In happened once a quarter but nobody knew when it would be, and that was part of the fun.
Employees found out when they arrived in the parking lot and saw a gigantic, yellow smiley-face balloon atop the building.
Inside, they would notice that all of the artwork on the walls had been replaced by framed, 1970s-era photos of people smiling – often with outlandishly goofy grins. They couldn’t help but smile as they walked past each one.
In the cafeteria that day, workers would hand out yellow smiley-face cookies to each employee.
And everyone received a company-branded gift at their desk; you could tell how long someone had worked there based on the number of gifts they had lined up on their cubicle shelves.
This was Smile Day at MBI, Inc., my first employer. MBI, based in Norwalk, CT., owns several collectible brands, including The Danbury Mint, Easton Press, and PCS Stamps & Coins. And although my last Smile Day was more than 20 years ago, the company taught me a valuable lesson in managing people and keeping employees engaged.
Improve Employee Experience
Today we would refer to this as being part of the employee experience, a term I don’t remember existing back then. Happy employees equal happy customers, as the saying goes. A good employee experience leads to a good customer experience, and vice versa.
Smile Day, as silly as it sounds, definitely created happy employees. Any outside observer would see that MBI’s employees wore more smiles on Smile Day. And each element of the day served a purpose:
- The framed photos were a not-so-subtle reminder to smile, but also changed up the physical work environment, at least for the day.
- The employee gifts were signs of bilateral loyalty – the employee to the company and the company to the employee.
- Everyone loves free cookies!
In the later years of my career, I noticed how other seemingly little things had an outsized impact on employee satisfaction. Jeans Days, summer Fridays, walking status meetings, a communal candy dish, happy hours, potluck lunches, even a team meeting outside – they’re not life-changing, but they make the work day just a little bit better.
The Starburst Challenge
I used to play a fun game with each of my teams called the Starburst Challenge. I gave each employee a pack of Original Starburst and Tropical Starburst, and asked them to try at least one of each flavor (eight in total). Then I asked them to rank their “flavor order” on a spreadsheet.
In all the years playing this game, I don’t remember a single time when two people had all eight flavors in the exact same order. What I do remember is how much conversation it generated – both with people who shared similar tastes and among those who differed in their flavor profiles.
One year, after learning that strawberry is my least-favorite Original flavor (and it’s most people’s first- or second-favorite), my team pranked me on April Fools’ Day by inundating my office with the chewy pink squares. I loved it, even though I was digging pink Starburst out of my pencil holder months later.
Technology startups are known for going even further with employee perks, like free snacks and beverages, ping pong tables, and onsite services like banking and dry cleaning. But most companies don’t need to go that far; in fact, it’s the simple things that often leave the biggest impression.
Simplicity is also a core tenet of customer experience, so it’s no surprise that it translates to employee experience as well. This also applies to things like system logins, productivity software, required training, expense reporting, policies and procedures, and more. The simpler it is, the more likely employees will adopt it.
So whether your team is starting to come back to work in person, or you’re sticking it out in the virtual world, remember that seemingly small experiences like Smile Day can make a big difference in your employees’ lives – and in their dedication to the job.
Images from Pixabay.
Watch: The Impact of Employee Experience on Customer Experience