How Play Improves Business Culture with Kristi Herold
March 14, 2023
Time flies when you’re having fun. You know the saying, but have you ever thought about how it applies to the workplace? In our podcast, author and entrepreneur Kristi Herold shares how incorporating little bits of playfulness and fun throughout the workday can boost productivity, enhance creativity, improve employee retention and grow your business’ bottom line.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:00:04] This is The 19, a 19 minute-or-less podcast that brings you marketing insights aimed at improving lives. Presented by Orange Label – the leading response marketing agency for wellness brands that grow in their customers do.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:00:23] Hello and welcome to The 19. I’m Rochelle Reiter, President of Orange Label. It’s 2023 and individuals are putting wellness at the top of their priority list. The Ogilvy Wellness Gap study finds that 77% of people cite wellness as being very important to them, and 75% felt brands could do more for their wellness. This lack of a wellness strategy is noticed by consumers and felt by teams in the workplace. Author and CEO Kristi Herold highlights the connection between wellness in the workplace and company success in her book, “It Pays to Play: How Play Improves Business Culture.” These benefits include customer satisfaction and employee retention, productivity, innovation and more. As founder and CEO of JAM, a multi-million dollar organization that connects people through play, Kristi knows about the positive effects of focusing on workplace wellness and creating a playful culture, and she’s here to share them with us today. Kristi, welcome to The 19. We’re so excited to have you here today! So let’s jump in!
Kristi Herold: [00:01:24] All right. Let’s do it.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:01:29] Why don’t you start out by telling our listeners a little bit about your background and how you developed a passion for play.
Kristi Herold: [00:01:36] Great question. I grew up in a small town about four hours north of Toronto, had two older brothers, so I spent a lot of my time chasing them around, trying to keep up with them and all their friends and entrepreneurial family and always loved playing sports and always, frankly, I’ve always loved to play a lot of different things. I’ve always loved to play board games. I’ve always loved to play sports and I always love to play on stage. I used to do musical theater as a kid, so play has just been a big part of my life. I would at any time I have the opportunity to play, you know, a card game or a board game or I took up playing the guitar about ten years ago, you know, quite late in life. But I’m all about finding ways to play all the time. It’s just been definitely a passion of mine.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:02:16] That’s fantastic. So you wrote a book, and in your book you describe the endless benefits of play at work. Can you share some of those with our listeners today?
Kristi Herold: [00:02:25] Yeah, so when we play at work, which is something that a lot of companies overlook, you know, most, many, many organizations think work is work, play is play, and never the two shall meet. But when we play at work, we are strengthening bonds and connections and friendships amongst our teammates. So when our team forms friendships amongst themselves, they are more able to trust each other. They’re more able to be vulnerable, they’re more able to ask for help if they need help or offer help to someone who they think might use it, could use a helping hand. They’re more able to laugh with each other. They’re more able to share stresses with each other, and they’re more able to be creative with each other when they have this trust, which comes from friendships. And when we have friends at work, we are more loyal to that workplace. Retention improves, which is a win for everybody on the team. And when we have friends at work, we’re more engaged, we’re more creative, we’re more productive, we’re happier getting there every day. And so our our customers are happier because we’re happier. That’s a natural – we’ve all experienced those customer service calls where you can tell someone’s just not happy in their job. And we’ve all experienced those calls when you can tell someone really loves what they do. And so when we have friends at work, it just makes it that much easier.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:03:44] Yeah. You talked about creativity and us being a marketing agency, creativity is at our core. Can you talk a little bit more or dig deeper into play at work and encouraging creativity?
Kristi Herold: [00:03:58] Yeah, for sure. So when we trust people, we’re more willing to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, right? Like you’re more willing to cry in front of someone you trust or laugh in front of someone you trust because you’re not afraid of judgment. That’s a beautiful thing for creativity. When you trust the people around you, you’ve got friends in the workplace. You’re going to throw out those blue sky ideas and not worry about someone judging you and saying, “Well, that’s stupid” or, you know, like if that’s the culture where you don’t trust the people around you, you’re going to keep your lips closed. You’re not going to be open with throwing ideas out. And often those wild card ideas can be the next big thing for a company or, you know, perhaps create savings or efficiencies at your organization. And if we’re not trusting of our teammates, those creative juices just don’t flow as freely.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:04:42] Such a good point. I love that. Switching over to a brand’s reputation, what role do you believe play has in a brand reputation, and is there maybe a good example of that that you can reference?
