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10 Essentials You Need to Consider To Boost Employee Happiness

 

If you type “Chief Happiness Officer” into LinkedIn, you will find that 14,000 people hold this job title. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Salesforce have already added a Chief Happiness Officer to their executive teams. They understand that happiness is not just a trend, but a very profitable investment.

What is clear is that organizations and HR professionals are paying more and more attention to staff happiness and well-being, whether you have a specifically designated role for it or not.

Is employee happiness important?

Happy employees make for a thriving company.

We spend one third of our lives working (perhaps even more during the pandemic), and work is very much at the core of human happiness (and misery). As the tech industry thrives, more employees are realizing that there is more to just slaving away for their whole lives. Why else would an employee leave a big corporation with great benefits (at least on paper) and go to a small business with a lower salary? The big company might offer lots of perks, but if an employee is just a number and no one cares about their needs, it’s just not going to work.

As Gavin and Mason pointed out: “It seems clear that if there is any hope for people to find general happiness in their lives today, they must be happy at work. Work by itself, of course, cannot make a person happy, but a person cannot be genuinely happy if he or she is unhappy at work.”

Employees not only want, but need to be treated as humans, and although (luckily) this is common sense for many business owners these days, most leaders don’t take the time to put the right structures in place to ensure employee happiness and wellbeing. Business owners and leaders also often need to put a number on all their activities and efforts, and employee happiness may sound irrelevant for lots of them. If you are of that mindset, we encourage you to keep reading and later watch these 20 reasons why employee happiness is far from nonsense. If you are already onboard and truly care about employee wellbeing, this article will help you gauge what makes a difference within your workforce in terms of employee happiness.

But what is employee happiness, really?

What exactly does “employee happiness” mean? Happiness in the workplace is a mindset that enables employees to maximize their performance and achieve their maximum potential. Happiness can be seen as a subjective experience, as people are happy to the extent that they believe themselves to be happy. Experts often treat happiness as psychological well-being, which encompasses life satisfaction, the presence of positive emotional experiences, and the absence of negative emotional experiences.

Employee happiness is about feeling positive about the work you do. It’s about preferring to fix problems rather than complaining about them. It’s about constantly trying to improve because you want to, and not because you have to. An important part of this happiness is the emotional commitment or engagement that employees develop towards a company, its values, and its mission.

Tangible benefits of having happy employees

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” – Simon Sinek

If you’ve come thus far, you probably know what employee happiness is and you may have a rough idea of why it is important - but, really, why?

  • Retention. Happy employees stay in their job four times longer than unhappy employees.
  • Productivity. Happy employees are more productive (around 12% more) and have 65% more energy than unhappy employees.
  • Creativity. Happy workers are creative and increase the overall productivity of their organizations.
  • Better decision-making. Happy employees have improved managerial decision-making (Staw & Barsade, 1993).
  • Commitment. Happy employees commit twice as much time to their tasks;
  • Happiness brings happiness. Happiness is infectious - it can have a multiplying effect.
  • Teamwork. In this study on happy-productive groups, they found that group positive affect (i.e. enthusiasm, optimism, satisfaction, comfort) was positively related to group social resources (i.e. teamwork, coordination, cohesion, supportive team climate).
  • Happy employees, happy customers. Customer service is always better when facilitated by employees who feel good and happy.

Employee happiness VS employee engagement

Employee engagement is something that occurs when workers are committed to helping their companies achieve all of their goals. Engaged employees are motivated to show up to work every day and do everything within their power to help their companies succeed.

It is not the same as satisfaction, though. Employee satisfaction is the state of a worker enjoying their job — but not necessarily being engaged with it. Ever had an employee who showed up to work early and left late but did not contribute much or broke a sweat? That employee might have been satisfied, but was probably not very engaged.

So, should you focus more on increasing employee happiness or employee engagement?

In Measuring Happiness at Work, an ebook published by Heartcount, it is argued that “employee engagement is a useful concept and we are not arguing against it. We just want to argue that of the two, it is much more effective for a company to focus on making their employees happy than on making them engaged. Here are the four main reasons why: (1) Happiness is easier to sell to employees, (2) Engagement without happiness is unsustainable, (3) Ultimately, it’s about performance – and happiness drives better performance (productivity, creativity, intrinsic motivation, loyalty, discretionary effort), (4) Happiness causes engagement.”

How to know if your employees are unhappy at work

If you start to see the following signs in your employees, it might be time to go harder on your employee happiness strategies:

  • They procrastinate
  • They’re really competitive about salary and titles
  • They don’t feel like helping coworkers
  • They don’t have friends at work
  • They experience isolation or social withdrawal
  • They don’t really care about anything
  • Small things bug them
  • They act suspicious of other people’s motives
  • They experience physical symptoms like insomnia, headaches, low energy, or muscle tension
  • They focus on the things they don’t like
  • They are irritable and their mood worsened
  • They frequently miss work

10 employee happiness strategies that actually work

A happy employee is a productive employee. Or so say experts and research. However, different people have different perceptions of happiness, as it is a very individual concept! But here’s the good news: research findings suggest that employers and HR managers can do a lot to contribute to their employees’ happiness and wellbeing. 

If you are looking for employee happiness strategies that actually work, in this section, we have compiled a list of the strategies or essentials based on research and experts’ recommendations. 

#1 Measure employee happiness

Gather insight on the current levels of employee happiness. Measuring employee happiness (and doing it right) is neither easy nor cheap, but if you ask, they will tell. Measuring employee happiness is important because it will help you as an HR manager to identify what is working and what isn’t and use it to guide efforts to improve your workplace, put hard numbers to bolster top leadership’s commitment to any happiness initiatives (as they’re usually highly results-oriented and data-driven), show your employees that the company cares. 

How can you measure employee happiness?

The first thing to consider when using a survey is what they are measuring exactly. Satisfaction is not the same as happiness! And while there are plenty of great employee engagement surveys, if you want to measure staff happiness in particular, you need to come up with something specific for it.

As a rule of thumb, always make it short and enjoyable (long annual surveys are not fun!), easy to fill out, conducted often, and with clear value for employees. Focus both on the positive and the negative, make sure results are available immediately, and make sure that those results lead to action. There are many ways to measure happiness at work beyond the usual useless satisfaction surveys, but here are some simple ones:

  • Happiness traffic light. Ask three simple questions each day through an online form that includes a comment section. For the first two questions, employees can choose between options "super green," "green," "yellow" and "red”, and the questions can be: 1) What mood did you arrive in today? 2) What mood are you leaving in today? 3) On a scale of one to four, how much did you like the tasks you did today? [This will help you...]
  • Tennis balls. If you’re back at the office, have employees drop a ball into either a “Happy” or “Unhappy” basket. Count the balls and then display the daily and weekly results on a monitor in the office. This is a quick way to measure happiness with real-time data that gives employees a chance to reflect every day on their happiness.  
  • Survey apps. Using a specialized app built to measure employee happiness will save you time and make it easier for everyone involved, like Happy at Work, TINYpulse, or  Hppy.

#2 Participation: Make them part of the big picture

Give your employees a chance to express what they feel and make them part of the big picture. Make them feel that they can actually make a difference by adding a suggestions box to your (virtual) office. Research shows that employees who are informed and included in decision-making enjoy greater job satisfaction, have higher self-esteem, and feel valued at work.

Oftentimes, your employees will have lots of great ideas and suggestions but don’t voice their opinions for a number of reasons. Your strategy should focus on creating opportunities for them to get involved. 

A cute, simple idea to encourage feedback and suggestions (and actually act on their feedback) is to go over the suggestions box once a month and pick the best (or most doable) idea and implement it (or provide them with the resources to do it themselves). The employee who suggested the winning idea will win a free meal for them and their significant other.

In diverse workforces, non-native speakers might not feel confident enough to speak up. Perhaps because their English is not as strong as their native language, or because they are scared of making mistakes. Make sure all your international employees feel included by providing them with high-quality professional English training.

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#3 Show appreciation and recognize their good work

Celebrate their success, just like rewarding employees with a free meal for a great suggestion. In a recent survey conducted at Snappy, 96% of employees agree that recognition in the workplace leads to stronger workplace culture and that it is key to the success of the business.

Of course, money is a motivator, but relying solely on extrinsic motivators can lead to exhaustion and burnout. This extensive line of research indicates that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may enhance or complement one another.

  • Celebrate their success and effort. A heartfelt thank you or very well done are a simple but effective way of appreciating them. 
  • Recognition matters. Periodic shoutouts for great work or superior effort (public recognition) can also be effective in some contexts. Kudos will help you make sure you give your employees the recognition and rewards they deserve.
  • Meaningful rewards. Reward hard-working, competent employees with higher value projects (if they get to learn something new, even better!). Show them that you value them by asking them for advice.
  • Give them some extras. Offer them some extra days off (a well-rested employee is more productive than the ones who work 80 hours a week). Talaera has recently introduced a policy where full-time employees get one Friday a month off - time to relax and unwind without any Slack messages or meetings.
  • Have middle managers on board. Employees usually leave because they don’t like their boss. Make sure their immediate boss is applying all the advice we’re providing here and they communicate the vision clearly.
  • Focus on the positives. Negative motivation doesn’t work. Research indicates that negative motivation may work for very specific contexts where creativity or problem-solving skills are not needed.

#4 Communicate openly

Communication is crucial in any organization - for the better, and for the worse! There is a relationship between employee happiness with the level of communication from managers and the ability of employees to provide suggestions, comments, and feedback, this paper found. Other research shows that the success of communication between colleagues can make employees feel immersed in their work.

  • Transparency. Employees truly value transparency, so make sure you communicate clearly, often, and honestly. 
  • Clear priorities. Communicate priorities clearly and keep them consistent (careful with overdoing the ‘drop everything and do this right now’).
  • Encouraging communication. You want your employees to share ideas. Not only formally, but also in casual conversations. Listen to what they have to say and pick up on your workforce’s concerns. Don’t make assumptions. Learn what happiness means to them and act on it. 
  • Checking in. Host regular check-in meetings. 1-1 meetings are the best way for managers and those who report to them to connect on urgent matters, build strong relationships, and make sure that employees feel they’re working toward their goals.
  • Open communication. Break the taboo and create a culture that encourages employees to open up about mental health, spread awareness, encourage employees to come forward.
  • Communication training. If you fear that your international workforce’s communication skills are hindering them, consider offering professional English courses.

#5 Foster connection and networking

Teamwork, camaraderie, team building. These are all very popular terms in the HR world, but they are not empty words. Effective team collaboration depends on having solid working relationships with your colleagues. ”The strongest predictor of happiness is not money or external recognition through success or fame. It's having meaningful social relationships," says Jane Gruber from Yale University.

Encourage cooperation, facilitate social networking opportunities, and consider some outdoor training. Physical activity and team-building events will help your workforce feel more connected to each other, especially when most of us are now working from home. You can also leverage tools like Campfire, a private chat room where you can set up different rooms for different topics and colleagues can communicate without adding noise to current communication channels.

#6 Build trust

This 2008 paper on employee happiness indicated that employees are more stressed when they feel they can’t trust their managers. Lack of trust in the leader may be a source of psychological insecurity. Creating a safe space to share their views and concerns is crucial. For leaders to show trustworthiness, they must always maintain confidentiality. Sharing your own situation can also help you seem more human as a leader, connect with others, and make your employees feel more comfortable opening up to you as well.

#7 Facilitate a nice work experience

You want your employees to feel connected to the organization and have a positive work environment. Although that statement might sound like a truism, it is often hard to strike the right balance between maximizing productivity and keeping your people happy.

Empirical research has shown that flexible work makes people happy. The study shows that giving employees the choice to decide when to work matters more for happiness than the duration of working time or income. This includes the ability to take some time off over the course of the day, which allows employees to work when they feel most inspired and increase productivity considerably. Moreover, 95% of workers are thinking about quitting their jobs, according to a new survey — and burnout is the number one reason.

