Keeping Today’s Employees Happy and Productive
It ain’t your daddy’s workplace anymore.
The traditional nine-to-five office workday is rapidly vanishing as mobile smartphones, notebooks, laptops and other technological miracle tools extend a boss’s or team leader’s reach and take work to places where it has never been before: atop a mountain, in the car, on the beach, and even into the bathroom. Your office is wherever phone lines or Wi-Fi are available and with 24-hour text messaging, internet-based teleconferencing and face-to-face communication possible, no hour of the day or night limits our ability to work – a necessity in this modern era where operations of business and finance have no geographical boundaries. Further, the speed and immediacy of today’s communications seemingly demand a prompt response to every message, text or email, regardless of importance. Many have become accustomed to sleep, eat and bathe with smartphones close by, able to respond to middle-of-the-night or early morning crises, queries or emergencies.New work parameters are reshaping jobs and challenging bosses to keep abreast of and adapt to these changes. One of the greatest challenges a manager now faces is how to supervise employees while keeping them happy and productive.
On the whole, business has risen to the challenge, with a recent work study conducted by Staples reporting that, while 52% of those polled for the study feel they are approaching burnout and are working more than ever, a full 86% of those same workers report that they are happy in their jobs. An anomaly? Perhaps.
Or perhaps it is evidence that businesses are reshaping work demands to fit new modalities.
When conference calls began arriving at family dinnertime and employees were tapped for urgent assignments via a 6:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m. texts, traditional work expectations had to bend. And bend, they have. Flextime, telecommuting, teleconferencing, and a variety of Cloud programs permit teams spread across the globe to work on a project simultaneously, even from home (wherever that may be) – and communicate in real-time while they do so. These innovations permit employees to organize their time better and work at their best and most productive or convenient times in order to accomplish company goals.
This is a benefit to employees, and a challenge to supervisors and managers.
The key to successful and effective management under these conditions is a strong, dedicated staff that is bonded, happy, productive, and invested in company goals. And no – although everyone naturally wants to be fairly compensated for work effort and rewarded when they exceed expectations – it is not all about the Benjamins, or even the perks a company may offer.
Salary, benefits and perks offered matter most at the point that a prospective employee is sizing up a company to learn what it might offer and how working for a particular employer or in a certain position can benefit them professionally and personally. At the same time, the company to which they are applying is assessing their applicant, seeking a good “fit” in terms of the individual’s aptitudes and experience, personality, drive and ambition, and desire to become part of the organization. The hiring process is a “dating game,” of sorts, with both parties presenting themselves as attractively as possible, hoping their objectives mesh, and that there will be a second and third date, with marriage as the ultimate goal.
As in romantic situations, once the marriage excitement has settled down and the honeymoon is over, day-to-day living looms large. And it is the day-to-day stuff that makes or breaks a marriage.
Why do couples break up? And why do some marriages seem made in heaven? Oddly enough, the reasons that couples are unhappy and eventually part closely parallel reasons that employees choose to leave an employer or organization they once carefully selected and may have spent many years with, or that corporations regrettably show expensively head-hunted (and seemingly desirable) employees the door:
- A basic cultural or personal incompatibility
- Faulty or misplaced expectations
- Failure to listen, or to consider ideas and opinions
- Limited access or availability
- Failure to show appreciation
- Keeping secrets that encourage speculation of the worst kind
- Poor, or infrequent communication
- Outright lies or misrepresentations
- Failing to support individual growth and development
- Significant and repeated misbehavior
- Dishonesty, deception, or distrust between parties
- Consistently poor performance of vital functions within the context of the relationship
- Failure to pay attention to housekeeping and appearances
- Controlling behaviors by one party, which stifle the self-actualization of the other
- Creation of a stressful environment, rather than one of comfort and connection
- Suppression of individual self-expression
- Disruptive and inconsistent behavior
- Lack of drive and inability to earn or add to the bottom line to a significant degree
- Lack of respect between parties
- Laziness, irresponsibility, or lack of dependability
- Erratic decision-making
- Abusive behaviors
- Failure to consult or advise on important matters
- The inability to see a future together
This analogy is germane to the topic of keeping employees happy at work because it establishes categories that can be addressed as being vital to individual (and therefore, employee) happiness and team cohesion.
