Should You Care About Employee Happiness?
Posted by Eric Friedman
Why is everyone talking about job happiness and engagement nowadays? It seems to be a very trendy topic among managers and HR professionals. The reason is simple and obvious: happier employees are safer, better brand ambassadors, and more engaged and productive participants in the entire work process.
Does happiness and engagement really matter?
According to a recent Gallup poll, employee engagement has been rising this year, from close to 32% in January to almost 33% in February. However, this means that almost 70% of employees are not engaged. These numbers tell an important story, because happiness and engagement are linked to virtually every area of business, including recruitment, retention, company branding, and productivity. Companies are finding it much harder to keep top performers on staff, and hide any vulnerability the company may have in its culture, services, or branding, due to the transparency of social media. Job seekers (both active and passive) are also seeking happiness at work. Most employees are willing to sacrifice important-sounding job titles and some compensation in order to be happier in their careers. You’ve heard the saying, “Happy wife; happy life”? Well, the same is true in business–happy employees make for a happy and profitable work life. So, the answer is yes! If you want to obtain your organizational goals, you want … no, you need happy employees.
What makes employees happy?
Happiness is relative. While some people automatically believe that paying employees more money will make them happier, we have seen CEOs walk away from million-dollar jobs for more satisfying opportunities, and countless employees accept jobs with lower pay because they entail less stress and are more personally rewarding. It turns out that the type of work you do and your company’s culture and benefit packages are huge factors in determining happiness. A company that helps employees continue their education, encourages them to actually use their vacation time, provides opportunities for advancement, and offers great perks and flexible benefits has happier employees with higher job satisfaction numbers.
How can you tell if your employees are happy?
Determining if your employees are really happy can be very difficult, so here are four suggestions.
- First, of course, you can ask them during performance evaluations. However, there are two big problems with this approach. The first is that unhappy employees will be afraid to tell you the truth. Most people do not tell their employers how they really feel about their job out of fear of retaliation. The second problem with asking directly during performance evaluations is that the responses are usually tied to a reward mechanism–the employee is answering the question based on expectations of a bonus, promotion, or raise.
- The second way to tell if your employees are happy is to pay attention to their words, contributions, and even body language. Some employees will tell you their true feelings. Most, however, will not – but they may give you some signs if you pay close attention. For instance, if you have a company picnic or community outreach event, employee participation could be an indication of happiness levels, because happy employees tend to participate in extracurricular activities more than unhappy employees. You can also plan other team-building events and exercises, such as “Favorite Pro Sports T-Shirt Day”, potlucks, ping pong tournaments, contests, or after-work dinner and drinks as a way to gauge happiness. Granted, this takes a little more effort, because you don’t want to judge an employee’s happiness based on one activity. But these kinds of activities can actually boost employee happiness in the process.
- The third way to measure employee happiness is to administer a survey. You can create an online survey or use a traditional pen-and-paper survey. The problem here is that, while no one likes to write any more (it’s viewed as an old and ineffective form of communication), most employees don’t trust online surveys, even anonymous ones. They believe their comments can be tracked and will ultimately be held against them.
- The fourth and newest approach to determining if your employees are happy is to have ongoing conversations throughout the year, to get a read on engagement levels independent of annual performance reviews. Engagement conversations can be held as frequently as once a week. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently published an article on its website titled “Weekly Conversations May Boost Employee Engagement,” which supports this theory. These conversations can be informal, with no documentation. They can just be a quick chat to “check-in” with the employee to see how he or she is doing, and gather any concerns or suggestions.
What are “happy questions”?
When developing questions to determine the level of happiness in your employees, remember to focus on what you really want to know, and be authentic. Ask questions like the following: “Is there anything I can do right now to make things better for you?” “If you could replace one thing immediately, what would it be?” “Are there any projects or new trends that you think are interesting?” If you are really brave, you can ask, “Is there anything I can do to be a better manager to you?”
Having a supportive boss who expresses an interest in the professional development and personal well-being of each member of the team is critical to winning the battle against employee turnover. It’s also the best possible way to have happy employees.
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Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.