Turning Madness into Teambuilding

This week begins what many sports fans claim is the greatest event of the year. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament –March Madness – begins today, with 68 collegiate teams competing for the title of “national champion.” Millions of people around the country watch or track the tournament, whether a casual person filling out a bracket sheet, to an alumnus from a large university who has his school’s banners draping his workspace.

Resistance is futile
You’re probably aware of how popular this tournament is, and might be equally aware of studies showing productivity drains during it. As an employer, your first plan of action may be to block certain websites or disable conference room TVs to ensure employees remain dedicated to their daily tasks. However, with websites and smartphones delivering real-time information, it’s virtually impossible to totally block this “distraction.” If employees really want to check scores or watch a game, they’ll find a way.

In other words – the madness lives on.

Turning the distractions into productivity
This isn’t a call for you to shut down operations to accommodate a sporting event. Instead, view the supposed loss of productivity as a teambuilding opportunity.

In many workplaces, employees form internal teams to support a school. They can pick one at random and pull together a group to support it. Or, if your organization has multiple locations, groups can align with nearby schools. You can help by getting groups together and forming teams, or you can find a handful of employees interested in spearheading the effort themselves.

Once groups are together, consider a challenge that pits them against each other for most team spirit. Participating employees can bond through activities like learning their school’s fight song, dressing in that school’s colors on game day, or researching trivia about that school (e.g., “Did you know that the University of Oregon was where the movie Animal House was filmed?”). This helps teams show their unified support for their school when games are televised.

You can consider rewarding internal groups based on their level of team spirit. Rewards can be no-cost – like preferred parking, priority seating in the cafeteria, or even choosing the brand of coffee or tea in the kitchen. Or you can consider low-cost rewards, like a restaurant gift card or the ability to leave work an hour early one Friday.

A game itself lasts about two hours, so the perfect time for teams to gather would be the second half of a game. This is essentially a lunch break, so there’s no significant productivity drain. Teams can gather wherever the TV is – whether that’s in a conference room, break room, or a corner of the warehouse –to support their school. The friendly banter and trash-talking will further strengthen the teambuilding, long after the actual basketball game is over.

Benefits of embracing the madness
You can easily turn the potential distraction of March Madness into a way to fosterteamwork and community in the workplace. By bringing together employees from different departments or business units, they’ll feel more connected to the organization as a whole. It’ll also help employees form productive working relationships that they might not develop otherwise.

Most importantly, March Madness can help increase employee morale and camaraderie among employees who wouldn’t normally interact. It can also help maintain ongoing engagement. Because this tournament happens every year, long-standing employees can choose to support the same school and help renew team spirit year after year.

In the end, there’s no need to worry that last two weeks in March will be unproductive at your workplace. Instead, look at March Madness as a way to bring employees together and increase morale, teamwork, and connections.

Let us know of ways you embrace the madness in your workplace through Twitter or Facebook, and learn more about the connection between company culture and employee engagement on our blog.

Chris LaFountain joined Virgin Pulse this year because he knows first-hand the pitfalls of failing to have a work-life balance. As Proposal Manager, he supports sales teams’ efforts to help companies create healthy cultures that improve employees’ energy, focus, and drive. He still revels in correctly predicting UMass defeating then-mighty Georgetown in the 1996 regional semifinals. Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisLaFountain

State of the Industry: Employee Engagement & Wellness in 2015 (Priorities, Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the current state of the employee engagement and wellness industry.

It’s an exciting time for the employee engagement and well-being industry. Gone are the days when companies viewed these programs as ‘nice to do’ or ones that yielded ‘soft’ benefits.

Research shows that companies with high engagement scores perform better in key operational areas like productivity, absenteeism, turnover, safety and quality incidents, shrinkage, customer metrics, and profitability, according to Gallup. That’s not all. Research on employee engagement and productivity continues to show the basic health and well-being of employees indicates how engaged they’ll be on the job.

Business leaders care about and are measured against these metrics, so it’s no wonder they’re launching initiatives to boost employee engagement and well-being. They get it. A healthy, engaged workforce is good for business.

But what are companies actually doing to create that type of workforce, you ask?

We were curious, too. That’s why we recently teamed up with Human Capital Media, the research arm of Workforce magazine. Together, we surveyed 1,395 HR management professionals across a broad range of industries and organization sizes.

The goal? Gain a deep look at the state of the employee engagement and well-being industry, and discover how and why organizations are budgeting, implementing, measuring and improving employee engagement and wellness programs.

The result? A new report featuring rich data and insights about the state of the industry, and how organizations are using employee engagement and well-being programs to improve their employees’ lives and boost their businesses.

