Are You Considering Your Employees' Happiness?

Over the last six to twelve months, I’ve experienced the toughest recruiting environment I can recall. Regardless of the industry, the type of position, or even the pay range, there seems to be less candidates for every job I’ve posted for multiple different companies. And for even longer than that, it’s gotten harder and harder to get the majority of the candidates who do apply to actually respond when I’ve contacted them. While I have what I believe are some pretty solid theories on what’s driving this, I’ll stay off that soap box since it’s not the point I’m working toward…

Considering how tough it’s become for what appears to be every single employer to find talent in this market, taking care of the great employees we do have has moved to the forefront - or at least it should have! Unfortunately, far too many organizations have had to focus so hard on filling open positions that they’ve left some of their most senior and most talented team members feeling a bit taken for granted. I constantly see social media posts from folks who have been with their companies for long periods of time asking why there are sign-on bonuses but no stay-on bonuses…

Hey, I get it! Regardless of the seat you or I are in through this process, there rarely seems to be a right answer…

With all this in play, how can we make sure we’re doing all we can to keep our best folks from leaving for the highest bidder - and trust me, the good ones are being approached routinely - and make sure they’re dialed in on the productivity our organizations need? Wouldn’t it make sense to pay close attention to how happy our employees are?

I recently found a blog post from a company marketing their employee performance measuring software titled Why Employee Happiness Should Be a Top Priority. Early in the post, the author shares four statistics that point to just how important employee happiness is:

  • Happy employees stay in their job four times longer than unhappy employees;
  • Happy employees are 12% more productive;
  • Happy employees commit twice as much time to their tasks;
  • Happy employees have 65% more energy than unhappy employees

As a quick side note, three of those four stats were cited from the same source… And while I understand the intent of each, I’m not convinced employee happiness is the actual driver of any of those - at least not happiness alone…

Let’s consider each point on it’s own… Our happy employees have stayed with us four times longer than their unhappy counterparts. Sounds great at face value, but what if they were happy because they weren’t held accountable to meeting or exceeding expectations or customer demands? That could be the primary reason why the most unproductive employees are happy and stick around! And that could very well be the reason for some of the best employees abandoning ship; why would someone continue giving it all they have when their peers don’t and aren’t held accountable?

Happy employees as 12% more productive? Interestingly enough, this is the one statistic of the four that was from a different source. If our employees are happy because they don’t have to do what’s expected of them, I just can’t imagine that they’re being 12% more productive. Truth be told, I’d suggest this is a simple matter of semantics - and we’ll circle back to that soon!

Happy employees commit twice as much time to their tasks? To me, this completely contradicts the productivity statement. Committing twice as much time would almost certainly drive up the overall cost of the task and drive down productivity - unless they’ve found some alternate universe where they have more than 48 hours in their day, then I suppose it might still be possible to spend twice the time and still increase productivity...

And happy employees have 65% more energy than unhappy employees? In complete honesty, I’ve never seen an unhappy person have much energy. At least not positive energy! Again though, if they’re happy because they’re not accountable to performing up to par, I’d certainly expect them to have more energy than their coworker who’s working their tail off (and angry with them for not doing the same).

I’m certainly not making a case for making our employees mad… But I am suggesting that simply focusing on what makes someone happy may not get us the result we’re really after! With that in mind, let’s look at another metric that gets a ton of attention - and may give us a better read on the situation than happiness alone - but might still fall a bit short. Then we’ll wrap up for now by digging into what we all really need to be focused on!

More than a Snickers Can Deliver...

In the late 1980’s, the tagline in the Snickers candy bar commercials was “Snickers really satisfies you!” If that holds true today and we’re not getting the results we need from making our employees happy, maybe a Snickers bar will get the job done? If only, right…?

Having just challenged the idea that employee happiness might not necessarily yield what we really need in our organizations, let’s consider what would seem to provide us with more tangible results; employee satisfaction

I recently read an article on called The Five Fundamentals of Employee Satisfaction that shared “if employees like what they’re doing, they put in more effort. When they put in more effort, they’re more likely to succeed and be more satisfied.” If we go back to my example of the employee who’s happy because they haven’t been held accountable for doing anything productive in the last five years, they could very well put more effort into whatever it is that they’re doing on company time but I’m not sure that would help us get any closer to what we really need as an organization!

