Ideas: Encourage Employees’ Special Interests

This idea is excerpted from Barbara’s book “Handle with CARE—Motivating and Retaining Employees” (McGraw-Hill 2002)

The Idea

Find out people’s special interests and encourage employees to get together for a common cause. It may be an interest in cars, home-brewing, woodworking, travel, music, or literature. According to Employee Services Management (ESM) Magazine, activities such as these are wonderful ways to build relationships across the organization, and they also celebrate people as human beings with lives and interests outside of work.

  • UCSF—Empact! Has a poetry group for enthusiasts to share their work and to get feedback. Poetry readings are held at a library where a public audience is invited to hear the voices of these poets, young and old.
  • Gates Rubber Company, Denver, CO, encourages art by holding art shows on site, where employees can display and sell their work to fellow employees and to the public. Other companies, like Jet Propulsion Labs, encourage art by by offering discount tickets to art museums and art galleries.
  • Jet Propulsion Lab’s recreation club in Pasadena, CA, formed a music club in which instrument-playing employees hold jam sessions with others interested in similar styles of music. Specialty bands such as jazz and rock are formed within this club, and the members have a wonderful opportunity for extra practice and the sharing of their special talents. Other companies have company choirs and drama teams. They often perform at all-company functions.
  • Compaq Computers, Houston, TX, holds a creative photo contest with incentives for the winner in several different categories. Other organizations encourage starting a photography club.
  • Gates Rubber Company, which has sites in many other countries, has founded a Travel Club. One feature of this club, according to an article in Employee Services Management magazine, September 1998, by Catrina Cerny, is a type of exchange program in which the employee services department acts as an intermediary for traveling workers. This way a worker from the U.S. can visit another country and save accommodation dollars as well as getting to meet people from this culture on a more personal basis. Then the favor is returned at a later time by the American worker. What a wonderful way to build global relationships within your organization!
  • Jet Proplusion Labs get groups of employees together for adventure trips—scuba, skiing, river rafting, mountain-biking, skydiving, bungee jumping, water skiing. These activities build friendships and help reduce workplace stress.
  • Citizen’s Trust encourages many internal employee programs. One example is a monthly reading group to discuss works of fiction. Citizens covers half the cost of the books, buys pizza, and provides a “relaxation room” for the group to meet after work hours. They also sponsor a “Living Well” program which Adine Mees, director of corporate resonsibility, says is “a holistic approach to heath that rewards staff for the simple and good things of life—such as reading a book, visiting a parent, hugging, meditating, exercising, learning, teaching, going to the theater, etc. “
  • Schulmerich Bells in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, decided to initiate an activity that would draw together people from various parts of the company. Their answer was clear—a handbell choir. They perform six times a year at senior centers and nursing homes during the noon hours.

The important thing is to listen to your staff, ask them what they want to do and how they want to do it, and then give them support they need in terms of resources, recognition, and responsibility.

Barbara Glanz Biography

A member of the prestigious Speaker Hall of Fame and one of fewer than 700 Certified Speaking Professionals worldwide, Barbara Glanz, CSP, CPAE, works with organizations to improve morale, retention and service and with people who want to rediscover the joy in their work and in their lives. She is the first speaker on record to have spoken on all 7 continents and in all 50 states. Known as "the business speaker who speaks to your heart as well as to your head," Barbara is the author of twelve books including The Simple Truths of Service Inspired by Johnny the Bagger®, CARE Packages for the Workplace, and 180 Ways to Spread Contagious Enthusiasm™. Voted "best keynote presenter you have heard or used" by Meetings & Conventions Magazine, Barbara uses her Master’s degree in Adult Learning to design programs that cause behavior change. She lives and breathes her personal motto: “Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm™” and can be reached at and

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