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Hit The Ground Running

How To Boost Employee Happiness Without Spending Any Money

Bonuses and perks might make people happier in the short term, but they don't solve the underlying problem. Here's what does.

How To Boost Employee Happiness Without Spending Any Money
[Photo: Flickr user little*harry]

You know the saying "Money can’t buy happiness." You get it. But startup founders and CEOs still don’t seem to understand.

When CEOs find out that their employees are unhappy, they throw money at the problem: They buy better furniture and give away fat bonuses. These tactics may help in the short term, like a caffeine boost, but they don’t solve the underlying problem.

You don’t need sleek new computers and hundreds of swagged-out items to make your employees happy. In fact, when I started my company, all we had were some cheap Ikea desks, and I had to ask everyone to bring their own computers. But even back then, I had everything I needed to keep my team happy. And we’re still going strong today.

Here are six things you can give your own team (for free) to achieve genuine happiness in your office.

The Freedom To Set (And Achieve) Their Own Goals

Don’t you love the feeling of ownership? That moment when you can point to something, swelling with pride, and say, "I did that"? So do your employees. Give them ownership over projects—from inception all the way to completion.

Set clear company goals, both small quarterly ones and large three-year plans. Tell your team what needs to be accomplished and when. Here’s the kicker: Let them figure out how to get there. Don’t nitpick; don’t hover. Remember, you decided this person was a good fit for your team and mission. Set a destination and trust her to find the path.

Clarity And Purpose

People deliver better results when they have a clear idea of what’s expected of them. They’re happier when they feel their work is part of a greater picture.

A Gallup poll found that only half of people are clear about what’s expected of them at work. Only half! If that’s the case in your office, fix it now. Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management, said that "it comes down to showing people how their work and contributions impact the success of the entire firm. Disengagement starts with having a confusing job."

To avoid that confusion and subsequent disengagement, have a definitive mission. Ours is that everyone should have access to convenient, effective, and enjoyable ways to learn. My team knows this by heart, and I often remind them of their role within that mission.

Opportunities To Tackle New Challenges And Grow

It’s on management to help employees identify and take on projects that will help them grow. Challenge your employees to work outside their comfort zones—even outside their job descriptions. For example, our graphic designer Mark recently played an integral role in selecting a design and development agency for our site redesign. It’s a job he never thought he’d have, but it helped him grow within the company and his own role.

Autonomy is great. But if you’re owning the same projects over and over again, you get bored. Boredom is just another path to disengagement and unhappiness.

Mentorship And Support

Take a moment to accept the fact that you’re not perfect and neither are your employees. Everyone is going to make mistakes and that’s okay. That’s why a feeling of support is crucial for employee happiness. CEOs and managers should not only help set goals, but should also listen to employees, offer advice, lend a hand, and act as coaches to help them finish each project.

A Place To Share Ideas And Even Complain

No, really. Set up in-office platforms where your team can suggest ideas and share their thoughts (all of them). At Magoosh, we use Asana to keep track of current projects. There, anyone is welcome, regardless of level or department, to suggest new projects and join in on conversations happening all over the office.

We also use TINYpulse, an anonymous feedback app, to collect a weekly happiness pulse. If someone is unhappy, he or she can speak up about it without being identified. It’s then on the leadership to address it. Don’t make your employees talk into the wind. Make real changes based on feedback.

A Team They Can Rely On

Hire carefully. Fill your team with people you can trust not only to carry your vision forward, but also to work well with others.

You want your employees to feel confident that they could trust their own projects with any member of the team. In building your company, remember you’re also deciding whom your team members collaborate with, so make wise choices. Your team will be happier for it.

Bhavin Parikh is CEO and co-founder of Magoosh, a company that creates web and mobile apps to help students prepare for standardized tests such as the GRE and GMAT. He loves advising startups on growing their ideas and building great cultures. He's a member of Young Entrepreneur Council, an invite-only organization composed of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.

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