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Fun environments make happy environments, but how do you enforce boundaries?

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

Ever since company culture became a key concern for business leaders, offices across the globe have been given futuristic face-lifts to keep staff engaged.

From Google’s ‘nap pods’ to Flickr’s in-house DJ, the lines between work and play are growing ever-more blurred, making way for a new era in workplace design.

Today, beanbags, ping-pong tables and avant-garde furniture can be found in the offices of even the most corporate companies who swear by Mary Poppins' theory that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

However, while on-site cafes and workplace massages may boost morale, a lack of boundaries can quickly cause a quirky office to become a hip-hangout where actions have no consequences. If the fine line between fun and productivity has become barely visible, it’s time to enforce your ground rules. It starts with 3 simple steps:

Establish certain boundaries

As a leader, you are in charge of creating a vision, building a culture, determining goals and defining what kind of behaviour is expected of your employees. Without boundaries, your staff have no clear indication as to what is, and isn’t, acceptable. Left to make assumptions about the company culture, employees are quick to make up the rules as they go: an hour for lunch? More like an hour break, then an extra half-hour of eating at their desk. Leaving early on a Friday? Well, why not Wednesday and Thursday, or why not just turn up for core hours?

It’s nice to imagine a workplace in which employees simply “get on with it” without the need for enforcement, but this dream scenario is only possible when clear boundaries have been set.

Assert the rules

Now you’ve established the boundaries, it’s time to make them known. Rather than basing your company policies on the ‘fun’ aspects of the culture, try to keep your rules fairly rigid and your expectations clear. When a new member of staff joins the team, they will be primed for productivity in order to meet their key performance indicators. From here, you can build a culture of rewards and recognition; one that inspires employees to do better, without demanding strict professionalism at every second of the day.  

Back it up

Boundaries allow a workplace to function adequately, even with limited supervision. However, in order to achieve this, you must show to employees that their actions have consequences. If a member of staff is taking advantage of the relaxed company culture, to take three coffee breaks a day and chat to friends on social media, for example, be sure to pull them up on it straight away and don’t hesitate to take appropriate action.

Further to this, a company-wide catch up to remind employees of your expectations with some anonymous examples of bad behaviour can help to reinforce certain boundaries.

Achieve the right balance

When it comes to working environments, leaders shouldn’t have to choose between fun and clinical - in fact, achieving a healthy balance is possible when staff have respect for their leaders and the vision they create. Cultivating a company culture that empowers employees to do their best relies on great leadership; it demands strength and self-belief from the top, before it can trickle down to the wider workforce.

Only then, once mutual trust is established and incentives are clear, will the working environment be both positive and productive.

Fun doesn’t have to be woven into your organisational fabric for it to happen at work - instead, it will grow organically from the success of the business. Give your employees the freedom to succeed within the boundaries you set and you’ll boost engagement without buying it.

For 20 years, the Allen Associates team has been helping employers in Oxfordshire secure the talent they really need. Can we help you? Click here for more information.    

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