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The Secret of Happy Employees

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” ~ Vince Lombardi

Whenever I travel, I have a habit of wandering across to the bookshop at the airport to have a look at the latest releases in a number of genres. What amazes me is the seemingly endless output of business writers on the subject of being a great leader, motivating your troops, being successful and managing the **** out of anything, whether it is your life, your lover, your job, department, organisation, pet, you name it. If I was to judge the state of affairs according to most popular book titles I would say we are all out of control – business success is more voodoo than logic and none of us really has a clue of where it is all going. Hence our insatiable appetite for books that tell us who it should ‘really’ be done.

Mind you, I don’t have a PHD in management science, or whatever the degree is called these days – so you may want to take what I say with a pinch of salt. After all, a selection of nifty acronyms after my name surely would make me sound more credible? What I’m about to propose is sadly not rocket science, nor is it very advanced thinking either, but somehow we have lost sight of those simple facts and fallen victim for an ever increasing appetite to have experts tell us what we already know deep inside anyway:

3 steps to happiness:
What makes a great workplace and happy employees? It’s not countless training courses or ‘away-days’ or even a selection of free cakes and an office dog. It is three very simple things:

  1. Equity – To be respected for who you are and what you know and to be treated decently and above all fairly in areas such as pay, benefits and job security. Nobody wants to have to keep politicking to keep their jobs and if you have to scratch someone’s back to have greater job security, you really start wondering whether it is worth it.
  2. Achievement – as the quote above, we need to be able to be proud of our jobs, our accomplishments and recognised for them, and we need to be able to be proud of our employer too.
  3. Friends – It is infinitely more fun to come to work if you have friends there, people you genuinely like, respect for their skills and knowledge and people you have productive relationships with. Together with these people you excel beyond what you could do on your own and the camaraderie makes it all a great deal of fun.

I have been giving managers a hard time in a few posts recently, but that is not to say that they are defunct. We need managers and above all we need good ones. People who not only know what they are talking about, but are people we respect for their knowledge, skills and ability to not just deliver on the points above, but also to instill an evocative purpose to all the work. Indeed, the book Built to Last lists numerous examples of companies that have managed to raise their ethos above and beyond merely making money, and are heralded as some of the most successful companies around.

8 Rules for Managers of Happy Employees:

  1. Provide Purpose: It’s not just about lofty company objectives, it starts on the individual level: are you, as a manager, able to expressly state a strong purpose for your unit? Can you communicate the importance of the job, the people who are relying on it being done both inside and outside the company? If you can, you can make even the mundane tasks meaningful in a larger context. Sometimes that’s all people need to get going, as nothing is worse than feeling that you are stuck doing a meaningless task.
  2. Award Recognition: all employee contributions, large and small, should be recognised and appreciated. Many people seem to wonder why they should thank someone who’s paid to do a job, but it makes a great difference. It is a fundamental human need, it can wipe a hard days struggle away in an instant and rather than being considered a slave-driver, people will be happy to help you again.
  3. Be an Expediter: forget command-and-control, instead be the expediter facilitating your employees getting their job done. Be a linchpin to other business units and management levels, represent their best interests and ensure your people get what they need to succeed. What do they need? Don’t assume, ask them – treat them as equals and talk to them!
  4. Learn to Coach: People whose performance is satisfactory should be made aware of it. It is easier for people to accept suggestions for improvement to do even better if they know that management is basically pleased with what they do and wants to help them do it even better.
  5. Communicate fully: ‘Knowledge is power’ – thinking is the easiest way to distance your employees from you and make them not trust you. Most managers must discipline themselves to communicate regularly and do so to a greater extent that merely the ‘need-to-know’ basis. Full and open communication not only helps employees to do their jobs, but also is a powerful sign of respect.
  6. Don’t Tolerate Poor Performance: Most people want to do good work and be proud of what they do. The 5% who don’t want to do any work has a detrimental effect on all around them, and should be dealt with effectively.
  7. Empower Teams: Wherever possible, managers should organise employees into self-managed teams, with the teams having authority and control over their tasks and work methods. Make clear what the deliverables are and the criteria for assessment and let people get on with it. Stop yourself from micromanaging things – it’s simply counterproductive.
  8. Listen and Involve: Often your employees will know more about the situation and problems they face than you, so it only makes sense to create a participatory process to make things more effective and increase quality. Once you have defined the task’s boundaries, give employees the freedom to operate and make changes using their own knowledge and experience. Indeed, simple as it may seem it may be the most powerful motivator to free up competent people to do their jobs as they see fit.