Sunday, July 12th, 2009
Almost every CEO I worked for always talked about the importance of their people, but their actions did not coincide with their words. They were always more worried about the bottom line.
I know how important it is to make money, but if the employees are happy then believe me, the money will come. That is if you have a good product/service.
It’s why Southwest airlines is the only consistent money generator in the USA airline industry. They believe in creating a culture that encourages happiness.
As a leader of people you need to encourage happiness in every facet of your business. I’ve created 10 techniques that will help your company be happy and successful.
- Be happy yourself.
- Know your people.
- Make time for your people.
- Show people the autonomy that they already have.
- Help them find meaning in their work.
- Listen and respond to their emotions, not their problems.
- Stop letting assholes dictate the company culture.
- Encourage friendships.
- Recognize hard work.
- Find out why people leave.
These are concepts that are easy to understand, but may be hard to apply to your company’s culture. I’ll break them down so you can use them in your company.
1. Be Happy Yourself
Being happy yourself can sometimes be more difficult than making someone else happy. If you don’t know how to make yourself happy, it will be very difficult to help the people you manage to be happier.
You have to find what makes you happy at work and try to do more of it. If you are a manager and miss a certain aspect of your old job (i.e. more customer interaction), then try to do more of the customer interaction projects and give a part of your job that you dislike to an employee who enjoys the type of work that you don’t.
I struggled with my own work happiness because I didn’t take responsibility for my own emotions. I would let my emotions run rampant, causing me much more pain than I needed to endure. Read my What Do I Do If I’m Unhappy at Work? to get a better idea of how to be happier at your job.
2. Know Your People
You must know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses. If you keep giving PR work to an employee who hates it, they won’t be sticking around very long.
When you assign work to an employee who enjoys the task, they respect and appreciate you. The happier you make them, the higher quality their output will be. It’s a simple concept, but one many managers ignore.
You must spend time with your employees in order to understand them. Do you know what they do in their spare time? What type of food do they like?
The more you know about the people you manage, the easier it will be to lead them.
3. Make Time for Your People
Are you taking the time to listen to their problems and helping them come up with solutions? I know most of my superiors never did this for me.
At most of my jobs, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I know a lot of people feel this way. They feel like they are the last to know what is going on with in a company.
Every leader needs to make time for his or her people.
You can do this by:
- Talking to employees about decisions.
- Asking them about their own issues.
- Hanging out with them outside of work.
- Asking them for their opinions.
- Chatting with them about their personal lives.
Making time for your people might sometimes feel like a time suck, but it’s worth your effort. They will show more loyalty and become more engaged. Zappos, the employee happiness juggernauts, encourage their managers to spend roughly 15% of their day with their staff. They know that it works.
4. Show People the Autonomy That They Already Have
Many employees don’t like working within a certain organization because of the lack of freedom. They feel chained to their cubicle.
What many employees don’t realize is that they do have autonomy.
You need to let your employees know about the perks that they might not be using. Make them aware of the breaks that they can take because it will help them reduce stress and increase productivity. Inform them about anything the company provides that could make them happier.
If the company is too strict then make some changes. We live in a different world compared to just ten years ago. If you want to retain great employees, then you should consider allowing them more freedom and flexibility as long as they get results.
5. Help Them Find Meaning in Their Work
People need to believe that the work they do is worth doing. Otherwise they see no point in putting in extra effort.
A great way to help your employees find meaning is to tell stories that they can connect with. A good story can show a perspective that the employee hadn’t yet seen.
My father is an electrician and has owned Staib Electrical for 40 years. I worked with him through high school and college. I was always baffled by his need to form the wires so perfectly. My dad made sure his electrical panels were like little pieces of engineering art work. One day, after he fixed my work (again), I asked him why it was so important to him to make the wires look perfect.
He explained how he recently received two phone calls from potential clients. They had both heard from a previous customer about the great work he did. He asked them who referred him, and they both named a neighbor of theirs, Mr. Hanken. My father told me about Mr. Hanken’s delighted expression when he showed him his work. Mr. Hanken then bragged to his neighbors, and they too wanted an electrician that cared as much as my father does.
I understood why my dad’s presentation was so important. If he didn’t apply a bit of art to his craft, everyone would think he was just like every other electrician. It separated him from the crowd and as a result people talked him up to people they knew. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.
From that point on, I applied a little art to every wire I formed.
6. Listen and Respond to Their Emotions, Not Their Problems
People often complain just so they will be heard. They don’t necessarily want solutions; they want empathy.
The next time an employee comes to talk to you about another employee, give them what they need emotionally. Let them know that it can be tough work with (fill in difficult coworker here). Allow them to vent.
If they ask for a solution then you can try to find one together, but most of the time they just need an emotional boost, rather than a fix to their problem.
7. Stop Letting Assholes Dictate the Company Culture
One asshole can wreak havoc on a whole department or organization. They are miserable and they want everyone else to be miserable too.
The job of any leader is to stop these people from bringing everyone else down. That may mean helping this person recognize their issues and figuring out a way to become happy. If that doesn’t work, you may need to let them go.
The only way the company culture will support great work is if everyone treats each other with respect.
8. Encourage Friendships
People need to have friends at work. If they don’t, they are much less likely to stay at a job, feel happy, and be creative.
