BizNOW interview with Scott: “All work and No play – Are your employees getting burned out?”


Biz caught up with international speaker and author Scott Friedman when he spoke at a recent Sales & Marketing Executives meeting sponsored by Avera. Scott has written 7 books on business and shows companies how to use humor and celebration as strategic tools to engage and reward their employees. It’s good business: 70% of US workers feel disengaged today, research shows. All work and no play makes not only for a dull workforce but for a less productive one. Keep your employees engaged with these tips.

Your background?  I’m a motivational humorist. I was a sales professional and was told by the founder of the National Speakers Association, Cavett Robert at a sales meeting that I had a “unique style” and should be a professional speaker. At the time I didn’t realize he said that to everyone, anyway, next thing I knew, I had become a professional speaker!  I’ve been speaking professionally for 31 years.

Is public speaking your passion?  My life has changed in the last few years. My passion now is giving back: my foundation is Together, We Can Change the World. It’s a non-profit helping kids and women in Southeast Asia to live a more fulfilling life. We work with poor, abandoned, neglected and even trafficked children and women by providing funds for safe drinking water, education and job skills to enable them to lead more independent, self-sustaining lives.

It started because while I was in Asia, I saw the killing fields of Cambodia from the Philpot regime – which was basically genocide in the 20th century – and I wanted to do something about it. It picked me, I didn’t pick it. It crossed my path, I think life is about fate, there are no coincidences, no chance encounters, you are where you’re supposed to be. So I’m trying to be more present in my surroundings in every moment. And what may be the reason for the encounter is not always on the surface.

But I still love speaking in front of a group, and I love teaching business people how to live a more authentic, joyful life.

Why is it so important to create a fun workplace?  It creates engagement, which leads to higher productivity, better team performance and eventually greater customer satisfaction because happy employees create happy customers. Engaged employees are loyal employees that stay around longer.

How do you encourage participation?  Ask yourself, “How do you honor your people, how do you make them feel good about their part on the team?” It starts with getting “buy in” to the vision of the organization, and helping employees see how their role contributes to the overall mission.

34% of US workers report losing 1 hour a day in productivity due to stress. Stress impacts not only job performance, but physical and mental health too. –

You want them to know you truly care about them. Celebration won’t work if there’s no trust, and if the boss doesn’t care.  Research indicates that 70% of businesses want to create a caring culture. The others probably won’t be in business in 5 years. A recent study showed that engaged employees produce happier customers, longer retention, more growth and higher profit.  Celebrating employees is absolutely good for the bottom line!

What are some specific ideas to create a fun workplace?

  1. Wine, Wow, Whine Friday – Consider starting with your favorite beverage on a Friday afternoon. It may contain alcohol if approved by management (that’s the Wine). Share a toast to something that went well during the week that you are proud of (that’s the Wow). Then share something that didn’t go so well and what you learned from it (that’s the Whine). It’s a great way to celebrate what worked and learn from what didn’t.
  2.  National Day Calendar– Not sure what to celebrate on any given day? Check out Every day, you are guaranteed at least one to five different occasions to celebrate. For example: September 19 is National Butterscotch Pudding Day as well as National Talk Like a Pirate Day! Think of creative ways to honor different holidays in the office. You can bring in quirky props and food appropriate for the holiday! The options are endless and are sure to create some fun energy around the office.
  3. Post A Happy – Invite employees to bring in photos of their families, pets, hobbies. Post these on a board. It is a great way to get to know co-workers. To make it even more fun, you could provide employees with T-shirts with pictures of what makes them happy on them. Mix things up and let employees dress casual on a particular day they wear their ‘happy’ T-shirt.
  4. Master of the Week – Encourage the staff to share their expertise on a topic unrelated to work. Once a week, have an employee host a table at lunch where you can learn from the master.
  5. Smile! You’re on Candid Camera – Leave disposable cameras around the office with the assignment to capture smiles. Post the photos in a large collage in the break room or drop them on an employee’s desk with a fun note. You can do the same with digital cameras or your cell phone and show the photos at the next company meeting or print them out.
  6. Color My World Day – Pick a color, any color. On a designated day, everyone in the workplace is encouraged to wear that color. It’s simple. It’s fun. It creates a team synergy without a lot of work.
  7. The Cleverest Workplace Ritual – How about having a contest for the person with the cleverest workplace ritual? From a secret handshake in the hallway to a pre-meeting cheer, there are endless ways to cleverly connect, honor, and play with your team.

Customize these ideas as appropriate for your workplace.  There are more fun workplace ideas at

Tips to make the job experience better for employees?  Past President and Publisher of the Denver Business Journal Scott Beamus advises that before you hire someone, you ask them, ‘How can this job be your perfect job?  What is your definition of meaningful work?  How can I give you more of what you’re passionate about?  What’s their intrinsic motivator?’  When they co-create their job, they’ll perform better. So you create buy-in.

When does celebration interfere with getting work done, where do you draw the line?  Some bosses don’t buy into celebration; they think, we pay people, why should we do more?    But celebration is more of a mindset than anything else.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  For example, approach projects as having a ‘finish line’ instead of a ‘deadline.’  A deadline is pressure, a finish line is a goal to be celebrated. Maybe once a week or month, you incorporate a celebration activity into a meeting.  Constantly look for ways to honor your people. That’s where it starts.

What kind of humor is good to use in the workplace?  Stay away from humor where someone gets hurt. Self-effacing humor is the best.  Bring the humor back on yourself.

Why are people so afraid to lighten up?  They don’t want to appear foolish.  It’s risky.  When people give themselves permission to play, they have a good time.  I invite audiences to partake in a dance activity when I do presentations because I want to remind them to step out of their comfort zone.  And when you step outside your comfort zone, it can help you– to think up new business ideas, innovative solutions, answers to problems.

What’s the drawback of a workplace that is too serious?  Studies show it will lead to disengagement which will drive down productivity.”

Interview by Charlotte Hofer

Written by:

Scott Friedman

Scott Friedman, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) and former President of the National Speakers Association (NSA), is an internationally sought after professional speaker and author. As a motivational humorist, Scott inspires and entertains with engaging, interactive, and content-rich programs. Scott’s main areas of expertise are employee innovation & engagement, customer experience, and creating a happier, more connected workplace and life.

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