Introducing culture into the workplace

New initiative brings humanities to New Hampshire businesses

Dr. Tricia Peone, Humanities@Work program manager, and Anthony Poore, executive director of New Hampshire Humanities, at their offices in Concord.
(Photo by Allegra Boverman)

There may not be an obvious connection between employee retention and a workplace presentation on happiness, but a new program offered by New Hampshire Humanities aims to find out.

Humanities@Work launched earlier this year, bringing almost 30 cultural programs into the workplace, presented during lunch or the best time for employers and employees. The menu of historical, artistic and storytelling programs includes music and poetry appreciation, the history of animation, quilt-making traditions, New Hampshire’s architectural legacy, New Hampshire’s beer-making history and, yes, the quest for happiness.

The one-hour presentations can complement existing team-building, diversity training and personal development and enrichment, said Dr. Tricia Peone, program manager of Humanities@Work.

“Can the humanities help people in the workplace? We really believe so, and there’s been a lot of research they can help employees be more creative and have better communications skills,” she said.

The program is a variation on the popular Humanities to Go program presented in libraries, schools, town halls and historical societies throughout the state.

Through mid-May, Peone said there were three Humanities@Work presentations at companies as different as Amherst Label, a family-owned custom label printer in Milford, and Harvest Capital Management, a wealth management and investment company in Concord.

Amherst Label chose “The Quest for Happiness” for its presentation, and Harvest Capital Management opted for “Brewing in NH: An Informal History of Beer in the Granite State from Colonial Times to the Present.”

‘A great fit’

What the companies shared was a commitment to their employees through a shared learning and exploration experience.

“Providing our Amherst Label team with opportunities to learn ways of enriching their personal lives, knowing our employees are appreciated, are top priorities of ours,” said Angela Hornor, special projects manager at Amherst Label. “’The Quest for Happiness’ seemed like a great fit for this initiative.”

Hornor said that her company has had many “lunch and learn sessions” on wellness topics, including meditation, nutrition and healthy aging. “Amherst Label has a ‘painted picture’ strategy document, which promotes employee appreciation, communication and continuous improvement. As part of our painted picture, we offer cross-training, free gym memberships, soup day during the cold months and salad and sandwich day during the summer months,” she said.

Dr. Maria Sanders, a philosophy professor at Plymouth State University, presented the first Humanities@Work program, ‘The Quest for Happiness,’ at Amherst Label in Milford.
(Photo by Morgan Wilson/New Hampshire Humanities)

Megan Hudson, client service associate at Harvest Capital Management, said when her company was looking to have a spring outing, the choice was easy.

“It’s easy to book,” she said. “They came to us and they fit the event in and around our schedule.”

The program choice was equally compelling because there is a passionate craft brewer in the firm.

“This was an obvious choice for our group. It was informative, fun and interactive. It was a great way to enjoy time together as a team and be educated in a subject we are all interested in” said Hudson.

Employee retention

This feedback is fulfilling and vital for the program’s long-term viability, said Anthony Poore, executive director of New Hampshire Humanities. The program’s genesis stemmed from a conversation he had last year with Connie Roy-Czyzowski, vice president of human resources at Northeast Delta Dental, who urged Poore to bring humanities programs to the workplace.

“Connie told me about a Humanities to Go presentation at Northeast Delta Dental a few years before that left a lasting impression,” he said. “It was a re-enactor playing Oney Judge, an escaped slave from George Washington’s plantation who came to New Hampshire.”

“The presentation opened up avenues of dialogue and historical knowledge previously unknown,” said Roy-Czyzowski, who is an avid supporter of the New Hampshire Humanities mission. “The discussions that came out of it were organic, and it was a great bonding experience and learning opportunity to see things in a different way.”

Poore worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in community and regional outreach before joining New Hampshire Humanities last year. He immediately started  talking to companies around the state about their needs, he said.

Glenn Knoblock, Humanities@Work presenter, with Anthony Poore, executive director of New Hampshire Humanities.
(Courtesy photo)

“With the unemployment rate so low, it is really hard to retain good employees and create a positive work experience for them,” said Poore, about what he learned.  “How do you add something low-cost and meaningful as part of the entire compensation portfolio?”

The goal was to combine what New Hampshire Humanities does best — provide quality, innovative humanities programs — and bring them to the workplace to meet the needs of businesses that want to enrich employee engagement and quality of life in and outside of work, which is a critical part of any company’s employee retention strategy.

Building connections

The key, Poore said, was to develop a platform that was flexible, affordable and sustainable for the long run. So far, so good.

“We are now well past the pilot stage and believe Humanities@Work can be a win-win-win for everyone,” he said.

New Hampshire Humanities has teamed up with the Business and Industry Association and the New Hampshire Business Committee for the Arts to spread the word and offer member discounts.

“When Anthony suggested that our organizations partner, we thought it was a great opportunity to collaborate with a like-minded organization and offer our corporate members a discount on the program as a new membership benefit,” said Tricia Soule, NHBCA executive director. “We are committed to bringing art and creativity into the workplace. We believe it is important to provide engaging experiences for employees to build connections with one another and consider new and interesting ideas. The Humanities@Work program does exactly that with its wonderfully diverse offerings.”

The debriefing was positive at Amherst Label after “The Quest of Happiness” program. “It generated great ideas about happiness in and outside the workplace,” Angela Hornor said. “The presentation was very well received, as two-thirds of surveyed employees rated it ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ and said that they learned something new and would like to attend another Humanities@Work event.”

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