If you found this article, then you probably already understand the benefits of having happy employees in an organization. And when you read the words, increase happiness in organizations, you may be looking for new tools. For some of these tips, you may say, “I know that.” The new will be in how you think about and consider implementing these awarenesses into your organization.
What you probably already understand is that most people need a few simple things to feel happy and connected to their work. These things are to have a sense purpose, to feel safe/trust, have autonomy, and develop mastery. The following ideas are ways to increase each of these areas.
As you read, consider if you are consistently using these tools. Someone once said, “Actions speak louder than words.” Take inventory on what you are doing and where you might need to grow to incorporate these concepts into your organization.
What is Our Mission?
Clarity around the mission of the organization is crucial to happiness. I was recently talking to the owner/engineer of a small industrial safety organization, and when I ask what they do, they responded, “We sell tools.” Okay, what is the purpose of selling the tools? “To grow our business.”
Um, no… that is not a mission. It may be an element of your business model, but no one builds a business just to sell something. What drew you to selling these tools or services? What problem are you solving? How do you impact people or the world?
Most people aren’t motivated by selling stuff. People are motivated to sell things they believe in, and they want to be aligned with the underlying value or mission of the organization.
So, I asked, “What do your tools do, for the people and businesses that purchase them?” Immediately there was more excitement as they replied, “Our tools support people who do risky jobs. Our products make the job easier, reduce the risks associated with complex, often dangerous work environments. Basically, we provide solutions that keep people safe on the job and improve people’s work experience, so that they can be successful.”
There was growing energy. As we spoke, the message became much more impactful and in alignment with what is meaningful. What I heard was, “We are passionate about engineering solutions that help organizations reduce on the job injuries and increase productivity. We save lives, time, and money. We have amazing products.”
That’s an idea that is exciting and important. Most employees love to feel like they are offering solutions, not just products. While initially, most customers may think they are buying a widget, that changes when the focus shifts, and they recognize that they are purchasing safety solutions for their employees, saving lives, time, and money.
That these safety solutions also reduce risk, reduce liability, ultimately increasing life experience and oh, yeah, also increasing profits, that’s good too.
Having clear messaging about the mission of the organization changes our relationship to our jobs. Ask yourself, what changes for the employees who sell the safety solutions, and what changes for the employees who benefit from their organization investing in safety solutions?
A mission statement is not a bunch of meaningless words on a page. The mission statement is the heart of a business. It is the “why” we do what we spend long hours doing. Mission feeds purpose, and without a heart, your business is a Tin Man. And, your organization cannot consistently create a climate that supports happy people if they don’t understand the organization’s “why.”
If leadership doesn’t have a clear sense of why, then how the hell can we expect employees to have a commitment to the bigger picture?
Critical components for psychological safety are space to make mistakes and learn, and organizational transparency. Without the protection to make mistakes, to learn, or grow, people do not stretch or innovate.
When everyone sees and understands the mission, the goals, and objectives, it sets the stage for transparency. Yet, we also need clarity about deadlines, timelines, role expectations, and responsibilities. People what to be kept in the loop. Regular communication on the who, what, where, etc. help people feel grounded and clear.
In my 20’s, I worked for an organization that gave me and another employee the same promotion. Yes, you heard that correctly. Instead of deciding on one of us to take the role, they gave both of us the position. Even more confusingly, they didn’t tell either of us that we had both been promoted, only that we individually had been promoted. As you might imagine, we immediately started bumping heads. Both of us were under the impression that we were in charge.
We eventually had a long talk and discovered that our boss had pitted us against each other. Let’s just say neither one of us was happy. Our conversation led to a long talk with that boss. He had some pretty ridiculous reasoning around why he created the drama. His behavior had real ramifications on my loyalty and trust in the organization.
Loss of Trust
With the loss of trust and psychological safety, I slowly lost my motivation for what I had been doing. I still was aligned with the mission, but no longer with the organization. The cost of a psychologically unsafe environment is that people no longer put their 100% into the organization. Instead, their minds become self-protective, and they begin to look for indicators of danger everywhere. Shifting their attention away from the job and mission and towards noticing risk.
If you are interested in learning more about how to create trust, this article can support you.
If businesses are to thrive with happy employees, then unnecessary and manufactured drama is the antithesis of this. One study found that each time an organization has to replace an employee, it costs 20-21% of the salary. And, the higher the complexity of the job, the cost to replace goes up exponentially, upwards of 213%.
In truth, these are only the predictive costs of turnover. The less tangible and often hidden costs are also relevant. Essential elements like morale, reduced productivity, sick days, burn out, frustration and incivility, talking badly about the organization, and an increase in hostile work environments cannot be overlooked. All of these have a significant impact on the bottom line.
In my case, my organization lost a highly motivated and aligned employee, who was building relationships and driving the stated mission. The other person stayed, but she and I chatted a year later, and she was busy making other plans herself. The organization survived a few more years, but the underlying behavior that caused the distrust, ultimately sunk the ship.
One of the topics that consistently shows up in my coaching conversations is “work-life balance.” My clients and I have not figured out how to quantify this yet. Does it mean exactly 50/50? Or, because work and life needs seem to be moving targets, do we need another way to think about this. I prefer the term work-life integration.