Kristi Herold: [00:04:54] Oh, this one’s a tricky one. I guess maybe a great example would be Southwest Airlines. When you’re sitting in the seat on the airplane and you hear the flight attendant coming on the microphone and they’re willing to have a few laughs with how they communicate versus the same old boring, you know, I’m not going to throw any other airline under the bus here. But, um, but, you know, we’ve all heard the spiel and somehow those Southwest attendants really know how to make it funny, even though it’s the same thing we’ve heard, you know, every other flight we’ve ever taken, they can have fun with their communications. They’re playful with how they’re communicating. And it makes us think generally makes people feel warmer and happier towards that brand when people don’t take themselves too, too seriously, right? And and by the way, even if you’re a really serious organization, which p.s. flying is a really serious business, right? Like we all want to make it to the other end. So, even though it’s a very serious business, but they can still be a bit playful with how they operate and that’s okay. And it really has customers feel good about that.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:05:56] So, what are some examples of play that companies can incorporate into their culture? So we are all in different environments now. Some are hybrid, some are completely remote. What are some of those examples that you can bring to our listeners?
Kristi Herold: [00:06:10] This I love this question. So, okay, gosh, I could talk for days about this. I should write a book. Oh, wait, I did. Um, so play I believe many companies will have their once a year fun corporate event and it’s like, woo hoo, look at us aren’t we fun? Yes, having that once a year event is really important and you should totally do that. But if that’s all you do, that does not make for a fun corporate culture. Play needs to have a regular pulse. And and so think of school. When we went to school as children, we had a little bit of play infused throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month, throughout the year. We had our recess break every morning and every afternoon we had a longer lunch break where we could play. We had play after school every day. We played on weekends and we would have March breaks and holiday breaks. So in December where we could have more time to play. And then we had our longer summer break. And so I think of it, I think of the workplace kind of similarly that play should there should be little bits of playfulness that happen every day, slightly larger, playful things like maybe a monthly social event that can be done, by the way, virtually hybrid or in person. I think, you know, virtual virtually, we can have in-person escape rooms or sorry, virtual escape rooms. You can also do in-person escape rooms with your team. You can go bowling in-person. You can have virtual scavenger hunts and virtual game show events. You could have virtual cooking classes and virtual yoga classes as well as in-person. So on when I, say on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, and then on an annual basis, you have your big you know, you have your big field day and it’s a full-day affair or it’s a two-day event where you’ve got some important meetings plus a lot of playfulness happening. Um, but on a daily basis, there are lots of little things we can be doing. For example, um, we have at JAM, we have a seven-minute daily huddle and every day at 1:00 because we have people in Paris, I have people in Vancouver, I have people in Michigan. You know, people are all over the globe on my team. So at one o’clock, everyone jumps on a virtual call and it’s a different leader every day. And everyone in the organization takes turn leading right from the C-suite right to the most junior of interns. Everyone is part of the calendar for for leading huddle. It’s the exact same agenda every day. However, it always starts with good news and the leader has to share some of their own good news. And it always wraps up with leader’s choice. So at the end of huddle, it’s something a little different every single day and it’s always something playful and it’s, you know, it might be post a funny picture in our banter channel, um, of your first sports team you ever played for or it might be, hey, I just want to encourage everyone to reach out to a family member you haven’t talked to in six months and make a phone call today. The leader’s choice is different every single day and but it almost always gets some laughs going amongst our team. It’s just a little tiny piece of playfulness that happens every day. We have our core value awards that we do once a month, and that’s a monthly bit of playfulness where we celebrate great work being done in a fun, playful presentation weekly we can be having. I would encourage companies to have sports teams where they sign up for, you know, a kickball league or a soccer team or a volleyball league in the city. Wherever your organization is, get your employees connecting through, play outside of the office, have a musical rehearsal, have a band at the company that that meets every two weeks for a musical rehearsal, and they jam together and play music together. There are so many ways to integrate, play and it has to happen consciously. It doesn’t need to be super expensive. It’s actually not expensive at all, but it has to be conscious and consistent in order to really make a positive impact, I believe. So does that sort of help give you some some ideas?
