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Does your organization have a Chief Happiness Officer? No? Well, it shouldn’t. At least not a dedicated one. That’s what your CEO/PO/Department Head/Team Leader is for. Not what they are for “as well” or “in addition to their real business purpose” – literally the entire purpose of any leader ought to be to religiously check and better the level of happiness of their people. That’s if they want to succeed.
What about HR? Aren’t they in charge of people and their well being? In the interest of keeping this constructive and positive let us not open that Pandora’s box, suffice it to say: “You’d think so but with notable exceptions, it’s like they’ve all resigned en masse, so nope. Not at all.”
Do We Want Them Happy Or Productive?
We have a lot of statistics to point to other team attributes that we can correlate to hard dollar signs, different productivity markers and the one that is the darling of most management consultancy firms’ decks these days is “resilience”. Resilient teams are demonstrably more efficient and productive. With the many studies that resilient teams who are determined to succeed perform better than satisfied teams who crumble under stress, it seems having a happy team is placed in opposition.
Are satisfied, safe teams automatically unable to handle change, face uncertainty and accept challenges? Should we justify the lack of respect that’s at the root of the absence of good will in building and keeping safe and pleased teams, by saying we should have thrown even more hardship their way, so they show they can take it? Not at all.
The opposite is true – the safer they are, the happier they are, and the happier they are, the more productive and able to navigate adversity.
Outside of these broad stroke productivity studies -that incidentally are only coming to the forefront these days because the ways in which we work in the spirit (and processes) of Agile and Lean makes the organization take note of the importance of speed and performance- is anyone tasked to really understand the intricacies of what makes up the canvas of varied human motivators and then adapt them to each and everyone of their performers or at the very least each and every team?
Not really. Most organizations have been content to rely on old school ideas not only in terms of how to bring the best people, but what to do with them once you have them, and the overall modern revamp of best practices in remuneration, development and talent management is notoriously lacking. We seem to have collectively resigned to the fact that it is the norm to be unhappy to a degree or another in the workplace in particular in large companies and we neither demand or expect it to change nor can we ever dream of being seen as more than an FTE line item enough for our feelings and motivators to be examined and taken into consideration.
When entrepreneurs enter corporate environments they are stunned to see a culture where the disrespect towards the workers is so great it’s not uncommon for them to feel like they deserve nothing and to have forgotten that work is meant to be a meaningful exchange not an exercise in flagellation.
Keep Them Pleased – Wellness As Remuneration
But the reality is that even in organizations who have the best intentions to create and maintain employee happiness (I can think of at least two banks as examples), doing so is not an easy task.
For all the goodness that technology has brought into our lives as a consumer, it has had a much lesser impact on technology designed solely for increasing the satisfaction we feel towards our work lives and it’s only now, that topics around the future of work are starting to be taken seriously and technology is starting to emerge that applies itself to it.
So far, all that the enterprise has had to rely on to “buy” better performance and goodwill from their people has been traditional monetary motivation levers applied blindly across the board and unsurprisingly, that comes with limited success. These days, we have the data to truly nail down what works for whom and what matters to whom, what proportion is monetary, what proportion is intangible markers of pride or shared vision, etc so we must learn to use it.
So what actually makes people happy?
On the list of tangible, physical benefits: the office space (open or not, -and yes, that debate is yet another can of worms- furnished or not, having access to natural light or not); the fancy chairs; the bring-your-puppy to work initiatives as silly as they are engaging; the gyms; the nurseries; the beers on the rooftops; etc.
In general, the environment we work in, has been overly scrutinised by the hip-and-trendy start-ups and is being largely ignored by the bigger organizations due to the fact that the fake forest meeting rooms next to the Zen nap pods add cost that the company doesn’t want to bare and as a result, most office workers of large incumbent enterprises watch from the sidelines in rows of cubicles and associate such goodies with the start-up environment that they spend most of their workday day-dreaming of being part of.
Keep Them Moving – Permanent Flexibility
Outside of the environment, a potentially transformative element in the quest for employee happiness -is the concept of “flexible-all-the-time.” This means many things to many people but in theory, it is the idea that to offer our people the best chance to shine, we have to let them do it on their own time. Own working hours, own working location. By being laser focused and narrowing down only the elements of our work that genuinely need in-person collaboration, everything else can be matched to our own personal preferred workflow with the help of digital tools.
Lofty goal and no one can show any examples where they have successfully perfectly matched creative energies in different geographies with outstanding results just yet not even in the nimble giant tech environments or even in start-ups, which means we are likely a few years away from seeing this trend become commonplace, but there is good reason to believe it has an immense emotional impact on the workers who get to avail themselves of it.
Keep them safe - psychological safety, purpose and an open, human culture
All of the above refers to the physical aspect of one’s work-life not the emotional one and evidently, it is the latter that most contributes to employee satisfaction.
A team who works well together, trusts each other, has mutual respect and feels supported in doing what they perceive are greatly important things, will readily go without the office unicycle program and conversely, having pizza and beer at mandatory hackathons on Thursdays won’t automatically make employees feel they are part of a safe work environment in and of itself.
To innovate, people have to feel safe.
To create towards a purpose they feel emotionally invested in, people need to feel empowered and safe.
To speak up and add value whether by voicing their opinion or expressing alternative points of view they need to care and yes, you guessed it, they need to feel safe.
No matter how we spin it and no matter what the end goal is, the only way to give emotional well being to one’s employees is to start at the most basic of human needs, nearly at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid – the need for safety. It’s only afterward that we can work on making them belong, feel valued and be their authentic self.
Keep Them Cared About
Good leadership that comes naturally to talented individuals, exists -be it in pockets- in any organization and none of the ideas in this article suggest age-old, deeply human leadership, where one has to lead with strength of empathy and the power of common sense and basic decency in relating to their peers with respect and kindness, should be underestimated, on the contrary. If anything, we should do a lot more collective thinking around what it is that powers these leaders as they too have to feel happy and safe and that is something that deserves a lot more scrutiny in particular as their task becomes harder the higher we go up the food chain.
But across the board, for anyone who has as much as one team working “under” them, creating safety should be an absolute priority and then it should ideally turn into genuine curiosity. Curiosity and courage to scrutinize goals and vision on a macro level – per company-, and then to turn to an individual level – per team and per individual. What part are we of the greater goal? What makes this team perform best? What makes them jive best with each other? What counts most to this group? What matters first and foremost to this person in particular? How can I bring more of what makes them smile in their work lives to see them thrive and blossom?
Making your people happy should evidently come from moral impetus, because it’s “the right thing” to do but if we are honest, its value as a business driver and the obvious correlation between happiness and performance should be a strong motivator to anyone with an urgency of building anything that needs a team – from a mere mobile app, to a big corporation, and realistically, the incentive packages and performance reviews of the 70s are no longer where it’s at.
Thankfully, in this new world where technology reigns, no enterprise will survive without digital transformation and the fastest route to that, makes use of all the goodness of the new ways of work and as such, sad news as this may be for those who implemented them “by numbers” as a mere process change, none of those will ultimately work without having happy people.
Do it because ”it’s right” or do it because “it’s profitable” or better yet, do it because of both those reasons, but if you want to see results, first be the Chief Happiness Officer your team deserves.
January 24, 2019 at 06:40AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs