Although people need a certain amount of money to meet their basic needs, money does not buy happiness.
I know this from personal experience. After all, one of the private companies I invested in is worth about 50 times more than the check I wrote to buy a stake in it. That's largely because it was acquired by a public company whose stock has quadrupled in the past five years and that recently popped another 5 percent after reporting record earnings.
None of that money makes me feel any happier. Instead, I feel happiness when others recognize something I did to make their life better. For example, in the past few weeks two students have told me that I taught them a concept that helped them do their jobs more effectively.
Simply put, to make your employees happier, give them experiences that recognize what they do well for other people.
Here are seven ways to do that.
1. Create a fund to let employees reward others in the company
Let's say one of your employees, John, spends extra time helping out a colleague, Phil, during a crunch time at work. Phil and John would both be happier if you gave Phil the option to express his gratitude for John's help by handing him, say, a Starbucks gift card.
2. Hold public ceremonies to reward the most innovative products or excellent customer service
People really get a kick out of being publicly recognized by their peers. You could establish a tradition at your company of holding an annual ceremony that would reward employees selected by their peers for developing the most innovative products or going the extra mile to make a customer happy.
The ceremony could include awarding the winner a nice gift and inscribing his or her name on a plaque displayed both in the lobby of the company and in front of the CEO's office.
While such ceremonies have the potential to make some people jealous, the winners will be happy as will your customers, who benefit from the way such ceremonies motivate the company to keep them happy.
3. Invite the families of outstanding employees to ceremonies that honor their contributions
Many people have trouble explaining to their spouse, children, parents, aunts, and uncles what they do at work. Whether it might ever be possible to explain your work to your family, there does seem to be a more universal message that is likely to get through -- the idea that your organization honors your people's specific contributions.
One way to make your employees happier is to communicate specifically why you value their contributions through a public ceremony to which you invited their families.
4. Consider allowing employees to take their pets to work
While I prefer outside pets -- seed-eating birds in my backyard -- many people prefer inside pets like cats or dogs. And given the amount of money and time that some people lavish on their pets, there is certainly the potential to make your employees happier by letting them take their pets to work instead of leaving them home alone all day.
This could be a difficult idea to pull off if you have employees who are allergic to such animals -- not to mention the added cost of making it possible to feed and clean up after the pets during the day.
But if you can overcome these problems, letting employees take their pets to work will make them happier.
5. Share the accomplishments of top employees with the company and the media
If you have an employee who models behavior that you want your other people to emulate, you can motivate your people and make the honored employee happy by sharing her accomplishments with others -- including the rest of the organization and even the media.
If it's use judiciously, this costless reward can lead other employees to show more of the behavior that you rewarded. And as long as you give those others the same recognition, you could create a snowball effect. The result can be a more effective organization and many happy employees.
6. Free food
It would be a mistake to leave out other sure-fire perks that make employees happy. Among the leading ones are free food. You could stock a fridge with a variety of healthy cold beverages or hire a barista to operate a company coffee service. Or you could cater a weekly lunch and encourage everyone to attend. The free food will certainly make people happy and may encourage communication that makes the company run more effectively.
7. Vendor discounts
A final low-cost perk you could offer is discounts at local vendors. These could range from retailers of wine, clothing, groceries, furniture, books, and produce to concert and museum tickets. These discounts will make your people happy and will boost business for local retailers.