The trend from a recent "Happiness at Work" poll by Partners In Leadership confirms what our gut tells us: when employees are happier at work, 85% say they take more initiative; 73% say they are better collaborators; and 48% care more about their work. Recent research by economists at the University of Warwick has even found that the brain functions more effectively when a person is feeling positive about themselves and their surroundings.
This is all good news for organizations looking to move the needle on results and productivity. Yet, even when leaders know that there's a high incentive for ensuring the happiness of employees in the workplace, they still struggle to understand how to cultivate happiness and increase levels of job satisfaction and engagement. Hint, it's not about putting popcorn machines in the hallways!
Based on years of research and accountability training with some of the largest organizations in America, we've identified the secret ingredient--and it might not be what you're expecting:
Reinforcing positive accountability increases happiness and employee engagement.
Even if this seems counterintuitive, test these three simple strategies that leverage accountability to develop purpose and foster engagement in your teams.
1. Define Accountability
If you ask a group of 100 employees if they see areas within the business where more accountability is needed, 100% of them will say "yes." Yet if you ask the same 100 employees if they are personally accountable in the workplace, 100% of them will say "yes." Not one in the history of business admits: "I'm a train wreck. Don't count on me for much."
This happens because we judge other people based on what we see them doing, yet we judge ourselves based on our own intentions. In reality, most people don't realize when they're shirking from their responsibilities or playing the "blame game" because they know their intentions are to be accountable.
For this reason, leaders must clearly and simply define what accountability means from the get-go. Most view accountability as punitive--something that's dished out after things go wrong. The Oz Principle defines accountability as "a personal choice to rise above one's circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results." In other words, TAKING accountability is to follow four steps: See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It®. This is a definition that employees can get behind because it empowers them to take action when challenges arise, instead of getting mired in confusion and tossed about by other people's agendas and directives.
Organizations either place a managerial emphasis on "holding others accountable" or they place an emphasis on nurturing an environment where people are "taking greater accountability." The latter approach produces a culture where people look around and they proactively self-select the appropriate behaviors needed to get the result.
2. Put Employees in the Driver's Seat
People are happy when they're in control. Ownership is a powerful tool: when it is within an employee's power to do meaningful work well, they are more likely to see a task through to completion. Ownership is defined by two factors: Involvement and Agreement. When employees understand their involvement, they feel more in control, driving a sense of purpose in their daily work. Involvement, along with a heightened sense of agreement in what's most important, can also lead to feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction when these efforts yield positive results for the company.
When accountability is at the heart of an organizational culture, employees are empowered to take ownership for the work that matters instead of fixating on problems that surface from finger pointing and a lack of initiative. When employees take responsibility for delivering their organizations' results, engagement, productivity, and happiness rise exponentially.
3. Align around a Common Cause
People work for money. They work harder for good leaders. They work hardest for a cause.
Many jobs require some degree of menial, repetitive work, but the key to not succumbing to the monotony of these tasks is to keep the bigger picture in mind. If every employee truly understands how their role combines with others to bring the mission of the company to life, they'll be much more inclined to give 100% to their jobs (even when they're not particularly passionate about the task at hand). When leaders give their employees purpose, higher engagement and satisfaction naturally follow.
Accountability Fosters Happier Employees
The majority of employees we work with report that accountability training has had a positive impact on their personal level of engagement at work -- and what's more, they actually feel happier when they take more initiative in the workplace. It's just that simple: create a team where everyone takes accountability for what matters most, and your organizational culture will flourish.