How to Apply a Back-to-School Attitude to Work

No matter how long you’ve been out of school, there’s always that feeling of brand new come September. It’s the season of change and fresh starts that remind us of school days past. Turns out a new school year can benefit everyone, especially if you carry a back-to-school attitude with you to the workplace.

Not only can it serve as the boost of inspiration your team needs, but having a more playful approach to some of your monthly to-dos, and more work activities can serve well for your productivity levels, positive mentality, and creativity. Studies have proven that employee satisfaction leads to spikes in productivity, in some cases, as much as 12% or more.

In the days leading up to the first day of school, think about how you can take what you’ve learned during your long-gone school days and incorporate the same feeling into your work life. Here’s how to make a more seamless transition into the next season of the year, with more play at work as a stress reduction.

Shop for New “School” Clothes

As kids, shopping for new school clothes seemed like tradition for many households. Whether needed or not, it always felt nice to head back to school with a new wardrobe and looking fresh.

As adults, the same kind of mentality can apply. While the summer may have encouraged a more relaxed type of look, head into fall looking like you mean business and see how it changes your mentality. It doesn’t have to translate to full-on suits (unless your occupation is part of a corporate environment), but looking polished will give you an extra boost of confidence as you head out into your day. Take advantage of back-to-school sales and give your wardrobe the refresh it may need by adding some work essentials to your closet.

Set Reading Goals

Pizza Hut’s Book It! Challenge was a craze in the 80s, encouraging grade school kids nationwide to read more. More reading meant more pizza and what kid can pass that up? Setting goals is part of what makes a school year productive, but setting rewards is what makes us feel like kids again. While pizza might not be the biggest motivating factor (or for some, maybe it still is!), book clubs or traveling to places you read about are adult-friendly goals that help add some play at work and fun to the “task” of reading.

Encourage a friendly competition within the office. Make it voluntary to sign up for a set company goal of number of books to read by a certain date. Then, celebrate accomplishments with a team lunch or happy hour. Consider the idea of a department book club that meets monthly or bi-monthly to discuss a work- or business-related book. This type of learning makes people more engaged with critical thinking of how it can be applied to your business.

“Play-Storm” Vs. Brainstorm

Brainstorming can be difficult when you’re not feeling the creative spark. How can you change the process to get more people involved and collaborate? Incorporate some color, mini-activities, and even music into the brainstorming session. For example, hand out a different color set of sticky notes to your team members and set a timer for five minutes. During that time, everyone writes down their ideas, one per sticky note, without editing. Once everyone is finished, review everyone’s notes and group into different categories. This will help you start to put together the shell of a project. This method is also helpful because it could spark ideas from others presented during the exercise.

Have In-Office, Friendly Competitions

Friendly competition in school has always been encouraged as a way of bonding and team building. Why not incorporate some of this friendly competition in your workplace to spark interaction between different teams or departments? Remember the “Office Olympics” episode from The Office TV show? It was a fun way to get the group together to participate in different events. Consider organizing something similar for your company to break up the routine for a minute and have some work play fun. Maybe host a competitive event at the end of the year and allow employees to invite their families for a carnival-type affair with separate stations for food and games. Not only would this encourage participation in the event but also help increase employee satisfaction in the workplace.

To disperse responsibility, encourage each team to come up with their own station, which could include ideas like:

  • Ping-pong
  • Target shooting with a bow and arrow
  • Pin the tail on the donkey
  • Putt-putt
  • Water balloon catch

Award prizes for the most creative and host a BBQ or picnic following the awards ceremony.

Gift a Welcome Basket for New Employees

Starting a new job can feel a lot like the first day of school, intimidating yet exciting, scary yet fun, overwhelming yet great to be learning new things. As a new employee, there may be mixed feelings such as these especially when it comes to meeting new coworkers and getting used to the policies and projects everyone else is already familiar with. As part of the onboarding process, include supplies with your branding that can help ease their concerns and prove helpful to your new hire. A gift basket could include:

Include anything that will make a new employee feel welcome and assist them with day-to-day directions. Also include business cards, marketing collateral, and a list of favorite nearby places for lunch to help them get started on the right foot. Not only is this a nice gesture for welcoming your new employees, but a great way to help with stress reduction and their first day jitters.

Encourage Team Lunches

When work schedules get busy, people tend to sit at their desks and work through the lunch hour rather than taking a proper break. This can lead to burnout and decrease in productivity since longer hours don’t always equal better performance. A good way to improve employee morale is to encourage team lunches. Don’t you remember how fun recess and lunch time was in school? Some would even say it was their favorite part of the day! At work, lunch should also be just as great. Whether that means company paid lunches in or out of the office, or scheduling a weekly or monthly lunch hour for the team to get away from their desks and go outside or meet in the breakroom, it can help employees take a much-needed break.

Make your work environment one that encourages an actual lunch break rather than only having a physical breakroom that no one ever uses. Again, this may be especially applicable to new employees who think the office norm is to work through lunch and may feel discouraged from using their lunch hour to eat.

Schedule a “Back-to-School” Picnic

To build on the idea of team lunches, a back-to-school picnic or ice cream social is a great way to introduce new team members, announce promotions, and allow employees to get to know each other better outside of the office. If you remember back in school, back-to-school get togethers usually happened a week in advance, giving you the chance to meet new teachers or see friends that had been gone all summer.

It’s a tradition that can help employees feel refreshed and get back into a better rhythm, especially following months where many people were probably out on vacation. You can use it as a kick-off to a new quarter or to celebrate a company milestone. The focus on the group over the individual helps further illustrate the importance of teamwork and camaraderie among co-workers. Keep things simple by hosting the picnic potluck-style and the company provides the main dish and drinks. Few things bring people together faster as a group than food. Food is an easy (and delicious!) way to incorporate play at work and maintain employee satisfaction.

Thinking about our old school days can make us feel nostalgic for simpler times with less responsibilities, but even if our task lists have increased, it doesn’t mean the feeling of play has to die out. Our work lives are what we make it and by incorporating a back-to-school attitude that focuses on fun as much as it does getting things done will improve mental energy and lead to greater productivity overall.

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