The New York Times recently published an op-ed detailing the latest scientific research on how bosses can get their employees to be "more engaged," which is the current buzz phrase for better employee morale.

The whole article is worth reading, but here are the takeaways that I got out of it:

1. Focus on employees, not customers.

Every company wants to be "customer focused," but it's the employees who will be taking care of the customers, so managers should focus on making employees happy so that they'll be better able to serve the customers.

Every company wants its investors to be happy. However, low pay, bad hours, lousy work conditions, and few benefits are classic examples of being "penny wise and pound foolish."

CostCo, for example, pays employees two-thirds more ($20.89!) than Walmart, but each employee services twice as many customers. In addition to having a minuscule 5 percent employee turnover, CostCo saw its stock grow four times faster than Walmart's from 2003 to 2013.

2. Encourage frequent work breaks.

Many bosses discourage "water cooler" breaks and barely tolerate lunch breaks. Some even expect employees to work through lunch, either by holding "brown bag" meetings or through not-so-subtle pressure ("I'm working through lunch; why aren't you?").

However, if a boss encourages employees to take a break from work every 90 minutes, they'll be able to focus 30 percent better, they'll have a 50 percent better capacity to think creatively, and they'll be 46 percent healthier.

Just as important, they'll be less likely to leave. Bosses who encourage frequent breaks have employees who are half as likely to leave, which increases profit by reducing replacement costs, which can run as high as twice an employee's annual salary.

3. Practice and train prioritization.

Employees become less "engaged," less satisfied, and more stressed when they're asked or expected to multitask.  Because technology tends to encourage multitasking, it's up to the boss to help employees remain focused.

The easiest way to do this is to set a single, clear priority for each employee rather than a confused set of conflicting goals. The employee then has a touchstone to evaluate what's worthy of attention and what can be ignored for the time being.

Beyond that, add some time-management techniques into the employee training mix. Needless to say, the boss should try to be a role model rather than adopt a "do as you're trained, not as I do" attitude.

4. Keep work as meaningful as possible.

Employees are far more likely to remain engaged, happy, and productive if they feel that their work fits within their personal goals, desires, and beliefs.

Although it's impractical to expect the work experience to be an endless funfest, bosses can help employees feel positive about their jobs by hiring the right people from the start and, as they grow and change, find roles that match the direction of their lives and interests.

Another easy way to make work meaningful is to give employees more control over when and how they do it.  When that's not practical, take the extra time and effort to explain why each individual's contribution is specifically valuable.  Actually, do that anyway.

More on Employee Morale:

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