For most of us, there are moments you may find yourself needing to work harder with longer hours. Then at other times, there is the space to work from home or to take that long weekend. Maybe several days a week, you need to come in early and leave early. What is clear is that finding some way of having a career and a personal life is fundamental to health and happiness.
How nimble is an organization in addressing both the needs of the organization and of its people? If the scale is always weighted towards the business and the people are paid pawns, ultimately, people burn out and leave. Circle back to the cost of employee turnover.
How an organization intermixes work and personal time, so that it works for the employee, means being flexible to the needs of your people. Creating a culture of trust might mean measuring what people accomplish and not micro-managing how they use their time to get to the stated outcome.
A sense of autonomy comes from being asked versus being told. Having the freedom to accomplish your job and being trusted in how you use your time are indicators. If your employee is meeting or exceeding their targets, then allowing them to determine the plan of how goes a long way towards their feeling autonomous and appreciated; and ultimately increases their satisfaction and happiness.
Integration in this situation means that we are creating a process that benefits the whole of the system, people, and organization. Creating a new way to counter the effects of stress and to support people to feel valued and energized to bring their best.
Having employees who feel appreciated, compensated, aligned with the mission and goals, and who also get to have a life outside of work is essential. Being very conscious of the messages that employees get is crucial.
If an organization says, “We are committed to work-life integration,” yet consistently makes digs about an employee’s commitment based on how long they sit at their desk is confusing. When managers question employees regarding choices when there is space to be creative, this sends a message. Micromanaging every tiny detail communicates a multitude of negative things to people.
The Cost of Micro-Managing
Recently, I was just having a conversation with a friend, Bess, about why she left her last job. “I was micromanaged about everything. I finally couldn’t take it.” Bess is a highly-skilled nurse, and she was acting as a floor manager also. For Breast Cancer Awareness Day, she was looking at ways to create some excitement and interactivity on the floor. She came up with an idea for a selfie-station that would engage people, thus driving awareness.
Bess ran the idea by her boss, and nothing was said one way or the other. As she was in the middle of setting up the station, the boss came down and stood there watching her for a while, then told her this idea was not going to work as she was finishing up. She was then told to take it down. This behavior communicated something quite different from respect, trust, or giving Bess autonomy.
A seemingly small thing, yet when added to all the other little indicators of micro-managing, control, and distrust, this small thing was the final straw. Bess went out and found a new job a few days later.
The Goal is The Goal
Remember, the plan is not the goal. The goal is the goal. With a focus on the goal, the plan can be flexible to adjust to what is needed to drive to the goal.
Ask yourself, what are the organizational goals and what are the individual goals? Once these are clarified, how the employee accomplishes the goal could look like, getting up early and going through emails at 5 am, then coming into the office at 7 am, and then leaving at 3 to pick up kids, and then going through emails at 8pm. Who knows? What’s clear is that enabling people to have autonomy leads to happier employees, who want to stay.
How an organization invests in people shows up in many ways. I was chatting with a client and they were sharing how they get $2000 a year towards training for their CCEs. As they spoke they said, “There are some things about my employer I am not crazy about, but I really appreciate how they invest in me.” That’s huge, it shows autonomy in that my friend gets to choose the training they go to and the investment supports the employee towards mastery. We invest in the people we see as valuable.
I worked for an organization that contracted with the Military. And, I, too, was given an annual stipend for training. It was amazing, I was able to use this funding to get valuable training that helped me to do my job with more insight, understanding, and tools.
One side note, there were many differences between contract and federal employees. Differences in accountability, what leave we got, days off, and even what events we were invited to. So, I worked with people who, in many ways, had more privileges and rights than I did. And, I was okay with all this, because the benefits outweighed the detractors.
When the contract changed and the new contract began, the first thing they did was reduce the stipend to nothing. I left about two years later to start my own private practice. In hindsight, I have to wonder how that one change shifted my feelings of commitment to my job. I loved my clients and enjoyed my co-workers, but I remember my growing dissatisfaction. Those little differences now were heightened and my awareness of not being valued increased. All this led to my increased feeling of not wanting to go to work there anymore.
Going back to the cost to replace me, because of what I did, there was a requirement that they have a highly trained professional in the role. Over time, they couldn’t consistently keep anyone in the position, last I heard the position was terminated because they couldn’t keep the role filled. Consider the impact of losing a critical position for the other people in the department, still doing the job.
It’s important to get curious about ways that you can support more happiness in your organization. Thinking creatively about the mission and vision, to craft the story of purpose. Then give people the resources and space to do the work needed to successfully bring the ideas to life. People tend to get behind an organizational whose mission is meaningful to them and where they feel appreciated. I know I do.
By balancing the organizational goals and with the elements that encourage alignment, commitment, and happiness for the people driving the change is imperative. It’s the way to create environments where people thrive and bring their A-game to work.
I would LOVE to hear from YOU!
- Think of a work experience where you felt unappreciated, what does it tell you about what doesn’t work?
- Remind yourself of a work experience where you felt appreciated and consider what elements at play that led to that outcome.
All Photo copyright retained by photo owners, everything else ©2014-2022 Lyssa deHart
article originally posted on Dec 2, 2019. Updated April 23, 2023.