“Among the 3 in 10 workers who strongly agree that they have a best friend at work, 56% are engaged, 33% are not engaged and 11% are actively disengaged to the point of poisoning the atmosphere with their negativity. Those who don’t have a best friend have slim 1-in-12 odds of being among the engaged. Worse, the best-friendless stand a one in three chance of being actively disengaged. That means they may threaten sabotage or otherwise become a serious drag on the company’s success.” – Del Jones of USA Today Best friends good for business
A manager should encourage his or her staff to hang out with each other. The more people hang out with each other, the more likely they are to find ways to like each other.
It’s helpful if you create opportunities for people to gather outside of work so they can bond. If you are their superior then they may not be able to relax when you’re there, so gather them and take off. Yes, they may complain about you after you leave, but it’s important that they find common ground, even if it’s making jokes at your expense.
Believe me, they will be more supportive, happier and a stronger team as a result.
9. Recognize Hard Work
A boss who appreciates hard work, not just the end result is a better boss. The psychology behind it is simple. If you show people that you are grateful when they work hard they are more likely to enjoy the process.
Many bosses only appreciate the end result. If the end result is bad, then the employee confidence and morale takes a hit.
Show people that you care about their effort, not just the results, and you’ll see an improvement in productivity.
10. Find Out Why People Leave
People usually leave a company because they aren’t happy. Try to find out why they are leaving and what you can do to solve the issue.
I’ve never had an exit interview, but I had a friend who did. They kept asking the question “why” until they got to the heart of the problem. They didn’t want some patsy answer that wouldn’t help them.
Most employees will just want to get out of there, but if you take the time to listen, you may be able to figure out a solution that will help future employees. You may have lost this employee, but you can improve other employees’ happiness so they stick around and do great work.
The environment at work doesn’t need to be boring or strict. In fact, Southwest, Google, and Zappos are proof that happy employees improve the bottom line.
Bosses, managers, or supervisors have so many tools at their disposal. The research in Inc. Magazine, Alex’s blog The Chief Happiness Officer, Psychology Today, and WorldBlu (to list just a few) proves that people who are happy at work are more productive and engaged.
Start by implementing these concepts, but don’t stop there. There are many ways to encourage happiness. Just remember that every organization and group of people are different. Sometimes it takes a few tries to see some progress.
* Target Turned Tigress had this to add in the comment section. I wanted to paste it here, so it’s not missed.
I’d add one caveat to item #6 and three more items to make it a “baker’s dozen”–lucky 13. Under item number 6, I’d add the caveat that while it’s fine to offer some empathy when employees come and complain about each other (either out of a genuine concern or from pettiness/petulance/some other bizarre personal grudge), the head of a department also needs to make it really clear that person A needs to talk to person B directly. Encouraging a practice of triangulating (going through a third person instead of communicating directly)is really dysfunctional and ultimately creates an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. A really good manager might help person A to clearly articulate the issue and come up with a script to problem solve the issue with Person B in a friendly, collegial manner, and then check back in with person A to see how things went. I’m sure there are any number of managers out there who might roll their eyes and exclaim in exasperation that they were not hired to do counselling, but setting a good example around healthy communication and empowering one’s supervisees to strengthen their interpersonal skills will go a long way toward eliminating unresolved conflicts, toxic workplaces and the stress related illnesses that arise out of them.
The three additional practices by managers that would greatly contribute to happiness, harmony and productivity in their departments:
11. Good Managers are Aware of their Limitations as Well as Strengths.
If they know they don’t handle conflict well and lean toward avoidance, then hopefully they have the integrity and courage to recognize their limitations and make dealing with their stuff a priority by learning conflict resolution and healthy communications skills as part of their professional development. Better yet, they might organize a department wide workshop on positive/assertive communications skills (preferably non-violent communications)so everyone can be empowered by learning those skills. Workshops on understanding how different personality/temperament types function at work would also be great ways of increasing understanding and reducing frustrations.
12. Follow Through Promptly on Policy Issues
(especially factors that affect working conditions–nothing kills a department morale faster than neglecting to attend to comfort factors like temperature control, air quality, ergonomics or anything else that might lead to health problems that could have been avoided), promotion and performance considerations right away.
Procrastinating on getting back to employees about possible promotions, pay raises or performance evaluations in a timely manner does not do much for the respect or trust factor. Good managers, don’t cop out with the “I’ve been too busy with other stuff”, nor do they dump the responsibility for being “proactive” about the issue back onto the employee: they recognize it is THEIR responsibility as the person with the power to hire, fire or promote their people–not the employees’–to have the professionalism and courtesy to respond in a timely manner, whether it’s good news or bad news or otherwise.
13. Set the Example and the Tone
Managers who are really interested in fostering and maintaining an environment that is happy, productive and where employees conduct themselves professionally do this by setting the example and the tone–especially in how they handle stress and frustrations.
Managers who consistently back bite other employees in the company, express frustration at others using violent imagery* or other inappropriate language/stress management techniques create a really toxic environment in one of two ways. First, by modeling such behavior, managers are indicating that they approve of such behavior, and many of their employees will adopt the same attitudes to “fit in” or earn brownie points with the boss. (It’s really scary to see this in action!) Second, such behavior does absolutely nothing to earn the loyalty or respect of one’s employees (except maybe to their face) and everything to create an atmosphere of distrust and fear.
*While “imaginary” violence may not actually physically harm a person, the malice/intent to harm is still there even though the action hasn’t actually occurred. It’s both a little scary and traumatizing for employees to be subjected to these kinds of behaviors on a regular basis. Recent social psychology research has shown that blowing off steam this way actually leads to more anger and a tendency to depersonalize/dehumanize the object of one’s imaginary violence.
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