To facilitate a nice work experience, here are some ideas you can implement:

  • Reward top performers with additional days off. You can be confident that they will get their work done, it will make them feel appreciated, and they will get the chance to unwind and reduce the chances of burnout.
  • Give them freedom. To the extent that it is possible for your organization and role, give employees the freedom to organize their own work and schedules. This allows them to adapt their work to their personal life, rather than the other way around, making them much more productive and motivated.
  • Encourage self-care. More and more companies are implementing health, happiness, and emotional well-being activities. Mahou San Miguel, for example, reports having 80% of their employees participating in those company-sponsored programs. Think of programs that adapt to your teams and your budget - you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to encourage self-care. It all starts with the mindset.

Do you think work flexibility (flexible hours, remote work, hybrid model) is here to stay? Tell us in the comments.

#8 Provide learning and development opportunities

“You spend so much time finding great people, it’s worth it to help them grow to be the best they can be.” – Justin Rosenstein (Co-Founder, Asana)

Many employees leave because they have stopped learning. Don’t let this happen in your organization. Provide your employees with training opportunities and learning resources, create clear career paths, offer developmental support, career mentoring, and be open to discussing career planning. Zachary Watson, CEO at HoneyCo, said, "If you're looking to keep an employee by giving him/her a raise, it's already too late.” Allow your employees to challenge themselves and accomplish new tasks. 

This paper showed that employees perceiving better opportunities for learning and personal development grow more enthusiastic and vigorous at work. They perceive their jobs as more intrinsically motivating and rewarding, they feel more empowered, they are more inclined to putting creativity into the job, and they perceive that their senses of impact, competence, enjoyment, and meaning are being fulfilled.

In terms of offering learning and development opportunities to their employees, many organizations have understood the importance of being able to express one’s ideas clearly and confidently. They see how impactful it is to build their non-native English employees up through business communications training

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#9 Increase their work’s meaningfulness

Help your employees see the impact of their work in the organization. How? Connect individual work and smaller projects to the company’s broader mission. Teams need to understand where the company is heading, what its mission is, and how it improves other people’s lives. Understanding this will help them stay motivated and feel good about what they do every day.

Listen to what each individual finds meaningful and intrinsically rewarding and consider allocating time each week in which employees can work on what really motivates them. Not only will this recharge their batteries, but it will also increase employee loyalty and it can even result in innovation for your company. To help your employees work with a purpose:

  • Create a company vision and learn to convey it
  • Express gratitude
  • Share customer success stories
  • Share positive feedback from other employees or customers
  • Show employees how their work impacts the company’s broader mission
  • Focus on the bigger picture

#10 Cultivate your company culture

Employees care about the company they work for. Nowadays, company culture is less about having a ping-pong table at the office. Today, it’s more about cultivating a company culture that is diverse and inclusive, it’s about caring about the employees’ well-being, and it’s about being a socially responsible company. Here are some ideas that will help you cultivate a company culture that fosters happiness:

  • Appoint empathetic leaders
  • Hire for diversity
  • Implement inclusion projects and policies
  • Make taking days off mandatory to make sure your employees get to unwind
  • Allow employees to work on flexible hours
  • Offer parental leave options and support
  • Participate in volunteering or charitable activities
  • Offer learning opportunities (communication workshops, organize a book club, establish a mentoring program, encourage your teams to join free webinars, etc.)

Conclusions

Promoting a psychologically happy workforce may be a means for boosting individual performance if leadership and organizational practices encourage employees' positive perceptions of features of the work environment, this paper suggests.

Boost employee happiness by building trust, helping employees work with a purpose, offering them learning opportunities, fostering connecting and networking, making them part of the big picture, communicating openly, and cultivating your company culture. Remember as well the relevance of leaders and the key role they play in developing group positive affect, and keep measuring your people’s happiness and well-being.

If you are considering different learning and development opportunities for your employees, get in touch with Talaera and we will create a business communication program tailored to your teams’ needs and interests.

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