Visitors of Seattle's famed Pike Place Fish Co. are familiar with the seafood vendor's trademark antics — fish throwing. To the delight of camera-toting tourists, cheerful apron-clad workers send whole fish airborne across exhibits of halibut and salmon.
Pike Place Fish's owner John Yokoyama came up with the idea more than a decade ago as his business floundered and he faced the possibility of bankruptcy.
At its heart, fish flinging is all about having fun. But what's being called "Fish philosophy" is also a work-life strategy sending ripples through the business world.
These days, Yokoyama's business is one of many U.S. companies truly attempting to transform work by minimizing stress and maximizing productivity.
Happy Employees = Productive Employees
The market's philosophy — with tenets such as "Play," "Be there," "Choose your attitude" and "Make their day" — is all about inspiring employees while exuding an infectious, loving spirit to customers.
"It's hard to keep employees," Yokoyama says. "But when they're happy, they work hard and produce."
Believe it or not, Seattle's famous fish hurlers are now the subjects of a $590 best-selling training video by ChartHouse International Learning. About 3,000 companies — including Nordstrom, Boeing, Amazon.com, Nokia, Saturn, Southwest Airlines and McDonald's — are using the video "Fish!" and its sequel, "Fish Sticks!" to inspire employees.
Further, Yokoyama, a bit of a corporate cult figure these days, is regularly inundated with invitations to give corporate presentations.
Needless to say, the Pike Place Fish Co. is thriving, and Yokoyama credits his philosophy of improving the lives of employees and customers.
Glaxo Smith Kline: In Search of Resilience
At pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline, formerly Smith Kline Beecham, an entire team of consultants is dedicated to improving work-life issues and what the company calls an employee's "resilience."
So when a senior marketing executive, who prided himself on his sensitivity to work-life issues, found discontent in his ranks, he turned to the company's corporate health department.
In an internal survey, nearly one-third of marketing employees said they looked for another job in the previous six months due to work-life conflicts, a figure that shocked management.
After some research, Smith Kline's team of consultants found that stress and burnout were not in themselves the root of the employees' problems, but rather symptoms of what was wrong.
Each marketing group brainstormed solutions. One built quiet time for reflection into the day. Others focused on increased work flexibility. They also developed "rules of the road," or standards to improve workplace culture and minimize jesting comments, conflicts and other behaviors.
Changing corporate culture isn't easy, but it is the key to promoting workplace wellness, says Sharon Wilkie, head of employee health support and resilience at Glaxo Smith Kline. "You can have all the programs and services that are the latest fad, but if the corporate culture doesn't support people taking care of their health then the programs and services really aren't worth anything," she said.
Marriott: Weeding Out 'Low-Value' Work
Marriott International has had a similar experience.