10 May, 2022 | Shelley Davies

The top 10 factors that create happy employees

What makes you happy? Ask this question to every person in your business, and you’re likely to get some very eclectic responses. What makes one person happy isn’t going to have the same effect on another, yet so many organisations are still taking a one-size-fits-all approach to creating a ‘happier’ workforce.  

As we’ve said before, happiness at work is not a pool table. It’s not happy hour on Fridays. It’s not expensive vacations to reward high-performing team members. It’s not a promotion or a pat on the back. At least, it’s not those things for every individual. A pool table in the office isn’t going to make you happy if you’re too stretched to enjoy it. An expensive work-holiday abroad might not make you happy if you have small children or pets to care for. A promotion might mean more stress that you really don’t want to take on.  

Real happiness at work is about personal fulfilment – it’s being enabled to address what’s important to you, at work and at home. The more your business can offer this experience to your employees, taking a personal approach to performance management that unlocks what makes every individual happy, the more engaged they will be. And the more engaged your employees are, the better they will perform, taking more accountability for their role as you take accountability for their wellbeing.  

What is employee engagement, really?

You see, what a lot of businesses forget is that employee engagement should be a two-way relationship. Your employees will be more engaged with your business if your business takes time to engage with them.  

This is just one of the reasons that engagement surveys just don’t work – they take a blanket approach, asking everyone at once, ‘do you feel engaged at work?’ without following up with ‘why?’ It’s like asking a friend ‘how are you?’, hearing them answer, ‘not great, really,’ then walking off before the conversation is finished.  

In a competitive job market, a pay packet at the end of the month just isn’t enough to keep talented people on your staff. Engagement is essential, and by extension, so is employee happiness. So what’s the secret of businesses that have high engagement scores, rank highly on best places to work lists and boast that employees in their teams are, measurably, happy?  

Here, we look at the 10 factors that create happy employees in every workplace.  

Regular one-to-one conversation  

This is the first and most important step to a happier workforce. Open, honest and regular conversation between managers and employees is the only way that you can both assess and drive individual happiness. Allow employees to set their own agenda, support managers to ask the right questions, and you will get much clearer, personalised insight into your workforce, breaking down motivational barriers and unlocking productivity in the process. Besides, employees who feel listened to are statistically happier, more engaged and are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best. 

Coaching  

Conversation is one thing, but are your managers able to take the next step and help employees to act on the things that are impacting happiness, motivation and engagement? Coaching is a vital factor in creating a team of happy employees, as it drives action and behavioural change: it’s the difference between raising an issue with your manager – such as feeling overwhelmed at work – and feeling like you are supported to overcome it. According to a study by the Human Capital Institute, 62% of employees in businesses with a strong coaching culture rated themselves ‘highly engaged’, compared to 50% elsewhere. 

Clear objectives  

While every individual has a different definition of what makes them happy, few people at work like to feel directionless. Clear objectives not only help with performance, but they instil a greater sense of satisfaction when they are achieved. They also prevent people from expending a lot of time and effort on tasks that aren’t, ultimately, valued by the business or their manager– which is at best frustrating and at worst demoralising. A happy workplace ensures that managers and employees work together to set clear, achievable objectives that aren’t limited to the corporate agenda. Objectives should be a mix of personal and professional if you want to see tangible change in your workforce’s happiness and engagement. 

Progression at work 

This is one factor that a lot of organisations misunderstand. Progression is important to most people, and there are few who enjoy a feeling of stasis (or worse, stagnation) in their career. Yet progression doesn’t necessarily mean promotion, and this is where those one-to-one conversations are, again, vital. To make employees happy, you need to know what ‘progression’ means to them. Perhaps they want to take on a new project, or learn a new skill, or take a step into another field. Or maybe they do want that promotion and won’t feel recognised without it. You won’t know, if your managers don’t ask – and seeing as 70% of high-retention-risk employees have stated they would leave their current job to advance their career elsewhere, it’s important that they do. Set illustrative progression paths with individual employees based on their ambitions, not what you assume they should be. 

Training and development  

Training and development helps employees to feel secure and able in their roles, and confident to take on new challenges. It’s also important from a progression perspective, ensuring that individuals feel their career has momentum within your business (and that they don’t need to look elsewhere for it). Yet it’s not as simple as enforcing training and development paths on people as the business sees fit (although occasionally that may need to be the case). Listen to what employees want from their training and development: what direction do they want their career to take, what skills do they think they are missing? Ensure that managers know how to facilitate these requests effectively to fulfil employee and commercial needs.  

Mentoring  

Mentoring can be instrumental in creating happy employees. Just knowing that they can approach more experienced colleagues for support can give employees a sense of security, as well as enabling skill-transfer that benefits the business (67% of businesses reported an increase in productivity due to mentoring). Unlike training, mentoring brings a more personable aspect to individual development, giving every employee the opportunity to ask direct questions, get human insight, or even just get moral support when they are having a tough time: in fact, research has shown that 87% of mentors and mentees felt empowered and more confident thanks to their relationship.  

Feedback and recognition  

Feedback is essential to employee happiness – without it, people don’t know when they’ve done a good job or when there are things they need to improve. To drive workforce happiness, you need to make sure that people are receiving constructive communication from managers, team leaders and even their peers on the work they accomplish. Ensuring that feedback is incorporated into your performance management tool is key to create a business-wide culture of manager-to-employee feedback, but it’s also a good idea to give everyone an easy way to share recognition and support with each other, such as OpenBlend’s High Five feature. 

Motivation  

Happiness and motivation go hand in hand. If an employee isn’t motivated to achieve their best, chances are they are not happy. Whether that unhappiness is caused by something at work (such as stress) or outside of it (such as difficulties at home) doesn’t matter: it will still effect their productivity, engagement and general motivation in their role. Managers need to see each employee as a complete person, whose happiness and motivation is influenced by myriad factors, in order to tackle the issues that are impacting them and unlock their full potential. Again, regular 1:1s are key, but managers need to be supported by a performance management framework that guides them to ask the right questions, take the right actions and effectively measure results over time. 

Purpose 

Employees want purpose. There’s something soul-destroying about clocking in and out of a job five days a week and asking yourself, every time: ‘what am I doing here?’ Purpose is one of the keys to happiness: it gives us focus, it gives us a sense of worth, it improves our accountability. Research by PWC found that 83% of employees rated ‘meaning in day to day work’ as important to them, while 53% felt energised by knowing the impact they had on their company. In one-to-one conversations, managers should be a conduit for that purpose, making it clear to each individual their value to their business and the meaning of their work within it. 

Focus on wellbeing  

Perhaps the simplest way to create a happy employee is to, well, make sure they are happy. Forget everything else on this list for a moment and just ask yourself when you last had a wellbeing check-in with someone on your team. We don’t mean aquick “nice weekend?” before a meeting, or a full one-to-one management meeting. We’re talking about asking the key questions that reveal how someone is really feeling, and taking the time to help them change it for the better. As more and more businesses are discovering, wellbeing isn’t some immeasurable mystery in employees: it’s usually something that can, and should, be addressed just like any other part of their performance. A solution-based approach to wellbeing check-ins can have a huge impact on your workforce happiness and engagement, helping people to really take control of how they feel and make work a positive part of their lives. 

You can’t create a happy, engaged workforce overnight: it’s something that needs to be maintained over time. To find out how to approach it in your organisation, download our guide to the top 5 drivers of employee engagement, where we explain why they matter and how they can be used to create a happier, more fulfilled workforce. 

Download Employee Engagement Guide

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