According to the online career management service's 2004 Work/Life Balance survey, 82% of Americans are unhappy with their work/life balance and 89% hoped to change jobs within six months of the August survey. Unhappiness among employees may lead to turnover — and worse.

Employees want three things from their bosses, says Roger Herman, a certified management consultant based in Greensboro. N.C., and author of the book Keeping Good People. “Let's agree on what we're going to do, give me the tools to get the job done, and get out of my face.”

Several years ago, Jerome Quinn of SawHorse Design recognized that the hierarchical structure of his company wasn't working. His employees came to him with the book Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. “They said, ‘We're going to do this,'” Quinn says. “It was a fait accompli.”

Fish, which has become a bestseller, describes the attitude and workmanship of the fishmongers of Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market. “What could be more boring than moving fish around all day?” Quinn says. “But if they could have fun doing this, we could have fun in our workplace.”

The model covers four things, says Kesha Fussell, SawHorse's team coordinator: attitude — which you can choose each day; play — enjoy work or take a few minutes and do something relaxing or fun; make their day —do something extra for a client as well as recognize the good things other employees do; and be present — give your full attention to whatever you're doing.

SawHorse's 27 employees regularly shoot each other with Nerf foam darts, pitch in to help each other, and give each other plastic fish. Yes, fish.

At staff meetings, employees officially recognize each other as part of what they call the “Fishnet” program by doling out fish tokens to show their appreciation for their coworkers' actions.

There is more to the positive change than fish, though. Quinn dissolved departments; the company chart is a flat structure; employees work in teams and all in the same area. The whole office is wireless. “Now people can plunk their computers anywhere,” Quinn says. Communication between workers has improved. “It's amazing how much communication one employee can pass to another just by lifting his eyebrows,” he says.

Each employee was given a copy of the book Good to Great, and “everyone has been invited into the dialogue on how we're going to make this into a great company.” The staff is also doing more together like bowling and seeing ball games.

Does the levity work? Quinn says that turnover was virtually nil in the past year. Morale is high and it's visible. “Profitability is up. Client satisfaction is up. If [employees] are happy with their work, they bring that to the clients. There's a halo effect.”