Making happy workplaces and happy employees sounds so ... what's the word ... Disney-like. In the results-oriented, bottom-line business world, does happiness really fit in, or is this the stuff of Tinker Bell, Cinderella, and Lightning McQueen?
Well, what if I told you that the happier your employees are, the more productive your company will be?
A recent study at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12 percent spike in productivity, while unhappy workers were 10 percent less productive. The research team put it like this:
We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off. Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37 percent. The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.
That leads to the question, how do companies begin a cultural shift to happiness to leverage its benefits? Well, first of all, happiness isn't something leaders impose or force on employees as a top-down program or engagement strategy to squeeze more productivity out of them.
For the most part, it's a mindset that begins with leaders shifting their own beliefs and accepting employees as their greatest asset. When human beings at work are held with the utmost regard, you begin to treat them differently.
This shift can happen only by creating an environment that will attract and retain a culture of high performers who feel valued, respected, and encouraged daily. Here are five ways to do it.
1. Identify what makes your workplace a good place to work.
Look around your organization and ask, "Who are my high-performers and those I admire?" Pull them aside and simply ask them whether they'd recommend your organization to others as a good place to work. Then begin to listen: Listen for their ideas, identify their strengths, and know the markers of success and core values your highest performers share. This will give you a solid foundation to drive your culture. Use this information to reinvent your selection process and screen for behaviors you'd like to replicate in those you hire. Then, consistently communicate these values as new cultural behaviors that are expected, and implement incentives that will reinforce them across the enterprise.
2. Establish a learning spirit within the organization.
What you'll find in most happy organizations is a high commitment to growing their employees. They identify their employees' gifts, talents, and strengths for the best job fit so that they can reach their potential. They champion a "learning spirit" within the organization, sending a clear message that "growing our people is one of our highest priorities." They provide ongoing training, coaching, and mentoring opportunities that are aligned with job purpose and fulfilling employees' personal goals.
3. Establish a culture of open communication and frequent feedback.
According to Gallup research, the second-most-common mistake that leads to turnover is lack of communication. Your first order of priority to protect against this is to get rid of the traditional annual employee performance review. It's an obsolete HR practice -- a time-consuming "check in the box" ritual for busy managers who feel obligated to do it -- and it simply doesn't work anymore. Instead, upgrade to frequent feedback -- monthly one-on-ones during which you get to coach employees and evaluate their progress in real time, not just the results. This is what your Millennial high achievers crave and want to keep developing, building strengths, and adding value.
4. Establish a culture that values greater work-life balance.
In the 24/7-connected world we live in, it's much easier to get work done without being tethered to an office. Research by Georgetown University and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation confirms that 80 percent of employees would be happier with more flexible work options and alternative schedules that meet their personal needs. Think out of the box with some of these strategies to boost morale:
- Allow parents of small kids to start their workday before office hours (7 a.m., for example), and leave in the midafternoon to pick their children from school.
- For night owls, offer the option of arriving at the office around lunch and leaving at 8:00 p.m.
- Give the option of 10-hour days followed by three days off, or a Monday-Thursday schedule of nine-hour days, followed by Fridays off.
- Allow employees the option of working from home. Many remote workers are typically happier and more productive.
- Offer personal days for employees to tend to family needs.
- Provide child- and pet-care options
5. Establish a culture of praise and recognition.
The companies in Gallup's study with the highest engagement levels use recognition and praise as a powerful motivator to get their commitment. Employees who receive it on a regular basis (from managers and peers alike) increase their individual productivity, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and are more likely to stay with their organization. Sean Kelly, the CEO of SnackNation, holds what he calls a "Crush It Call" every Friday for his team. He writes in 15Five:
Our entire team gathers around in a circle and we go around the room calling out someone whose work we want to recognize (i.e., someone who "crushed it" that week). You can also create a monthly or quarterly award for the team member who most embodies your core values. I also highly encourage impromptu praise. Send out an email to the company when you notice someone going above and beyond, or give it a personal touch by writing them a handwritten note. The unexpectedness of the gesture will give it greater impact. In my opinion, you can never, ever underestimate the power of a handwritten note (especially when sent to your employee's home).