12 Aug Happiness is…good for business
by Persephone Nicholas for the Weekend Australian
What do you do when you see a spaceman? Park your car in it, man!
Simon Rountree sees value in humour. Chief executive of Camp Quality, a not-for-profit organisation using fun therapy to bring optimism and happiness to the lives of children and families affected by cancer, Rountree says there is room for a lot more fun at work.
He believes employers who embed fun and laughter in their corporate culture can create commercial advantage and more. Camp Quality has seen many changes since Rountree took the reins nine years ago. “When we started on this journey, we generated about $3 million per year, we now generate close to $14m a year. Our staff was about 30, now we have 80 staff. We had roughly 1500 children involved in our program, we now have over 5000.” He says the changes have come with an attitudinal shift. “When I came, we were a dark and depressing organisation focusing heavily on death. Kids, families and volunteers would say: It’s too depressing, I don’t think I’ll come again.’ Ultimately kids just want to be kids. A large part of children’s lives [are] about having fun so if we’re supporting children, we should be fun too.” He says cultural transformation was a strategic choice. “Back then it was about creating a point of difference in the marketplace. Most charities promoted themselves from a negative point of view. We promoted ourselves in a way that was: Children get cancer and they die, so give us your money.’ The organisation today is the opposite; we celebrate life, are optimistic and get through difficult times.” Rountree says creating an optimistic culture isn’t hard. “We train our staff to think from a positive … point of view.
Even if they’re not born optimistic, with the training and tools we provide to reinforce good behaviours and good thinking, it doesn’t take long for people to shift into what we call a learned optimistic’ point of view.” Laughter is key to creating a positive workplace culture. “We conduct laughter classes for our staff. We have a fun therapy champion in each of our 13 offices around Australia. They ring a bell and everyone downs tools and comes to join in a fun activity, like a game of marbles, for five or 10 minutes. When you laugh and feel good, it increases red blood cells inyourbody, and that’s good for your immune system, it increases your endorphins and stimulates your body. Staff go back energised and productive,” he says.
The feel-good factor is contagious. “We’ve created a happy, stimulating work environment; people want to come to work. They have a damn good chuckle and no one thinks: Are you wasting time because you’re having a laugh with other people around the water cooler?’ We want people to laugh and feel that’s good behaviour. Our sick leave has been dramatically reduced and our staff turnover is about 12 per cent compared to the industry standard of about 22 per cent.” A cheerful atmosphere brings out the best in employees. “As a not-for-profit, we run on the smell of an oily rag. Staff constantly work over and above the call of duty because they’re passionate about the organisation and when stressed, they’re given tools to release stress.” Upbeat communication extends the message. “Whether I’m meeting the CEO of a large company or having an internal meeting with my staff, rapport is really important. I always start meetings with ajoke or optimistic message.” Written communication need not be too formal, he says. “We create fun in everything we do, from answering the phone through to business cards and annual reports. Our annual reports are highly interactive and have games and jokes inside. We get feedback saying, That was the first annual report I’ve read from cover to cover because it was engaging and fun.'” Committing to an optimistic culture does not mean failing to acknowledge the darker side of life. “We deal with childhood cancer; it’s not smelling roses all the time. When there is bad and sad news, if a child has passed away, it’s about recognising and being appropriate for that circumstance, but understanding you can deal with it. You will not always be feeling sad or mad, you can put it in perspective and know there will be brighter days ahead.”
Psychologist and executive coach Tim Sharp (aka Dr Happy), founder of The Happiness Institute, is an expert in the application of positive psychology principles within organisations and teams. He says attitude makes a big difference. “Happy employees are better employees. They’re healthier, more productive, work better in teams and they interact more positively with customers and clients.” Sharp uses positive psychologybased executive coaching to help organisations get the most from people. “Positive psychology is largely about creating organisations in which every individual has an opportunity to thrive and flourish. Research shows relatively simple things like paying people money, providing tangible rewards are important but they’re not everything and there’s a limit to the return on investment you get. There are other factors that are far more important when it comes to committing to staying with an organisation.” Positive psychology operates at a deeper level. “The best organisations foster positive relationships and build teams where people are encouraged to collaborate. This is one of the biggest factors that contribute towards engagement and satisfaction. People who have friends in the workplace are much more likely to be committed and productive.” Rountree needs no convincing. At Camp Quality HQ in Sydney, the brightly coloured walls are decorated with photographs of staff laughing.
Rountree says creating a vibrant environment is part of the path to positivity. “Our philosophy is that if it doesn’t make someone smile and feel better, then we shouldn’t be doing it.
“That’s not unprofessional. It’s about enjoying your job, being grateful for the day and appreciating the things you have.”