We have all been to conferences and watched inspirational speakers talk to us about how the best-run businesses are based on the best and brightest employees. I think most of us believe that. But too often, employees are the ones most adversely affected by changing economic conditions or the changing needs of customers. Keeping those fantastic employees becomes a significant struggle in challenging times. So what can be done -- outside of big bonuses and pay increases -- to keep them happy?
"Happy" employees are often confused with the "best paid" employees. Don't get me wrong: People want and need to be paid a fair wage. But too often, managers hear complaints or see upsetting employee satisfaction results and automatically think that if they could simply throw more money at the problem, all would be better. And maybe it would be -- for a while. But if I have learned anything over the course of my career, it is that money is a Band-Aid and happiness is tough to find. Raises and bonuses are certainly not a one-size-fits-all fix.
Just how big of a problem is it to have disaffected employees? Well, according to Fast Company, it's pretty expensive. Citing data from the Gallup Organization, the article notes that disengaged workers cost the U.S. economy about $350 billion each year in lost productivity.
The article goes on to describe some of the key attributes of happy employees. Not surprisingly, employees are happier when they see movement and improvement in their roles, have a sense of meaning tied to their jobs, are recognized for a job well done, are acknowledged as people and not just as employees, and feel that their work and personal lives are well integrated.
So what other factors contribute to employee happiness, particularly in the digital marketing space? I reached out to my esteemed panel of friends on Facebook, many of whom are entrepreneurs and masters of business in their own right. The following article presents 28 of their best tips for happy employees. They are a quick read, and I promise you will find some really interesting ideas.
Steve Hardwick: Throw hierarchy under the bus and preach that failure is a good thing. I've found that when you open the door to everyone's ideas and then green light some, the message of possibility far outweighs the fear of failure.
Brittany Cooper: Transparency plus communication: In my experience, employee engagement always increases when a leader can break down the wall of us (leadership) vs. them (employees). Give them a seat at the table and invite their thoughts, suggestions, and feedback on a regular basis.
Faith Megna: Listen to their feedback and don't discount them, especially when it very well could be the unveiled truth of what is taking place in the company.
Ian Gertler: One of the things I've been focusing on is the importance of social collaboration that empowers productivity -- but also reinforces that work-life balance. It's one of the reasons that I left IBM and joined the amazing Kona team back in October. Enabling people with technology that can reinforce and enhance both professional and personal needs to get connected, get organized, and get things done with the groups in your life has been a big differentiating foundation -- and the vision behind the two co-founders.
Added benefits and perks
Pamela Quinn: Show them once in a while that you appreciate their efforts by giving them a surprise day off! Too many employers work their associates to the bone, and this would be such a "feel good" thing to do for them.
Patrick Harrelson-Keyes: Actively mentoring them and showing genuine interest in their career growth is key. One measure of a great manager is how successful his or her employees subsequently become within their industry, even if at a different company. Also, if raises are out of the question, perks that help them with life-work balance -- even small things like a day spa, summer Fridays, or telecommuting one day per week -- make a huge impact on morale.
Pat Ruta: These two things have always worked for me, as long as the group is not huge: 1) Pick a Friday and have a wine tasting with some cheese, nuts, strawberries, and apples, and 2) Paint ball war.
Devin Clark: Get them life insurance. There are some great plans out there for employees that will benefit them greatly and provide living benefits along with tax-free income in retirement.
Joe Fairless: Unlimited vacation days -- it's proven that employees actually take less days on average if they don't have to meet a quota.
Sal Tofano: Establish transparency, ownership, and inclusiveness. Celebrate and recognize successes and reward true accomplishments often.
Joe Chernov: Say "thank you."
Gordon Plutsky: Show appreciation and say "thank you" often. People want praise almost as much as a paycheck.
Christopher Durham: Give more credit than you take.
The importance of inspiration
Tad Smith: Challenge them. Support them. Inspire them. Reward them.
Tom Olivieri: I use a method I call RISE -- Reward, Inspire, Set goals, and Educate.
Kristen Wolosonowich: Empower and inspire them.
Mary Gillis: Challenge them.
Foster their creativity
Adam Kleinberg: Create a policy that symbolizes the things you stand for. At Traction, we have a Burning Man policy that "prioritizes requests for time-off -- even if people have no vacation time left -- to attend events that inspire or enhance professional and/or creative development such as Burning Man or SXSW." As a creative agency, it shows how what we value aligns, and I think my people take it as a point of pride that they work for a company that puts creativity first. Obviously, a Burning Man policy isn't for every company, but the notion of being creative about the "rules" to do something symbolic is powerful.
Karl Martin: Have meetings to connect and really embrace creativity. Honor all suggestions -- but make them short and fun!
Recognize them as individuals
Patrick Acosta: I think it depends who you are talking to (and it's much too long to explain on Facebook), but making a Millennial happy versus a Generation Xer versus a Boomer are very different things. Know who you are talking to, ask them what makes them happy (not money, as money is never really a sustainable model and is quickly forgotten versus going to SXSW, for example). Make sure they love what they are doing, or you will never really see them happy. Yes, this may mean losing them, but greatness is rarely found from someone who is truly not passionate.
James Schroer: First, quit thinking of them as "employees"! That sucks. It sounds like "paid slaves." Instead, try "colleagues." Everyone will be much prouder, happier, and successful together!
Philip Vogel: The Golden Rule: You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.
-- Zig Ziglar, "Secrets of Closing the Sale," 1984.
Tim Baldwin: Have a "no A-hole rule" and foster an environment that is devoid of politics.
Christine Santimaw: Listen to them and foster a culture of inclusiveness. Use "we" instead of "I."
Rebecca Lieb: Help them to ensure that their battles are external, not internal.
Mark Wildman: Create a real meritocracy -- set benchmarks of performance and corresponding rewards for all levels of the organization; make them reflective of the market environment and clear the road of organizational obstacles to help them achieve them. Make the rewards a choice -- monetary, additional time off, the ability to incubate a new business idea a la Google.
Andrew Goldberg: First, hire well. That is the first secret to happy employees. If you hire people with the right attitude -- often very easy to see -- you get a happy work environment. Having downers brings everyone else down. A few years ago while shooting commercials, we had a guy who was obsessed with overtime. After a few weeks on our shoots with him, everyone was asking for overtime -- even when it was not due. So we got rid of him, and now we don't hear about it anymore. Google is the best place to work because they pay really well, and everyone loves Google as a brand so people feel really cool working there and think they are, ergo, cool too. But I doubt working there is really much different from any other fun place.
Ted Wright: All the comments [in this article] are true. The key to using them for employee happiness is to do them consistently especially when they are obviously expensive for the company to do.
Regardless of which ideas you think are the best match for your culture and your organization's goals, the underlying point here is to pick some, promote them, and follow through with them -- consistently. Ninety percent of the ideas in this article, whether from Fast Company or from my network, are free -- or close to it. And there is proof, even anecdotal, that they work. So, make 2013 the year of your employee -- or colleague -- and you will see your profits grow. And probably your popularity too.
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"Smile" image via Shutterstock.