Rochelle Reiter: [00:10:20] Yeah, well, I love the the seven-minute huddle. It’s seven minutes a day and it gives everyone a chance to lead and show their personality and really make a deeper connection with the other team members. That’s fantastic.
Kristi Herold: [00:10:34] You know, another one that we do that’s super, super easy and costs nothing. Any organization could start doing it right now, whether you’re on Slack or MS Teams, whatever your internal office chat is, set up a banter channel and set up a shout out channel and the shout out channel we have, you know, multiple times a day someone is just shouting out someone else for great work being done. I saw something the other day that was like a shout out to Eric for this great new tool that he created to help our part time team and was like, “Oh, I had no idea Eric was doing that. What a great idea!” And so I was able to nudge Eric and say, “Hey, good for you.” You know, like, that’s awesome. And it’s playful and easy and it’s celebratory and it’s just so positive and it’s other people shining a light on each other. And then the banter channel is where, you know, there’s just it’s fun banter when you’re not all working in the same office every day. It doesn’t mean you can’t have laughs together. Like share an article or share a funny joke in the banter channel or a funny picture. It’s not work related at all. It’s just a few laughs here and there and. And the banter channel is hilarious. When you need a break from your work, you can. It’s like taking a little recess break to go and read through what people are posting in there.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:11:46] That’s great. That’s great. So your book, you also talk about retention. Can you give examples of how company culture can increase employee retention?
Kristi Herold: [00:11:56] Yeah, when retention is low, you got a lot of turnover that is very expensive for any organization in terms of time, money and the overall vibe and energy of your culture. Because when you lose an employee, it’s going to cost 50% to 75% of their salary to replace them. So someone who’s making $80,000, it’s going to cost your organization 40 to 60 grand just to replace that one person. Plus, there’s a lot of time that gets wasted in trying to recruit, interview, hire, train. And in the meantime, other people have had to share the load of that person who left. So then that means your other coworkers are stressed and having to work more and people kind of are questioning, hey, why did why did Mike leave? I wonder what’s what is he see that I’m not seeing? Like it makes people question what’s going on here that maybe I should be looking to leave. So when you have a strong culture, people are less apt to leave, they’re more loyal. And as an example, we had two teammates during the pandemic who both left for they felt were going to be new, exciting career opportunities and more money. And within six to eight months, both of them came back to our team. And when I spoke to each of them separately, it was all about culture. We couldn’t actually compete with the money they were making. They didn’t come back for money. They came back because they felt cared about. They felt that they had friends at the office. They liked to laugh at work. And they explained that the other place that they had both moved to, they both moved to different places, but one said their culture was toxic or non-existent. No one cared about each other. There were no friends at work And my other teammate mentioned, she said, basically I could feel my mental health declining with every passing day. When I saw the job posting at JAM, I couldn’t wait to apply and come back. It’s just super powerful. When you have a strong culture, you’re going to keep people around longer and win them back if they do move, you know, somewhere else, so.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:13:44] Right! That’s a great testament to what the culture that you’ve created.
Kristi Herold: [00:13:48] Absolutely, yeah.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:13:49] Can you think of companies that have a stellar company culture and if so, does it help their bottom line in your opinion?
Kristi Herold: [00:13:57] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I write about a lot of different organizations in my book. I interviewed a number of different companies, a couple that I’ve always, you know, aspired and just admire so much. One is 1-800-GOT-JUNK. The bigger companies, O2E Brands. Brian Scudamore is the founder and CEO. And you can just tell with how they communicate on social media. And I’ve known my brother actually worked there for a long time and I know people who work there and I just know it’s a really creative, playful, fun culture. In fact, the huddle idea came from them that was not original to me. We, we are indeed that ripped off and duplicated that idea. And and I love it. And, you know, I got to give credit where credit is due, but they’re just super creative and and they have had incredible success over the years, like they’ve grown immensely. And you don’t you don’t do that without having a strong culture. I don’t believe another one that’s really taken off. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of Savannah Bananas? Have you heard of that, the baseball team?
