3 tips to lean into levity

Need to rev up team spirit—especially with the holiday season coming up? Here’s how to foster a positive culture across your organization with fun, even funny, content experiences.

It’s not enough to plan, preach and promote a great corporate culture. Today’s dispersed workforce requires that you live it—and embed it across the organization.

One way to cascade a more positive culture is to create engaging, fun and even funny content experiences for employees. Here are some quick tips to pull it off with authenticity and class:

1. Transform humdrum into fun with families.

“Levity is a huge part of our organization, which isn’t what you’d expect from a financial institution,” says Dana DeSarno, manager of employee communications at Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) in a recent Ragan Training video.

“We include it in most of our employee engagement activities,” she says. “For example, dress-up days, trivia weeks and contests help rally teams and turn everyday meetings into something our 20,000 employees really look forward to.”

However, culture isn’t a checklist, DeSarno warns. “You can’t just add an event to a calendar,” she says. “A positive culture comes from actually creating an environment where employees feel safe and empowered to have emotional connections.”

Her advice for facilitating true connections is to focus on fostering more human interaction.

“One way to do that is to include family in your virtual and in-person events,” she says. “For example, our NFCU Summer Fest, Big Day Out and Children’s Holiday Party Activities don’t just focus on getting closer to employees—but to their families as well.”

2. Embrace visuals, and escalate photo sharing.

“We missed seeing people in person,” DeSarno says, “so we created a ‘Snap n’ Share’ feature on our intranet and invited employees to submit photos. We’ve been flooded with over 1,500 submissions so far.”

How did levity play a role?

“We wanted to counter all the anxiety everybody was feeling, so we specifically asked for lighthearted photos on a monthly basis,” she explains. “Our monthly submission themes like ‘Vacation,’ ‘Pets,’ ‘Graduation’ and ‘Halloween’ also lend themselves to photos that are fun.”

The NFCU team also promotes “Dress Days” as a photo sharing opportunity.

“It’s a great chance to get out of your work clothes and wear a concert tee or sports jersey,” DeSarno says. “it’s fun seeing leaders and co-workers in Kiss T-shirts or what have you.”

Her advice is to not rely on just one event or campaign. “Try different ideas over time and see what sticks,” she says. “Employees will eventually start to plan their attire months in advance.”

3. Be authentic—and watch out for third rails.

“Levity and humor are powerful ways to connect with employees when they’re executed well,” says Emily Russel, vice president of employee communications at ServiceNow, in the same session.

However, pushing levity for its own sake can result in serious pitfalls.

“Missteps include things like off-tone videos that leave employees confused or disconnected with the character of the company,” Russel warns.

The solution: “Lead with your purpose and values,” she says. “Do that by using a creative brief that outlines the fun [campaign’s] goal so it doesn’t go off the rails tonally. When fun, humor and levity are applied on-brand and purpose-led, you’re going to get a more authentic result.”

Brian Pittman is the Dean of Ragan Training and a Ragan Communications event producer. For more information about Ragan Training, contact brianp@ragan.com.

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