Dress-up days are not just for elementary schools anymore. We look forward to dress-up days on our campus, often wondering who will go all out. They add laughter, playfulness and give us all a reason to smile.

Our Fun Committee has re-introduced dress-up days lately and they have been a hit. Both residents and team members get a charge out of dressing up. It can be something as simple as silly socks, fun hats, or wearing your favorite sporting team gear. Today happens to be “Wacky Wednesday.” 

If you are asking yourself, why dress up? Or what does this have to do with leadership? My answer: It has everything to do with leadership and the culture you would like to create. 

If something as simple as dressing a little silly can make others smile, then why wouldn’t you? I am not trying to say dress-up days will solve issues or problems we may have, but what I will tell you is that they add a little levity to an all-too-serious field. 

Dress-up days have everything to do with culture. We strive to create a culture where we take our work very seriously, but we do not have to take ourselves too seriously. We work to create a culture where fun is embedded, not forced. A shared laugh heals the soul. 

Over the years, we have had some doozies. Some people went all out during Christmas time dressing as their favorite Christmas movie character. Other days are simpler, but still fun. To share something visibly in common with each other connects us. Valentine’s shirts, even if they were as plain as a red shirt, meant we were celebrating something together. 

The author (right) on Wacky Wednesday with Director of Nursign Allison Zuspann (center) and Recruitment and Retention Coordinator Kelli George (left).

In a time where people focus on their differences more than they focus on what we have in common, dress-up days are an easy way to bring us together. The Fun Committee was the passion project of our director of nursing, Allison Zuspann. (She is in the middle of the picture.) 

At the end of each year’s Friendship Haven Leadership Academy (more on that another day), we celebrate team member’s passion projects. For Allison, bringing fun back in a meaningful way was her passion. She got a committee together, and they were off to the races. They have come up with the best ideas, and I hear a little fun is had at their meetings as well.

More than just dress-up days come from the Fun Committee; they come up with other creative ways to show appreciation and have fun while doing it. They came up with a hot cocoa bar, popcorn days, campus-wide parties and games, and the list goes on and on. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. The price tag isn’t high, and they don’t have to ask permission to create these special days and events. 

Kelli George, our Recruitment and Retention Coordinator (pictured with the fancy mismatched outfit and blonde party hair), is also a part of the Fun Committee. No idea is too crazy, and all ideas reinforce our commitment to having fun at work. Kelli is a constant reminder to us all that laughter really does keep us grounded. 

A little distraction in a serious field goes a long way. I do have some more serious teammates who choose not to dress up or participate often. They do, however, believe in the reasons why we do it! This is another example of accepting who people are and encouraging everyone to be themselves.

I just heard one teammate, whom I did not believe was dressed wacky at all, say, “This is wacky for me; I am wearing black and navy — that’s totally wacky.” 

Cue the laughter. 

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Julie Thorson is a past recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently facilitates LeadingAge Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a LeadingAge Academy fellow and former coach. The Head Coach (president and CEO) of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and an alumna of LeadingAge’s Leadership Educator Program.

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