Rochelle Reiter: [00:14:55] No.
Kristi Herold: [00:14:55] Well, Jesse Cole, Jesse Cole is a good friend and he’s the owner of the Savannah Bananas. They play baseball, but basically he’s taking this baseball team and the game of baseball to a whole new level. He’s all about fans first entertainment. And so they don’t call them games, they call them performances. And every performance he has his staff try different new things. They’re constantly innovating. They’re constantly trying creative new things. And some things completely flop and some things are huge hit and they keep doing them. So as an example, they would have the Banana Nanas are these grandmothers, that’s their cheerleading squad and they have the dad…
Rochelle Reiter: [00:15:30] Oh, that’s great!
Kristi Herold: [00:15:31] The Dad-Bod Squad or something and they, they have baby races. Like I went to a game. I was fortunate enough to go to a game in July and they had baby races like literally these moms and dads brought their babies and diapers down onto the playing field during a break between innings. And these babies were lined up and meant to race each other, crawling. And not one of the three babies moved and everyone just laughed like it just was hilarious, ridiculous. They just the players, the baseball players are always dancing and having fun. They wear kilts. They they just do everything with a lot of creativity, a lot of fun, a lot of playfulness. And the success, you cannot get a ticket for their games. They have a waiting list of like 100,000 people or something now, like it’s just taken off. You look them up, you’d be blown away. They just their success over the last few years has been astronomical and exciting. And I’m so happy for Jesse because he just is all about fans first and team first. He wants everyone to have fun and he’s built a super successful company with that mindset.
Rochelle Reiter:[00:16:30] That’s a that’s a great example. I’ll have to look them up. So wellness has been a big topic, especially after the pandemic and looking in 2023. What’s one piece of advice you’d give our listeners about wellness as it relates to play in the workplace?
Kristi Herold: [00:16:46] Yeah, this is a great question. It’s definitely hopefully it’s not a buzzword, right? We’re hearing a lot about wellness in the workplace and it’s important and it needs to continue to be a topic in every organization. My concern is that a lot of organizations wellness is very singularly focused, individual focused. So let’s give our employees credits to join a health club so they can go work out by themselves. Let’s give them benefits so they can talk to a therapist if they need or they can join a yoga club. It’s all focused around the individual. What I would like to encourage is that a big part of wellness comes from social connections. When you think of the blue zones, the five blue zones around the world where people live the longest social connection is one of the biggest elements that all the blue zones share. So when we connect and play together, that adds to our wellness. So I would encourage companies to think about health and wellness. Also from a social perspective, how can you provide opportunities daily, weekly, monthly for your team to connect and laugh together as humans so they feel cared about and friendships develop? Maybe it’s putting in a company sports team, maybe it’s having a band, maybe it’s having, you know, a ping pong tournament once a week. There are so many ways. I mean, my book lists loads of different tactical ways to get play happening at work and that if you think of it as a social connection piece, I think that’s the advice I’d love to give, is that we think of the health and wellness from the social connection side, make it a group effort because the individual is important, but the social benefit piece of connecting playfully is massive and will help the organization and your employees.
Rochelle Reiter:[00:18:22] I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much for all of your insights today. We’re encouraging people to buy your book, so it’s a great read. And again, thank you for sharing and being on The 19 today.
Kristi Herold: [00:18:34] Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
Rochelle Reiter:[00:18:43] Thank you for listening to The 19 with author and CEO of JAM, Kristi Herold. To learn more about Kristi, her book and her business, visit kristiherold.com. To learn more about Orange Label’s, strategy, data analytics, media, social content and design services, visit orangelabelmarketing.com.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:19:01] A special thank you goes out to our contributors, Senior Studio Manager Kelsey Phillips, Micah Panzich, who edits our show, and Senior Content Writer Ashley Ruiz. Be sure to subscribe to The 19 on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify and leave us a review!
Get more PLAY in your life. As a listener of The 19 Marketing Podcast by Orange Label, Kristi Herold is offering two bonuses: a free PLAYbook PDF of 19 ideas to incorporate play into the workplace and 25% off a JAM event. To redeem, visit kristiherold.com/well25