Countless studies have proven the link between employee happiness and productivity. So which is it? Do engaged employees become productive and therefore happy? Or do happy employees become productive and therefore engaged?
In a recent TED talk, Shawn Achor argues that we’re wrong to believe we need to work hard in order to be happy. It’s the other way around, he says: we need to be happy at our jobs before we can reach our full potential.
No, Achor isn’t just making this all up. Science backs him up.
When we have positive experiences, our brains fill up with serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters which simply make us feel good. The chemicals also change the way our brains work. When the neurotransmitters are flowing freely in our brains, it becomes easier to organize new information, retain information for longer periods of time, and retrieve old information. The chemicals also improve our problem-solving capabilities and make it easier for us to analyze complex data.
Now that we know the science behind productivity — namely that we produce our best work when we’re happiest — let’s look into the psychology behind happiness and engagement.
How to Make Your Employees Happier
While happiness may not be the same thing as engagement, there are overlaps. Disengagement and a negative work environment may seep into a worker's personal life. The toll that a hostile organizational culture has on an individual is toxic — it's difficult to actually let go of those negative emotions and stress when you walk out the office door.
The good news is that by understanding a little bit about psychology, you’re able to create an atmosphere that is conducive to employee happiness. Here are some tricks and hacks you can you to create a happier work culture:
1. Show your appreciation
No, not in the form of a gift card or an employee of the month award. Instead, tell them on the spot what they did right and why you're so grateful. There's something about spontaneous and face-to-face recognition that trumps all other forms. People like their work contributions to be acknowledged — it provides them a sense of validation that they're doing something well.
2. Perform random acts of kindness
One Friday at TINYpulse, the leadership team brought in ice cream and a whole shebang of fixings. They lined everything up on a table and dished out sundaes for employees. The random aspect of this event really put people around the office in a good mood.
You don't necessarily have to bring in ice cream to boost morale in the workplace. But you can definitely do something kind for your employees — on the fly. It feels a lot more genuine than a generic speech.
3. Let employees take naps
You can’t expect your workers to be in a great mood if they’re exhausted. If you’ve got the space and some extra room in your budget, create a place specifically designed to let your employees rest. There’s a reason why companies like Google, Facebook, and Proctor & Gamble are investing in nap pods: well-rested workers are more likely to be happier than their grouchier, sleepier counterparts.
4. Encourage them to exercise
A midday exercise session may be just what your employees need to get their blood flowing and catch the second wind necessary to dominate the afternoon. If they don’t have enough time to break away from their desks for an hour or so during the day, encourage them to exercise at their desks or go on walking meetings.
5. Invest in professional development
According to our Employee Engagement Report, only 25% of employees feel as though their organizations offer adequate professional development opportunities. Yet many of your workers — and millennials in particular — are very much drawn to such chances to develop more skills and improve. If you want a happier workforce, you need to invest in your employees’ success. Professional development is one such investment which should generate some strong ROI for your company.
6. Check in with your employees regularly
To reduce the likelihood all of your employees are getting stressed out and morale is tanking, check in with your team on a regular basis — even once a week — to see how they’re doing. Regularly solicit feedback from them to determine whether any changes need to be made. Don’t let potential problems fester unnecessarily.
7. Equip your employees with new technologies
Nearly 70% of employees today feel as though they aren’t able to take care of their job responsibilities each week. Maybe they have too much work on their plates. Maybe they’re simply slacking off. Or maybe your organization hasn’t invested in new technology in quite some time.
If you want your employees to be happier — and therefore better positioned to do all of their work each week — you need to equip them with the tools they need to succeed. Who wouldn’t be happier getting a new computer or mobile device and being able to use cutting-edge platforms every day at work?
8. Don’t play favorites
Your employees will notice if you give a handful of team members preferential treatment. There’s an easy fix: Do your best to treat everyone fairly. Don’t direct 100% of your compliments to one person — or even one team. Spread them around, and have the same rules and expectations for everyone.
9. Compensate your employees as best as you can
According to our report, almost 25% of employees would take another job for a 10% raise. Since it’s considerably cheaper to retain employees than hire new ones, make sure you’re paying your employees competitively from the outset. They’ll be happy with their paychecks and won’t be looking to move jobs for a raise that you can afford to give them yourself.
10. Create a strong culture
Our report indicates that work culture is strongly correlated to employee happiness. When it's terrible, employees become absolutely miserable. How can you expect someone who’s miserable to do a good job? Ensuring your employees are happy starts with having a strong work culture. Not sure whether your culture is up to par? If you’re asking yourself that question, it probably isn’t. In any case, here are some signs that indicate it’s time to change your work culture if you’re unsure.
You can’t control your employees’ moods. But you can try to “hack” their happiness by creating a workplace that oozes positivity. And with an army of happy employees, you’re almost certain to see your team’s collective productivity increase.