If you were a ‘games maker’ at the London Olympics you’ll know what an amazing experience it was (on the whole). You were one of the 70,000 people who took part in an event most of them would never forget – one volunteer enjoyed it so much that “I’m going to get buried in my uniform, when the time comes.”
The London games were one of those big social events where people pull together in a spirit of shared enthusiasm to give their precious time away for no conscious reason but the joy of taking part. The last time anything like it had happened could well have been the second world war.
Not only did people give away their time, some even paid for the privilege – Margaret Singer, a speech and language therapist from Aberdeenshire, paid £500 on travelling South to train for the event, so that she could spend 10 days sleeping in a makeshift campsite with no pay or even expenses. Her verdict after the games? “Absolutely amazing.”
Fast-forward to Rio and about a thousand Britons are there. Take Mary O’Leary – she was a Games Maker in London and she liked it so much she has actually retired from her job in a London hospital so she could go to Brazil. Right now she is looking after press photographers in the weightlifting arena. And she doesn’t even like weightlifting.
So what’s this all about? Well, it’s a human need to get together in groups and do things that are interesting and useful to other humans. We can’t help it, we are a social species, and these kind of social interactions are a biological necessity – which is why we get such rich emotional rewards from taking part in them.
Never assume that work is different from the rest of life – it runs on the same emotional reward systems, stoked by the same hormonal currents round our brains and bodies. Apart from the money, the only reason we go to work at all is because it helps meet our social, emotional, physical and intellectual needs so well. And even the cash is only a token which we use, once again, to meet our real needs, it has no value in itself.
Now, the Olympic volunteers put in 100% effort (which is what employers want) collaborate well (ditto) focus hard on what they are doing (I won’t labour the point) and so on. They enjoy it, and they want to do it again. All the things you need as an employer.
So your task – the whole point of people management – is to create the conditions where people feel the same way about work. Can it be done? Of course, at least to a point. But first you have to know where people are not feeling like that, so you can talk to them about how to make it better.
That’s the point of WeThrive, a tool you can use by itself or alongside other HR and engagement platforms – it shows you who is feeling unhappy about what, so you can do something about it. In many ways it’s similar to a normal engagement survey, expect it produces useful outputs. Try it free on us if you like – I guarantee you it will tell you some very important things you didn’t know, and that you can use directly to the benefit of staff and company alike.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Rosemary Head is in Rio. She loves the Olympics – back in 2012 she had to check Usain Bolt’s accreditation and put him on a bus – ” the best day of my life” as she said, and she has been looking forward to leading a team of volunteers in Brazil: “a dream come true”.
Is this energy and commitment an isolated effect, the result of being at a major international event? No: we know there are continuing benefits to everyone who gives their time and attention to others. People who volunteered at the 2012 Olympics became more upbeat and positive, for example. Now we have a tool that allows you to nurture the same spirit of collaboration, enterprise and engagement at work; show us a manager who doesn’t want a bit of that…