Happy staff, happy workplace: an interview with Further’s Social Secretary Shakiba Mohseni
It’s important for any workplace to have an element of fun – time to down tools and talk to the people with whom you spend most of your week, about something other than work.
As well as her role as an Account Strategist, Shakiba Mohseni is Further’s Social Secretary. We asked Shakiba what it takes to keep staff happiness firmly on the agenda.
How did you become social secretary?
I never warmed to the term ‘social secretary’ – it’s sounds a bit corporate. The role also comes with the risk of people thinking that you’re in charge of the MD’s social calendar! But it is a big responsibility.
In my previous job, the role of social secretary officially came to me after I successfully organised several events. From liaising with the venue to negotiating the best deal, I discovered that I loved the organisation. I liked arranging the little extras such as the surprise welcome drinks, balloons, a VIP area, etc.
Most of all, I love getting people together. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I got the role here at Further as well.
How can a person know if a social committee role is right for them?
Let’s say you have just been told that you have the responsibility of organising the entire Christmas party for your company. Does the thought of this leave you sweating and feeling nauseous? Or does it fill you with excitement, determination and confidence?
If the former is more familiar, the social committee may not be for you. A position in the social committee is not to be taken lightly, but you should have fun as well.
What attributes does a social secretary need to succeed?
You should have the following skills and personal qualities:
- Creativity – you must able to think outside the box and come up with innovative ideas.
- Persuasiveness – you must be able to sell your idea to the board and your peers.
- Organisation – you need to make sure everything runs smoothly and that, above all, you stick to the budget!
- Confidence – you need to be confident in your idea if you’re to follow through with the plan and execution. (Repeat to self: “it’s a great idea, it will bring everyone together, everyone will enjoy themselves!”)
- Negotiation – you need to make the most of your budget by getting great deals from your venue and suppliers.
- Communication – your colleagues need to know where they need to be, how they need to dress and what to expect. And your supplier needs to know exactly what you expect of them.
Isn’t a social committee just about ‘forced fun’?
It’s important to remember that we live in a democracy. The social committee is not there to act as a dictatorship that forces organised fun on everyone from on high. In fact, it’s the opposite – it’s the social committee’s role to make events as inclusive as possible – and we’re not at the top!
There’s a balance you need to strike. If you focus too much on fun, your staff may stop respecting you. Without it, you may lose the interest, respect and loyalty of your staff and, over time, the staff members themselves.
The social committee plays a key role in maintaining that balance. We show staff that the business is aware of their needs and that they’re committed to meeting them.
It comes down to one key word – appreciation.
How do you make staff events inclusive?
Just be considerate! At Further, there are four of us in the social committee. Between us we discuss the pros and cons of all event ideas.
You will never please everyone, but if people can see that the event is well organised, there’s food and drink, and you’ve tried to include something for everyone, they can’t (or shouldn’t) complain.
Also, remember that you don’t always have to arrange something spectacular. Sometimes being on the social committee just means suggesting a trip to the local pub after a tough week – if that works best, then that’s what you should do.
Have you ever worked somewhere that didn’t look after its staff?
I once worked for a small company where morale was not high on the agenda for management. As a result, the company got the bare minimum out of its staff.
No one wanted to go the extra mile for their colleagues or the business. The office was always quiet and people just focused on their own work. Everyone came in at 8.59am and left at 5.31pm.
Team happiness is a ‘speculate to accumulate’ situation: you get out what you put in; invest in your staff and they will invest in their work. There are probably 100 more cheesy phrases I could use here, but the simple fact is this:
If you look after your staff, they will look after your business and each other.
You’ve been asked to plan a work outing, what are the first steps you take?
- Check the work calendar
When is the next available day that everyone can do? If your first choice of date doesn’t work for some people, choose another date. This may mean that your event can’t take place for six weeks – but you’re organising it, so you’ll just have to make sure it’s worth the wait!
- Agree a budget
Ensure you have a clear budget from the board. This bit is essential! If everyone ends up having to spend their annual bonus on food and drink, they won’t thank you for it!
- Set expectations
Make sure you understand what you’re expected to deliver, what the business wants to achieve with this event. Ask the board what they feel worked well at previous events, and if they want something similar or different. This is where I stick on my Account Strategist cap and ask for a brief. Believe me, it will save you time in the long run!
What should you aim to get out of staff events?
Team building and a sense of comradery! Essentially, we want people to support each other and achieve together.
You don’t have to do something extreme, like paintballing or white-water rafting to accomplish this. It can come from the little extras, like placing a good mix of people in teams for bowling or getting everyone to swap seats between the courses of a meal.
I find that a fancy-dress theme always helps to generate a buzz in the office. Here’s the Further team from our ’90s throwback party:
How do you measure the success of a staff event?
I measure success by people not running off as soon as it’s over! By people staying, hanging around, talking to one another about topics that don’t involve work. By hearing that buzz in the office on Monday morning while everyone looks at photos from the event. By people asking when the next event will be.
Of course, just because the social committee thinks an event went well, this doesn’t mean it was enjoyed by everyone. So, you should also ask everyone for feedback from the board on down. Send a quick survey around the office with these five questions:
- What did you enjoy about the event?
- What could have been done differently?
- Was the event well-organised?
- Was the event well-communicated?
- What would you like to do for the next event?
Any tips for organising Christmas parties?
If you’ve ever tried organising a Christmas party, you’ll know that the pressure can be monumental! There’s so much anticipation. You’ve reached the end of a long year and everyone is ready to let their hair down – and all you keep thinking is ‘what if they hate it!’
At Further, it was decided a while ago that instead of a Christmas party, we will have an annual party in the New Year. I know a lot of companies that do this now. It’s a wonderful way to do something a bit different and it can make January a little less blue!
Plus, it means you can get a good deal on the venue you want with bespoke options. This way you don’t need to deal with the with a lack of availability you get in December.
Any final words of wisdom?
Be confident in your decisions, execute the event well and don’t take criticism personally!
Why not read our article: how to understand and improve staff wellbeing by Further’s Carly Stanforth.
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