Over the next few weeks we’ll dig into the report’s top findings here on The Uprising. Up first – a look at what’s on executives’ and HR managers’ priority lists for 2015.

2015 Plans & Priorities

In the year ahead, companies say they’ll continue to invest in employee engagement, talent recruiting and retention, and employee well-being. Most executives and HR managers agree on these priorities, yet differ slightly on what they view as most important.


Unsurprisingly, executives’ priorities tend to align with overall organizational goals while managers’ priorities tend to align with functional objectives. That’s why executives’ are more concerned with employee engagement as a whole vs. talent retention specifically.

Companies will also continue to look for ways to resolve industry-specific challenges in the coming year. For example, we asked respondents to share their top challenges for 2015. Seventy-two percent said they needed to find an executive sponsor for their wellness program. That number rose significantly for respondents in the food industry – nearly all said that this was their top challenge.

Here’s a look at industry-specific priorities for 2015:

Finally, while most companies agree on top priorities for 2015, they also concur about what’s not a priority. And moving to a private health exchange is the least of their concerns.

Nearly 80 percent of companies say they’re not considering a switch to a private health exchange. What’s more, close to 70 percent of all organizations, executives, and HR Managers agreed that considering such a switch was at the bottom of their 2015 priority lists.

It seems companies simply aren’t convinced that such a switch would truly yield beneficial outcomes and long-term savings. This year, many employers will take a wait and see approach before considering a shift.

For more on what tops executives’ and managers’ priority lists for 2015, get a copy of the full report and its findings. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at what’s happening with budgets for employee engagement and well-being programs in 2015. Meantime, tell us what’s top priority for you and your organization in 2015 when it comes to employee engagement and well-being. Post a comment or tweet us @virginpulse.

Katie Tierney is Director of Marketing at Virgin Pulse where she leads marketing communications and public relations. One of Virgin Pulse’s original employees, Katie led efforts to create National Employee Wellness Month, a campaign that helps business leaders learn how companies are successfully engaging employees in healthy lifestyles. A pop culture champ and dance buff, Katie can usually be found busting a move in a Zumba class (or anywhere, really). Follow Katie on twitter: @k_tierney.

5 Books to Help Enhance Well-being

People Doing Yoga 77736542 (1)Cold, snowy winters may not necessarily make for ideal conditions outdoors, but that’s no excuse to leave your health in the dust. Instead, bring your well-being focus inward – spend some quality time with family members, use tax season as an excuse to organize finances, or catch-up on a forgotten reading list.

To give you a head start on the latter, we’ve pulled together a list of top titles on health, well-being, employee engagement, and more.

  1. Foodist – To anyone who wants to learn how to eat healthily and mindfully without dieting or spending hours in the kitchen, this is the book for you. Darya Pino Rose, Ph.D., digs into the molecular science of food and explains how and why it positively or negatively affects your body. (This is my personal fav of the bunch!) And if you want a sneak peak before you buy, download the first chapter for free or check out her blog for other thoughts, recipes, and tips on developing your own individual “health-style.”
  1. Thrive – Arianna Huffington makes the case for well-being and productivity, explaining why and how she set boundaries between her job and her home life. Not only did this major change positively her health, but it boosted her work efficiency and focus. Hear excerpts from book in her own voice in her podcast, “The Vacation Mistake We’re All Making.”
  1. Strengths Finder 2.0 – Written and published by Gallup this book has reliably stayed at the top of the charts for over seven years now. Helping individuals assess their own strengths and providing information to managers to help them utilize their workforce in the most ideal way, Strengths Finder 2.0 helps ID employees’ top skills. Bottom line: it’s a bonus for you, and will be a great value-add for them.
  1. Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing – Time crunch and fire drills the name of the game at work this season? Use this book to help encourage employees to find new, interesting, and challenges ways to get active, blow off some steam, and stay sharp.
  1. Q&A a Day: 5 Year Journal. Mindfulness. It’s the 2015 buzzword, but can also be a tough concept to grasp. It’s clearly something we should practice and helps us tune into important life events—but how? This five-year Q&A daily journal will help you and your workforce stay grounded and helps them compare thoughts, experiences, and goals year-over-year. Life is short, amigos – don’t miss out on yours!

For more ways to stay healthy this winter, see our blog post on how you can beat the winter blues.

Margaux Novak, Product Marketing Communications Manager, Virgin Pulse. Merging her knack for reading everything in sight with her slight risk-taker tendencies, Margaux’s always up for trying out newly researched marketing campaigns. Apart from this, she’s an avid traveler, photographer, and publishing poet. Follow her on Twitter: @margauxnovak

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Virgin Pulse clients and members discuss how we change lives for good!