The Simple 3-Part Formula For Employee Happiness

The secret to employee satisfaction isn't complicated. The argument for building trust, adding flexibility, and putting an emphasis on a good cultural fit.

It’s no coincidence that I have been with the same employer for so long. In fact, in the five years that my company has been around, there have been only a handful of voluntary departures. Here are a few reason why I think we've been able to keep employees even in a super competitive hiring environment:

Workplace Attitudes Trickle Down from the Top

At the first meeting I ever had with my CEO, the first thing we discussed was not where we went to college or whom we had in common in our professional networks, but how old our kids were. Since then, I’ve not only had discussions with him on where he thinks the marketing industry is going in the next five years, but also why the PBS character Caillou seems to mesmerize the toddler set like no one else. At most companies, no matter the size, the “tone” ultimately gets set at the very top and trickles down to every employee. That tone can express positivity in the form of fun, honesty and transparency, or in some unfortunate cases, convey feelings of intimidation and mistrust. To hire competitively in today’s market, companies need to command the right attitudes at the very top to attract the most talented and committed employees at every level of the organization. A great work ethic and a positive attitude can be contagious, and it’s up to companies to support this idea—starting with management.

Don’t Require Employees to Earn Your Trust—Make it a Given

Sure, free snacks and drinks are great. But you know what’s even better? Making your employees feel like you trust them, through and through. Here are some quick examples. My company’s flexible work schedule policy would make Marissa Mayer cringe. Not only can you work from home whenever you need to, but 20% of our employees work from remote offices located across the globe, from Abu Dhabi to Omaha and Honolulu to Seattle. But it doesn’t stop there. The only vacation policy we have is, “take it when you need it.” When it comes to expenses, the rule of “treat the company’s money as if it was your own,” likewise, falls under this “trust” approach. Much like a good health care plan, benefits like these can do wonders for overall employee happiness (not to mention your recruiting process). Further, if you hire right, these benefits don’t cost the company much to implement or maintain.

Hire Right—and Right from the Start

All of this leads us to one of the most important determinants of employee happiness, which is hiring the right people from the very beginning. Not every company culture is for everyone, and it’s up to both parties to be honest with themselves and each other throughout the interviewing process. Companies can ensure they choose the right candidates by prioritizing culture fit before skillset. This means getting a feel during the interview process for whether a potential hire is a personality fit for your organization and making sure they share the same values as your company. To help with this determination, consider changing up the traditional interview process in which a candidate sits in a conference room with a revolving door of current employees coming in to interview them. For example, take new hire candidates out to lunch or happy hour, or invite them to a non-confidential meeting and ask them to participate as they would if they were already part of the team. Past work experience is certainly important, but there’s no substitute for hiring someone whose positive, helpful attitude will ultimately trump any missed checkboxes on an interview questionnaire.

While the choice to be a working mom is never easy, I am fortunate to be at one of those companies that enables and supports its employees in their quests to achieve the often-elusive feelings of balance and happiness. All of this leads me to believe that there may very well be a formula to employee happiness after all, one that can be replicated across any organization, large or small.

Jen Agustin is the senior director of marketing at Bizo, a marketing technology company. Follow her on Linkedin.

[Image: Flickr user Greg]

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6 Comments

  • Jen- I really like your focus on employee happiness and the importance of leadership.

    Hiring people around values is huge but then treating them like adults with flexibility and a sense of ownership helps build ongoing trust. Higher needs like connectivity with others, having a sense of meaning and worth, feeling appreciated, and making an impact that helps others, even beyond the workplace and into the community, play a role too.

    We've been interviewing Millennials about happiness at work. Many of these higher needs came up in the interviews. If your readers are interested in a summary of our findings, we put together a guide on ways to better engage Millennial employees: http://youearnedit.com/blog/17833-employee-engagement-ideas-for-millennials-the-ultimate-guide/

    Thanks for the article!

    Tim Ryan www.YouEarnedIt.com

  • Smidtb

    Nice read. I work for a similar global company. People all over the globe...but we all work together to meet our goals. Management trusts us. There are projects and there are deadlines...meet the deadlines. Very simple.

  • BeeKaaay

    Here's a radical idea: HIre US Citizens instead of begging the US Government for H1B visas.

    And locate your company in places where people live! Not everyone lives in NY or CA. There's a whole big nation out there full of talent, and you ignore them!

  • Gordon Bothner

    Failure in building a trust based employment relationship begins well before the person is hired. Too often we do not have a clear picture of what we are looking for when we start the recruitment process; this, I believe, is our biggest failing. Being unsure of what we want when we start the recruitment process leads to ineffective assessment strategies, which results in our being unsure of what we have in the person we've hired and ends in an our inability to cultivate employment relationships based on mutual trust. In order to get where you want to go, your first step must be moving you in the proper direction.

  • Mark Rome, zEthics

    "To hire competitively in today’s market, companies need to command the right attitudes at the very top to attract the most talented and committed employees at every level of the organization. A great work ethic and a positive attitude can be contagious, and it’s up to companies to support this idea--starting with management."

    According to Harvard Business School Professor Robert S. Kaplan and his Palladium Group colleague David P. Norton, there are ten (10) process steps to strategy execution:

    Step 1: Visualize the strategy.
    Step 2: Communicate strategy.
    Step 3: Identify strategic projects.
    Step 4: Align projects with strategy.
    Step 5: Align individual roles and provide incentives.
    Step 6: Manage projects.
    Step 7: Make decisions aligned with strategy.
    Step 8: Measure the strategy.
    Step 9: Report progress.
    Step 10: Reward performance.

    Regardless of the size of the organization, it all starts at the top with vision, mission and strategy; i.e., "workplace attitudes trickle down from the top."

    "... whether a potential hire is a personality fit for your organization and making sure they share the same values as your company."

    Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every employee comes to work every day and makes decisions that impact performance. These decisions, at every level of the organization, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

    With the right tools and the right data, leadership can better understand its workforce to align the culture and subcultures (decision making) with corporate goals to drive performance.

    The challenge for leadership is to design and implement a framework for understanding their workforce (i.e., understanding employee happiness). There are more great business ideas out there than great businesses. The difference is in the
    people, the execution and the timing.