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Morale-boosting Events That Won't Blow Your Budget

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, December 14, 2009

Earlier this year in a park in New Jersey, 350 people picnicked, splashed in a pool, swung on the swings, played horseshoes, and watched a clown blow up balloon animals and paint children's faces. In addition to sharing a fun-filled day, the attendees had another thing in common—they were all Meridian Health employees and their families.

"An employee picnic allows us to let staff know that we value them and their families," says Maureen Sullivan, director of operations at Meridian Health in Neptune, NJ. "The picnic is a token of our appreciation and staff love it. Since we have multiple locations, it was also a way to bring people together in one venue so they would have the opportunity to get to know each other better."

Although many healthcare organizations may be tempted to scale back or eliminate employee events during the shaky economic climate, many experts believe cutting morale-boosting occasions will be detrimental both in the long- and short-term. But that's not to say you shouldn't manage staff expectations when you have no option but to spend less on an annual event than you did the year before.

The Family Business Institute, Inc., a company that provides interpersonal, operational, and financial solutions to small businesses, suggests leaders follow the following steps to improve morale during tough times:

  • Communicate: Talk to staff regarding the economic downturn and how it is affecting the organization. Don't let gossip take over.
  • Show perspective: Point out how successful the organization has been in the past and it will be in the future.
  • Identify savings: Have your staff participate in saving the organization money by meeting as a team to identify ways to cut unwanted cost.
  • Be positive: Negativity spreads, so be upbeat and positive among staff.

Planning the event
Once expectations have been set, it's time to plan a cost-effective employee event to remember. In addition to an employee picnic, other events include:

  • Ice cream socials
  • Pot-luck lunches or dinners
  • Employee-recognition ceremonies
  • Family game nights
  • Amusement park outings

Of course, the options are endless.

"If money is an issue, I would suggest holding a picnic in an area where there are available benches and tables and ask people to bring their own food and maybe you would supply the beverages," says Sullivan. "Other things we've done include having an ice cream truck park outside the office at lunch time. We buy each team member an ice cream. It's fun, people appreciate it, and you can do it at lunch and not interfere with work time."

Encouraging attendance
In the past, many more people have signed up to attend Meridian's family picnic than have actually showed up, so Sullivan devised a plan this year to preempt no shows.

"We implemented a $10 fee per family, and if you show, we return the money," she says. "If you don't show, the money is put into a pool. At the end of the picnic day, we raffle it off to the staff that are at the picnic."

For organizers at Mabee Eye Clinic in Mitchell, SD, some would-be attendees for their employee-only event fretted over childcare cost.

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