Monday, May 4, 2009

Should improving employee morale come with a black eye?

When you’re brainstorming ways to improve employee morale you usually think of friendly events including picnics, team building retreats and competitive games. An event where employees duke it out in a boxing ring would probably be the last idea on your list, but it’s exactly what one Southern California start-up has in mind.

Since the economic downturn began, Chris Lyman, CEO Fonality, noticed that the “energy was different” within the company and thought up an extreme idea to improve it. Fonality makes affordable business phone systems for companies with 5-500 employees and competes with the likes of Cisco, Avaya, and Nortel.

Instead of “hugging it out” they would “punch it out” in a new “Fight Club” inspired employee competition, according to socialTech.

Fonality employees are currently training for the “Fonality Fight Club,” a mixed-martial arts (MMA) employee tournament. They’re so serious about it that the company hired martial arts expert Chris Reilly, who trains fighters for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), to referee the competition.

According to CEO Chris Lyman and VP of Product and Marketing Corey Brundage, the idea for the fight club came when Lyman ran into Reilly in a restaurant, and learned about his fighting class. Lyman explains that because of the lackluster economy, the "energy was different" around the firm, and they felt instead of solving by "hugging it out" they'd "punch it out." (socialTech)

When asked if he’s worried about employees being injured, Lyman said employees will be wearing the proper safety equipment and any employee with fighting experience may not enter the tournament. There were 17 employees signed up for the event, at the time the socialTech article was published.

So how is a “fight club” supposed to improve employee morale? The tournament winner is awarded two free weeks of vacation. The loser must grow a mustache, equal in length to the round they lost in the fight (we assume the company is all male), and write an apology letter to the winner’s mother for losing.

Apart from this being one of the craziest ideas to improve employee morale, organizing an event like the “Fonality Fight Club” can cause serious human resources and legal issues.

What if an employee is seriously injured while fighting a coworker?

Would beating each other up create a hostile work environment?

Could the fight club losers and their mustaches become targets for workplace harassment?

Do you think the employee fight club is a fun idea for boosting employee morale or has the company set themselves up for a potential disaster?

Please share your thoughts and opinions in a comment below.


Chris Lyman said...

Couple of quick corrections:

1. You listed us as a "software-development company Fonality". Actually, we make affordable business phone systems for companies with 5-500 employees. We compete with the likes of Cisco, Avaya, and Nortel for 40-80% less.

2. We are being extremely safe about this fight club. The rounds are only 90 seconds, only amateurs are allowed, and the following safety gear is required:

* oversized 16 oz gloves
* head gear
* cup
* hand wraps
* shin guards
* mouth guard

Will some people get bruised or sore? Probably. That happens when you go snowboarding too. I have been on a company sponosred skii trip before and some people got a little hurt.

But, more importantly: Will people get in great shape, have lots of fun, and feel like a team? Yes.

Ever watched a MMA fight on TV? Usually, no matter how much nasty talk happens before the fight, the guys (or girls) are hugging when its all over. It's funny the way leaving it all out in the ring, reduces people to their core humanity and all they can do is appreciate each other when its all over.

Yes, we know this is risque, but everything we do in this world was risque when it was first introduced.


Training Time said...


Thanks for giving us a better explanation of what your company does. We’re sorry that our description was wrong and have updated the post.

Our blog is all about employee training and examining the latest issues affecting the workplace. We thought a post about your new morale-boosting idea would lead to a great discussion on the legal and HR issues it could potentially create.

We’re happy to know that you’re looking out for the well-being of your employees. We hope that your fight club improves morale, gets people in shape and that everyone has a great time in the process. Thanks again for the comment.

The Thoughts from Training Time Blog Team

Skip Weisman said...

Well, it's unique and although I would not recommend it as part of a culture transformation program to one of my clients, I'll wait to pass judgement 'til we get more feedback on the results. I'd like to learn more about how many of the company employees have decided to participate in the competition and what else is in it for the losers except ridicule.

Unless there are move prizes and incentives, from the original post only the ultimate "Champion" gets a reward.

In my work in helping leaders create organizations with a "Championship Culture" I would recommend a program that involves more positive participation for all.

This type of thing will only work if there is already a high morale, high performing culture, if not, it will create cynicism, and low morale and negatively impact employee attitudes.

I want my clients to create a culture where employees show up with a "Champion's Mindset" but this is not what I mean.

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