This is What It Takes to Make Employees Happier – and Help the Bottom Line

Dec 5, 2017
10 Min Read
Kris Boesch Interview

Kris Boesch Interview


On a scale of one to 10, how happy are the employees in your organization?

If your answer is “seven” then you’re right in line with the answer given by most CEOs.

“Seven is an interesting number,” says Kris Boesch, an workplace culture expert. “It’s representative of ‘we’re doing okay, not great’ or ‘I really don’t know.’ You’re confident that no one is going to go postal. Overall you have a good group of people who get along well enough. There are some areas that could use improvement. It’s a ‘safe’ number.”

But Boesch says no one should be thrilled with such an assessment, because when employees are happier, the bottom line is healthier.

Further, don’t try to defend your culture to Boesch by claiming that your workers are “satisfied” or “engaged.”

“That’s a pretty low bar to try and hit. Would you be thrilled to say that your clients are ‘satisfied’? And what is engaged? I don’t really know what that looks or feels like,” she says. “But I do know what happy looks like.”


Pay attention to happiness factors

Using 1,000 hours of research with a team from the industrial organizational psychology department at Colorado State University, Boesch identified eight critical happiness factors, such as the employees having a positive perception of the supervisor, workers believing their work is important in the organization and team members feeling they have freedom in their work.

What may surprise some companies, however, is what did not fall into those happiness factors: compensation, benefits and perks.

“I think there’s an obvious tendency to go to those things like compensation and benefits to increase happiness, but you’ll find that other research had similar outcomes,” she says. “It’s the obvious fix, but not the best one.”

Boesch, author of “Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace,” says that more employers would work to boost employee happiness if they understood how it affects their bottom line.

Specifically, a worker with an annual salary of $40,000 can cost a company $387,000 because an unhappy worker provides poor customer service, spreads negativity and eventually leaves, which costs the company in terms of recruitment and training of a new employee, she says.

On the other hand, that same employee who is happy can boost the bottom line by $21,300 because of 12% greater productivity than the average worker and 41% less absences that unhappy workers, she says.


Assess emotional health of your workforce

Boesch says the biggest mistake companies make right now is trying to “throw money” at employees to make them happier, when what is really needed is an assessment of the emotional health of the workforce.

“It is really hard right now because people are really divided in this country. I think it’s important for leaders to remind their teams of the common ground they share. We all care about our families, for example,” she says. “We need to talk about what unifies us.”

One of the ways that companies can help unify workers – especially remote workers or teams in far-flung locations – is by using technology.

“Technology has the potential to enhance anything when used right,” she says. “Anything that helps us communicate better gets a high five.”

For example, greater employee happiness results when leaders share their own humanity – their concerns or fears or dreams – with teams. That may only be possible through technology in some cases, and letting workers hear directly from leaders “creates a level of intimacy” that can lead to a workforce is that feels more connected, she says.

Boesch says some other ways to create greater worker happiness includes:

  1. Making the link. Employees have to understand that what they do matters. “People want to contribute. They want to achieve. They want to make a difference. Connect them to what matters.”
  2. Keeping them informed. Ask three team members if they know the organization’s mission, vision and values.  If they don’t know, then it’s time to help employees understand the organizational systems and processes and how money is used to help grow the organization and make investments.
  3. Strengthening the shared identity. Companies must consistently show that they’ve got the best interests of the employees in mind. Because that’s the only way that individuals are going to give up their personal interests. Show you care about workers by providing training, giving an unexpected bonus, firing toxic employees and doing small things like offering real cream for the office coffee and soft toilet paper in the bathrooms. Remind them they’re all in this together and must be able to count on one another.
  4. Shifting accountability. Holding people accountable means being tuned in when someone is being successful – and when someone is struggling. Ensure that an employee’s efforts and energy are worth something, that it makes a difference and an impact.
  5. Building trust. “Intent speaks to someone’s heart, their deliberate purpose. When you question someone’s intent, you question the core of their character. That’s why a simple disagreement about strategy and tactics can transform into something personal and insurmountable,” she says. That is why remote teams can be challenging and why such hires need to be carefully considered. She suggests that before hiring a remote worker, consider whether he or she was easy to talk with, and the person was a good listener. Can they reflect back ideas you’ve conveyed? Are they self-starters?
  6. Nurturing better communications. “When someone praises you, it’s personal. When someone promotes you, it’s personal. When you are asked to head up a project, it’s personal. Communication is the foundation to feeling safe,” she says. So, when someone says the company needs better communications, respond with “Tell me more,” she suggests. Ask for specifics and repeat examples so you can address them specifically and not throw “darts in the dark,” she says. Also, keep employees informed about business decisions and happenings because “surprises are unnerving.”
  7. Repairing relationships. Sometimes a team member has no clue about why there is a rift with a colleague. Where there is unspoken tension, get to the root of it, and the rancor and disconnect can disappear quickly.  Leaders can help by acknowledge common ground between the team members, defining the facts of what happened and airing assumptions that may have led to the acrimony.
  8. Creating a culture accepting of change. Share why change is important, what it can do for the organization, what you think is the best option, why it needs to happen now and the proposed plan.


Are you doing everything it takes to maintain a happy workforce?


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