Be honest here, you just pictured someone who fits that description didn’t you? I certainly had a few faces flash in front of me as I typed that out… But let’s move beyond those few folks and think about what’s hopefully a much larger percentage of our workforce, the genuinely good people who understand their jobs as well as anyone can and take at least a little bit of pride in being productive humans. If those folks “like what they’re doing” and put in more effort, and therefore succeed in any way at all, what does being “more satisfied” really look like?

While I believe the idea of putting in more effort and succeeding may actually be more fulfilling than satisfying, I get the point that the author of that article was making. In fact, one definition I found for satisfaction actually spoke to fulfillment; “Satisfaction is the act of fulfilling a need, desire, appetite, or the feeling gained from such fulfillment.” But how can we really get an accurate measurement for how satisfaction translates into action, or more importantly for those of us who are responsible for the profit & loss statement, profitability? To that end, being satisfied or fulfilled is often much more tied to personal needs or desires than to any company initiative. And I may need two Snickers bars to satisfy me where you only need one!

Hear me loud and clear here though: I’m not at all suggesting that we don’t need to work to make sure our team members get satisfaction and fulfillment from what they do. Quite honestly, I believe working toward and fulfilling a purpose plays a huge role in helping anyone be in the game (whatever their game is) over the long haul without burning out. However, since fulfillment tends to vary from person to person - both in what it takes to be fulfilled as well as how we each respond when we are fulfilled - I still don’t think that’s where we need to put our focus as we’re working to build an organizational culture where everyone strives to be and do their best…

If we really want to have a measurable impact on the results we achieve, we need to focus on buy-in, commitment, and one more key term that’s defined as to “pledge or enter into a contract to DO something.” The DO part is where the rubber meets the road...

Establish a Meaningful Connection With...

We started out by looking at two ideas that are suggested frequently as what employers should be paying attention to if they want to be effective at retaining their best team members; employee happiness and employee satisfaction. While I’m certainly not suggesting that leaving the folks in our organizations unhappy or unsatisfied will ever give us what we’re working for, I don’t believe either of those things necessarily helps us reach the levels of productivity - and in turn, profitability - that we really need or our teams are truly capable of. And that’s why I introduced the idea of “pledging or entering into a contract to DO something” as a critical differentiating factor!

Another definition of that same word is to “establish a meaningful contact or connection with,” and that meaningful connection almost always results in a deeper level of buy-in and a willingness to DO more for a bigger cause than just what satisfies us personally.

So what’s the word? ENGAGE

I often reference one of the most powerful lessons I learned through behavior-based safety, and how that same idea ties back to so many aspects of leadership; we can’t see attitudes, beliefs, or even feelings but we can see behaviors. And we learn to effectively observe behavior, we can often get an accurate understanding of the attitudes, beliefs, and feelings that drive those behaviors. Just as importantly, we can measure the impact of those behaviors over time!

 With happiness and satisfaction both largely tying back to how we feel, I’d suggest that measuring the true impact of either is tough. But once we’re able to build either in a way that results in engagement - behaviors we can actually see - we have a shot at recognizing tangible results. When Cindy and I wrap up any session we do with individuals or groups, we always close by challenging each person to identify the specific action step they plan to take immediately based on what we just covered with them; what can they DO differently that will make a difference with the teams they lead? When we work with someone through a Strategic Leadership Coaching relationship, we build on that even more by challenging the individual to define the actual behaviors they’re using as they take those action steps, and what their team members see them doing differently, with the goal of earning a higher level of influence with those team members and leading them more effectively as a result.

When we earn influence and authentic leadership, the team around us will likely be more happy about the environment and have a higher level of satisfaction. But this also gives us a platform to share a bigger vision and earn something called employee engagement

We’ll begin digging into why employee engagement is so important soon! Stay tuned...

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