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Why employee happiness should be a top priority

Written 12 March, 2019, 4 minutes to read

While the idea of leading a happy, upbeat team sounds great, is it really necessary? As long as employees are doing their job (and ideally not hating it), it’s fine – right?...

Well, no actually. In a corporate climate increasingly defined by values, employee happiness counts for a lot. The rising importance of “customer experience” – with its focus on individuality, meaning and choice – has awakened a new phenomenon which businesses must look internally to satisfy: the age of “employee experience”.

Here’s why employee happiness should be a top priority for every business – not an afterthought.

The importance of employee happiness

It wasn’t too long ago that being happy at work wasn’t a big deal. Work is a four letter word, after all; if you didn’t like your job, you just did it all the same and found your happiness outside the office. But we live in different times. The link between happiness and productivity isn’t new, but many employers still underestimate just how important it is in the workplace.

Let’s consider a few statistics:

Clearly, having happy employees isn’t a bonus; it’s a necessity for every successful workplace. Productivity, motivation, dedication and retention all depend on it.

But employee happiness can’t just be reduced to snappy stats and figures. Happiness has a tangible effect on everything we do; even though you may not realise it, being unhappy is seriously detrimental to our performance. It causes us to disengage, reducing our ability to think critically or creatively.

“There are clear neurological links between feelings, thoughts, and actions,” leadership advisor and author Annie Mckee wrote for Harvard Business Review. “When we are in the grip of strong negative emotions, it’s like having blinders on. We don’t process information as well, think creatively, or make good decisions. Frustration, anger, and stress cause an important part of us to shut down – the thinking, engaged part.”

The happiness effect

Another thing to consider when examining the effect of happiness is that it can have a multiplying effect. Seeing smiling, happy employees is contagious – it can influence team members without them even realizing.

And unhappy employees just generally aren’t much fun to work with! They aren’t engaged and their negative outlooks can impact many different areas of the job. Since effective team collaboration depends on having solid working relationships with your colleagues, you stand to lose a lot by not engaging and satisfying your team.

And discontent breeds instability. Obviously, unhappy staff are more likely to quit, so if retention is something you care about (and it really should be, given the cost of replacing staff!) you should start paying attention to employee happiness.

Just having one unhappy employee can affect the entire team – and if the entire team is affected, the whole business will suffer. Leadership must invest in happiness... but how do you go about this exactly? And how do you measure happiness in the first place?

Measuring employee happiness

There’s no single way to calculate happiness. Instead, it requires a combination of approaches.

The most common method is the employee satisfaction index (ESI) – specifically Method 1 (succinct) or Method 2 (thorough). The appropriate method for you depends upon the size of your staff, the relative importance of employee satisfaction to your business, and the amount of time you’re able to devote to the procedure.

But happiness will never be static: it ebbs and flows – a one-off index will not help you monitor and improve it for the long-term. So even once you get an accurate picture of how happy your employees are, you need to actually work out what people want.

How to improve employee happiness

To actually improve employee happiness, you need to nurture strong, meaningful two-way relationships with your staff. As leader, the onus is on you to build positive relationships and effect genuine communication. You can lead with compassion by:

  • Learning what happiness means to them
  • Asking how you can improve and support them better
  • Ensuring they have a balanced and interesting workload
  • Encouraging and investing in their skills
  • Involving them in decisions
  • Creating opportunities for them to get involved
  • Showing you value them
  • Celebrating their successes
  • Always acting on their feedback

Remember to protect space for regular check-ins with your employees, and promote a culture where feedback is encouraged, not suppressed.

Ultimately, employee happiness comes from having a shared vision – with colleagues, managers and the company itself. Investing in the happiness of your team will not only improve morale, focus and productivity – it will help you build a more stable, and ultimately more lucrative business.

What about improving employee performance? Find the best KPIs for measuring it here.

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