Maximising employee happiness has become an ever more prevalent topic in today's workforce. Many companies are placing greater focus on workplace culture “hacks”, such as flexible working hours and team building, in the hope that they will create happy and productive workers.
Often the best way to measure staff happiness however is to simply talk it over with them directly. So why is job satisfaction so important? What kinds of questions should you be asking your employees to ascertain their happiness – and to find out how you might create a better working environment for them? Equally important, how can you ensure that the necessary steps are taken to turn this discussion into action?
Why job satisfaction matters
First off, it simply makes good business sense to regularly check in on how your employees are faring in the happiness department. Studies conducted by Gallup, Towers Watson and PwC have all found a positive link between job satisfaction and productivity, financial results, and customer satisfaction.
Happiness also has a significant effect on staff turnover. While it's difficult to accurately calculate the cost of having to replace an employee, estimates according to Inc.com can be as high as 150 per cent of their annual salary to cover the associated recruitment, training and lost productivity costs. For small businesses, it can be a major hit to their bottom line.
Also worth considering is the fact that the Chartered Institute of Personal Development found that job satisfaction is at a two-year low in the UK. Almost one in four workers were looking to leave their jobs because of the failure of managers to engage and retain staff. Looking at another study published in the Journal of Management, found that people’s satisfaction in a job gradually declines over the years and moving to a new organisation can provide a boost until the cycle begins again and their job satisfaction begins to decline again. Dr Shoshana Dobrow Riza, Assistant Professor of Management at LSE and one of the authors of the report explains that all hope isn’t lost, “Individuals and managers can be proactive in helping ward off declining satisfaction by finding ways to redesign work to make it more motivating and meaningful.”
How can you improve employee satisfaction?
Foremost, it's important to find out whether employees actually find their job fulfilling – and what should be changed if it's not. This can be done during their annual performance review, as part of an impromptu “catch up” meeting, or by getting employees to fill out a questionnaire. Questions can include:
- Do you find the job interesting and meaningful?
Employees are more actively engaged in their work when it tests the limits of their skills, and they can see its value in the bigger picture. This is a good opportunity to find out whether the employee might benefit from being in a more challenging project, job rotation, or being assigned more responsibility.
- Do you feel your work is being recognised and you are receiving enough training?
Most people want to continuously grow their careers. If you can ensure they are appreciated for their good work and support them in their personal development goals (and provide the career opportunities they desire), there's a greater likelihood that they will remain loyal to your company for the long term.
- How would you rate your workplace relationships?
A big part of job satisfaction relates to how well people work together, so it's important that you ask employees how they view their team's performance. Does every member take on a fair share of the team's tasks? How well do team members collaborate on tasks? And do they feel that team communication is always open and honest?
- Do you believe there is a level of fairness between management and employees?
There is a direct relationship between a company's management style and the day-to-day satisfaction of its employees. “Does your manager provide the training and mentoring you need?” and “Does your team leader act when alert to inequality in the workplace?” are the types of questions that can be asked by HR or as part of the employee performance review process.
- Do you feel stressed or empowered?
Studies have proven the link between chronic workplace stress and absenteeism, lower job performance, and even serious health issues such as depression. Sometimes stress is unavoidable. But asking this question can help you avoid “one size fits all” solutions that may work for some employees, but not others – and instead empower your employees.
For example, some people can feel stressed by a lack of job stability, and would benefit from having a long-term career plan; others may prefer the flexibility of being able to “hop” between roles until they find one that they can resonate job satisfaction towards. By empowering your staff to drive their own career, they are less likely to experience a collective of challenges, and can instead build confidence towards their career.
Implementing an employee's happiness plan
Sitting with your employee to conduct a “happiness assessment” is the first step toward improving their job satisfaction. Your next step should involve making sure that the discussion is turned into action. This can entail:
- Recognising and rewarding the employee’s contributions and tying back how that success contributed to the wider business.
- Regularly updating the employee's career development and/or training plan to remind them of what they are contributing to the company and reaffirming they are the right fit
- Agreeing on a flexible work schedule that takes advantage of those times of day when the employee is most productive and engaged
- Suggesting stress-reducing activities, such as a health and fitness program or a weekly “digital detox”
- Calling a team meeting and sorting out any team-related problems that are present
- Agreeing on a date for their next job satisfaction review
The happiest employees feel supported by peers and managers, are passionate about their work, and have the tools and resources they need to be effective. Open and honest discussion with your employees is an important first step towards making these a reality.