Monday, September 05, 2011

Working for free

Last weekend it was the village fete.  An hour before it was due to begin there was virtually nothing in the field where it was due to be held apart from stacks of chairs and collapsible tables.  Then people started arriving and, in no time at all, there were people selling cakes, a BBQ, a beer tent, a coconut shy, bouncy castle and stalls ranging from second-hand books to ‘splat-the-rat’.

Four hours later, following the drawing of the raffle and the announcement of which dog won the ‘waggiest tail’ competition, the fete came to an end and the same people who built it set about dismantling it.  As a result of their endeavours, that band of people raised several thousand pounds for the parish church.  But was it all worth it?

If you built a business plan for a village fete and assumed that all the workers drew a salary and that the items sold all had to be paid for you would quickly realise that you were heading for a loss.  In fact, the only reason why village fetes are a success is because people donate goods and their time for free. 

Of the people heavily involved in running the fete, one is a senior civil servant, another a company director and another runs her own business.  These were people with busy lives who are, most probably, already struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  Yet they were willing to give up a day of their weekend to work for free.

The reason why they were prepared to do this was obvious when I asked someone running a particularly busy stall whether they had had a good day?  “It’s been brilliant” they said, “it’s always one of the best days of the year because it is one of the few occasions each year when everyone turns out to work together”.

Although everyone looked exhausted by the end, they had all had fun and enjoyed the sense of community that comes from working together.

The lessons for companies are simple: First, people enjoy the sense of community that comes from working together and second, people want to have fun at work.

Who wants to organise the tombola?

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