Lynne Curry: The game of work

THE WORKPLACEDecember 29, 2013 

Lynne Curry

How successful would your company be if your employees worked as hard as they play when they're skiing, fishing or having fun?

I'm thinking about an employee I know who skis every weekend until he drops. He doesn't mind how cold he gets -- he just skis. He doesn't complain about the long hours or the occasionally wet or icy conditions -- he just skis. Yet when he arrives at work on Mondays I know he doesn't arrive ready to "give his all." Instead, I hear him complain about his job, his manager and his coworkers.

Have you ever wondered why employees pour unlimited effort and energy into recreation, yet devote so little energy to their jobs? Why work qualifies as just another four-letter word? Perhaps it's because we as managers need to differently engage employees -- so they play the game of work.

I spent several weeks working with a bowling alley client. I learned that bowlers are a special breed. They buy expensive shoes, pay money for every game, throw their balls carefully and then go nuts. They jump up and down and scream when they see how many pins go down. Show me a devoted bowler and I'll show you someone who does almost anything to win prize money.

What happens when these bowlers arrive at their jobs? They throw their job "balls" and then wait 12 months for an annual performance review. We've somehow eliminated the chance employees have to score and thus to win from their jobs.

Can you imagine what would happen if baseball coaches took away the chance to win? The players would arrive at the game site only to be told, "OK, you'll run around for a while, you'll pitch, catch and hit, and then you'll go home. It'll be great exercise. After a year we'll have a performance review meeting and tell you how you're doing."

What if the players asked, "How will we know when we win?" and the coach answered, "Anyone who stays eight hours a day, five days a week on the field wins." I can't imagine baseball players putting up with this, and yet we ask employees to -- and wonder why they work harder after work than on the job. Do you want your employees to work harder? Let them know the score and let them win.

How can managers give employees the chance to win? They can clearly define expectations, the rules of the game, and let employees know their scores through regular feedback. Measurement is as relevant in business as it is in on the playing field, because every business needs to consider its bottom line and its return-on-employee-resources ratio.

Effective managers don't force employees to read minds and wait for feedback -- they give objective feedback daily. Can you imagine what would happen in football if the commissioners said, "Don't worry about watching the scoreboard. We'll watch the game and then meet to discuss which team played best." Players would quit. Similarly, employees too need objective, results-oriented feedback so they can celebrate the victory of their efforts.

What would it be like if employees worked as hard as they play? How can managers get employees to put as much effort and energy into their jobs as those same employees put into their hobbies? To begin with, we can put winning back into work.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at You can follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through


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