- Provide a Safe and Comfortable Work Environment: A clean, tidy, attractive, well-lit and well-organized office in which to work is a joy, and makes arrival at work each day a pleasant experience. Clean, clear windows that let in sun, with views of the sky and greenery, and live plants around the office have been shown to enhance employee mood and productivity.
Adequate availability of the tools necessary to do essential tasks without undue waits or frequent breakdowns is crucial to employee happiness, as reported in the Staples study. Good air circulation and temperature control, appropriate work lighting, comfortable seating and workspace, a nice breakroom, clean bathrooms and a well-maintained business structure are also essential.
Allow employees to personalize their individual work space, within reason, bringing in small plants, personal photos and the like. Solicit employee suggestions regarding breakroom furnishings and décor. Let them make and enforce the rules governing refrigerator/microwave/toaster oven maintenance, coffee preparation and cleanup, personal food preparation and so on. You may wish to maintain a snack jar or offer beverages – or have coin-operated snack and beverage machines installed – for your employees. Fresh water is a must, of course.
Money spent on equipping employees well, and with the latest technology, will be returned to the business ten-fold in the form of less-stressed and more motivated, happier, and far more productive employees. Spending money on machinery and electronics to help your workers do their jobs easily and well, whether they work in the office setting, from home or while they travel, is an indication that you consider them and the work they do to be important to the organization, and is evidence that you want to help them succeed in any way you can.
Providing a pleasant physical work environment establishes that employees are important and that their comfort is your concern. Providing the proper tools for employees to easily perform the work they were hired to do is the first requirement of any employer.
- Build Trust Through Communication: Once the needs of the physical office environment have been met and the best tools of the trade have been provided, the balance of requirements for building a loyal, happy and productive staff rely on the personal interactions that forge a bond between team members and their leader – you. Your actions and management style establish the atmosphere within the office, and it is up to you to create the framework around which the work teams that you build will revolve. That framework is trust.
To build trust, commit to being a clear, consistent and frequent communicator. Weekly – but brief – meetings should be held to maintain a face-to-face presence, set goals, get employee feedback and gauge general employee progress. Email is convenient and efficient, but good managers must do more to connect with employees.
- Set clear expectations for employee work performance and office conduct; review expectations often, in one-on-one and regular group meetings, along with other pertinent business matters.
- Hold brief meetings to keep employees informed of what is happening in the company that might affect them. Nothing is worse than being kept in the dark – rumors take over and people often react preemptively or negatively to speculation. Be a straight shooter.
- Clearly explain assignments and expected time frames, and be sure to encourage and answer all questions before assuming that your message has been understood.
- Ask for employee ideas and input concerning office policies and practices. Respect their contributions and adopt those that improve productivity or efficiency. Give credit for great new ideas.
- Never, ever, ever misinform, obfuscate or withhold important information.
- Honestly admit mistakes.
- Never shift blame or accuse prematurely.
- Give positive or constructive performance feedback: monitor progress and growth and provide guidance between evaluations; recognize improvement; and always – always – show sincere appreciation to your employees for their contributions.
- Give Employees Freedom and Autonomy: Don’t question your employees’ abilities; they were hired because education and work history, screening and interviews proved them competent enough to join the company. If an employee proves otherwise, deal with it on an individual basis. But assume those in your employ can complete tasks without you micro-managing or hovering over them.
Solicit their ideas. Ask for progress reports periodically, but respect employees’ ability to make good decisions. Hold periodic “brainstorming” sessions to tackle problems that may affect overall office operations, morale issues or workflow. Allow workers to offer their ideas freely: great ideas flourish in an atmosphere that encourages employees to creatively tackle problems and thus achieve their full potential.
