your business’s way. So good luck.

JoDee 25:59
Now for in the news. In a survey by Fortune Magazine and CVS, they found that workers who are the happiest in their roles took an average of 15 days of paid time off in 2023. And that was per a survey they did of over 800 employees. It didn’t matter whether the 15 days were lumped together or spread out across the year. But American workers most commonly use PTO in December, which makes sense. For those with the allotted PTO, 38% of US workers did not use all of their time off. People can’t seem to agree on whether or not unlimited PTO incentivizes workers to take vacation, but the survey did find that 43% of workers believe unlimited vacation policies are a scam. I have to admit on that, I wouldn’t call it a scam, but I do always, when people say they have unlimited PTO, my first question is, “And how much do you use of it?”

Susan 26:03
My son and his wife have had unlimited PTO at a number of the startups they’ve worked at, and at first, it’s dazzling, because you think, wow, I could take off months if I needed to. The fact is, if you talk to either one of them, they take very little time off. The fact is, everybody watches and sees. Knowing that you can do it doesn’t mean you will do it. So I kind of get why 43% of workers think it’s a scam. People aren’t – when you tell them you can take all the time you want, they’re not going to do it.

JoDee 27:48
Right. I think people want structure.

Susan 27:52
Yes, they want to be fair. Yeah, they want it to be fair. Yeah. Interesting.

JoDee 27:57
Thanks for joining us today. We hope you tune in next time and make it a JoyPowered® day.

Susan 28:05
Thank you. If you would like SHRM recertification credit for listening to this podcast, please visit getjoypowered.com/shrm. You’ll find an evaluation of the podcast and once you complete the evaluation, you will see the SHRM recertification credit code and a link to a proof of participation certificate. Again, that’s getjoypowered.com/shrm. Thank you for listening, and thanks for your dedication to the HR profession.

JoDee 28:34
If you liked the show, please tell a few friends about us, and let us know what you thought by leaving us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. You can find more information on our podcast, our books, our blogs, and more at getjoypowered.com. We’re @JoyPowered on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook and you can send us an email at joypowered@gmail.com. Make it a JoyPowered® day.

Emily Miller
Emily Miller
Emily works behind the scenes at JoyPowered, helping to edit and publish the books, producing the podcast, and running the website and social media.

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