You've heard it before: A leader is only as good as his team. Your employees are the lifeblood of your organization--from the front-line staff interfacing with your customers and keeping them happy, to your sales development representatives who are warming up leads to the point of sales-readiness to ensure that they're at just the right point in the buying cycle when they're passed on to sales, and even your design and development teams who celebrate usability breakthroughs and bug fixes like they've just won the $1.5 million Powerball jackpot.

Sounds like your staff? Great. Not so much? You might have a morale problem. And if you have a morale problem, you likely also have a productivity problem, among a multitude of other issues such as poor concentration, lackluster performance, and increased turnover, all of which can have a negative impact on your bottom line.

Research Shows That Happy People are More Productive

A recent study led by Professor Andrew Oswald, Dr. Eugenio Proto, and Dr. Daniel Sgroi from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick investigated the link between happiness and productivity. The study, set to be published in the Journal of Labor Economics, includes four different experiments carried out with more than 700 participants and found that happiness boosts productivity by 12%.

The goal, then, is to increase happiness among your employees, thus allowing you to benefit from the productivity gains that result. While you can't directly influence an individual's attitude, you can certainly take steps to boost company morale, which cultivates a positive work environment, leads to greater job satisfaction, and contributes to overall happiness.

Lead researcher Andrew Oswald points out that companies like Google that invest in initiatives to increase employee support and satisfaction realize productivity gains up to 37% in the real world. Clearly, these investments pay off--but where should you focus your efforts? Here are three effective ways to boost company morale.

1. Recognize and Celebrate Employee Accomplishments

Celebrating milestones or achievements of employees is a great way for a company to show that it values its employees. Celebrating your employees' achievements can be done in simple ways such like rewarding them for landing that sought-after client with a half day at work or catering lunch for the department to celebrate an employee's 10-year anniversary with the company.

You might reward an employee with a trophy for exceeding sales goals for the quarter or the year, or by displaying the employee's picture in the lobby for widespread public recognition. Even something as simple as a sincere, handwritten thank you note can have a surprisingly positive impact on company morale and employee satisfaction.

"Companies with recognition programs highly effective at improving employee engagement have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers with ineffective recognition programs," according to research conducted by Bersin & Associates. "The findings, which appear in a new research report The State of Employee Recognition in 2012, indicate that recognition plays a much more measureable role in business performance than previously believed." Overall, the study found that in organizations that implement effective employee recognition programs, "employee engagement, productivity and customer service are about 14 percent better than in those where recognition does not occur."

So, although the above gestures may seem cheesy or insignificant, they will go a long way in keeping your employees motivated.

2. Allow Employees to Pursue Their Passions

Believe it or not, your employees probably have other hobbies, talents, and outside interests that have nothing to do with their professional responsibilities. That's why it's important to provide employees with some personal time to pursue their outside interests and passions. Doing so cultivates a greater sense of work-life balance--a factor that weighs heavily on job satisfaction, particularly among Millennials, according to a study led by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"Just as notable, however, are the widespread similarities between Millennial employees and their non-Millennial counterparts, all of whom aspire to a new workplace paradigm that places a higher priority on work/life balance and workplace flexibility," the study, which includes findings from more than 40,000 survey responses, explains.

Research conducted by Dr. Almuth McDowall of the University of Birkbeck shows that giving employees some quality "me-time" not only has significant benefits for their psychological wellbeing but can also improve their engagement in the workplace. "If people take time out to recharge their batteries and experience the time taken out as high quality, this reaps benefits for their own psychological wellbeing, their family relationships and for their employers as they are more likely to perform better at work," said Dr. McDowall.

3. Give Employees an Opportunity for Advancement through Training and Skill Development

A recent study published by researchers from the University of Iowa, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Arizona State finds that opportunity for advancement is one of the most influential factors impacting both employee morale and turnover rates. "Only those employees who can see a way forward in their careers will stay with an employer," said co-author Scott Seibert, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business. "Otherwise, professional development opportunities might simply make their workers more employable by other firms."

Investing in training and skill development for your employees will not only give them an opportunity to advance but will also boost their self-confidence and morale. "Everyone has an innate desire to get better. Staying still can eventually become a negative place to be; you feel stuck," says Mark Dawson, Founder of Inrol, a company that offers custom business training solutions. "So effective training programs represent a far greater return on investment than what you would at first think. When we get better at what we do or how we communicate, and then we see those positive outcomes, it makes our life at work not only more productive, but so much more satisfying."

Training and skill development programs can include short-term leadership or customer service training, such as those offered by Inrol or even a diploma or degree depending upon the individual interests and abilities of the employee.

Online retail giant Amazon is one company that has increased results through its employee empowerment program. The company reports success in boosting employee morale and decreasing turnover rates through its unique program, which pays 95% of tuition fees for employees to take courses of interest--even if the course is not related to a career at the company. Even when employees pursue education in other fields, these benefits serve to cultivate employee loyalty and increase job satisfaction due to a greater sense of work-life balance and having the freedom to pursue passions. What's more, many of these employees gain valuable skills that qualify them for key roles in different departments, offering a win-win for employee and employer.

Implement a few of these strategies for boosting company morale, and your company will reap numerous benefits, ranging from greater employee satisfaction to increased productivity, ultimately leading to happier customers--which in turn boosts your bottom line.

Published on: Feb 9, 2016