People live up to expectations. Trust your employees; challenge them, and treat them like the adults they are. Your confidence and respect for them as work colleagues, rather than as replaceable cogs that cannot be trusted to turn the wheels of business without close supervision, will pay off in higher productivity and workplace satisfaction.
- Don’t Forget the Need for Personalized Face Time: Meet with employees individually or in small and informal groups on a regular basis to check team progress, hear their concerns and get feedback, share a joke, pat them on the back for a job well done, or offer encouragement. If employees feel free to discuss both their successes and the problems they are having, you will be able to head off many potential disasters and handle detrimental situations before they become entrenched. And you will also signal to your people that you are there for them and that they can depend on your judgement and workplace wisdom without fear of being diminished as bearers of bad news, or as unable to resolve every matter on their own.
Bond with your employees: learn their names; ask about their families, their children, their pets. In-depth discussions aren’t necessary to show that you know your employees as individuals and care that things are going well for them. Walk through the office often, and use each walk-through to connect with employees briefly. Offer a pleasant greeting, converse about a project, make remarks about a ball game, the weather, a popular movie, or references to an office get together. A kind remark takes little time and effort, but builds loyalty. Employees will not care about what is important to you until they know how much you care about what is important to them.
- Build Team Cohesion by Creating Ownership: A sense of ownership builds loyalty, commitment, and maintains employee interest in outcomes. It also bonds team members as they mesh talents and work together to set goals and objectives, and achieve their best work
Organizing teams around a single product, function or project allows each team to assume ownership of both the process and the outcome, and encourages the creative input of all team members, allowing them to take pride in the problem solving and innovation involved in THEIR project.
To develop professional skills and keep the project interesting it may be advisable, where roles are not too specialized, for employees to rotate assigned tasks, so that everyone learns how to perform all tasks involved, and so work interchangeably with minimal support. Not only does this keep a project moving forward in the event of an individual illness or extended absence, but it builds skills and enables each employee to gain a full perspective of the whole and increase the sense of ownership.
- Have Fun Together: Studies have shown that an office where humor is shared is more productive and cohesive. Laughing together gives relief from the seriousness of the tasks at hand and bonds individuals into a more cooperative group. It is the boss’s task to see that jokes or pranks do not become malicious or demeaning, or get out of hand. But a light spirit is contagious, and laughter fortifies the soul.
Surprise your employees with donuts or bagels on a Monday morning, or hold a spontaneous pizza party at noon on Fridays. Brief socialization is invigorating and sets a tone of cooperation and mutual support.
Start a bowling or softball team. Adopt a charity. Volunteer as an office or business. Bring in a masseuse to give neck and shoulder massages at desk-site when employees have to work overtime, or a physical trainer to demonstrate exercises employees can do throughout the workday to get the blood flowing and stretch muscles. Offer opportunities for family involvement on company picnics or similar outings; encourage “bring your son/daughter to work” days; sponsor other family-oriented gatherings after hours, where employees and their families can mingle socially.
- Encourage Professional Development and Growth: Sponsor adult education classes and work around the hours of an individual seeking to further his or her education. Award scholarships for advanced employee education. Create education scholarships or internships for employees’ children. Grant leaves of absence for personal development – where appropriate – with the stipulation that the employee devote an equivalent amount of time, after graduation or travel, to the company.
Meet with your employees to specifically discuss and chart a path for advancement within the company. They each have the potential to become valuable upper management employees at some point in the future, so time and effort spent mentoring them and supporting their ambitions will assuredly pay off.
Counsel employees who appear to be having problems within the organization, and work with their schedules if they need time to obtain outside counseling for personal, marital or family issues.
The employee-management relationship can be a union made in heaven, if both parties work to make this marriage work.