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Want better productivity? Then prioritise happiness!

If you’re serious about growing your business, there are a few fundamentals you can’t afford to ignore.  Number one on that list is the happiness of your existing staff. From happiness comes engagement and from engagement comes profitability.

As MD of three fast-growing tech companies, I’ve seen the difference a motivated workforce can make.  Happy staff can give up to 40% more in terms of discretionary effort. Think of that! If you can find a way to unlock this, your growth trajectory will rocket.

Ensure work has meaning

The traditional drive towards profit and always wanting more seems to have become increasingly hollow.  People are yearning for a higher sense of purpose – of shared values and meaning in their working existence. They want to make their work count for something.  Contentment in staff should be rooted in the sense that you’re in it together. You have a common bond that motivates you to get up in the morning and do good work.

Now, more than ever, it’s essential to work out why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is your unique cause or belief? And what does this truly mean for your business and staff?

Businesses need to do more to create environments where staff genuinely feel like they are being seen and valued.  Personal growth and shared purpose are at the very heart of this. A great culture happens when people know they’re doing the right thing.  Staff spend their energy on the things that make a difference. They have clear objectives, values and behaviour.

    Happiness equals engagement

    Recent Gallup research shows that 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged.  That’s terrible! Many companies are experiencing a crisis of engagement and they haven’t even realised it.  The first question on Gallup’s Q12 metric for measuring engagement is ‘Do you know what’s expected of you at work’?   This is important. I don’t think most people get up every morning and say, ‘I’m going to do a sh*t job today.’ They want to feel they’re making progress, growing and doing well. And they need to be able to do this qualitatively and quantitatively.  

    How do they get to this point?  I believe the answer lies in OKRs (objectives and key results).  I’m a big fan of this tool. If you’ve nailed down your company’s objectives, you can introduce individual OKRs that are closely linked. These should be discussed in a daily huddle every day with teammates. By doing this, staff will always know what they’re doing and whether they’re doing it well.  Teams with happy employees are 28% more productive.

    Reasonable working hours

    In his ‘New Work Manifesto’, Bruce Daisley outlines a number of ways to make work more enjoyable.  One of these is ‘40 hours is enough’. Totally! Never expect your staff to work long hours. Sometimes you may need staff to stay in the evening or work at the weekend if you’re facing a big customer issue but this shouldn’t become the norm.  And you certainly shouldn’t take it for granted.

    Similarly, people’s weekends and holidays should be sacred.  I don’t think you’ll ever get the best from staff if they don’t have a complete break during their days off.  Family, friends and personal well-being are so important. You don’t want people working such long hours that they compromise these things. All three need to be in sync for you to get the best out of the team at work.

    Digital detox

    Encourage your staff to develop healthy digital habits.  Suggest they turn off work emails at the weekend. Make it clear that you don’t expect them to answer emails in the evenings.  If you need to get hold of them urgently, agree that you’ll call them but only in a genuine emergency. You have to be deliberate about this.

    Whenever I go on holiday these days, I delete the email app on my phone.  I used to find myself getting up before the kids in the morning and checking emails, almost as a reflex.  More often than not, I’d get drawn into a situation that annoyed me. By the time the kids appeared for breakfast, my mood had completely changed.  I’d gone into work mode and it affected the whole day. How to ruin a good holiday!

    Have a laugh (regularly!)

    A study in 2017 showed that laughter works like ‘social glue’.  Scientists proved that when we laugh together, it communicates to others that we have a similar worldview and strengthens our relationships. People sync up through having fun together.

    I’m a big fan of joy in the workplace.  We’re at work for so much of our lives – why not enjoy this time?  When I was MD at Peer 1, it was my mission to create the best workplace in the south of England.  We definitely made a statement with our new Southampton office. In the centre was a giant, bright yellow slide – a hilarious way to move between floors! Also an indoor garden, cinema, cafe, free tea and coffee, free breakfast cereal, pool table, indoor swing – there was even a pub!  All these things showed staff they were valued.

    Our environment actively encouraged staff to socialise and build relationships (as well as blast each other with Nerf guns and Airzookers!) This led to high levels of motivation and loyalty.  As word started to spread, we attracted some fantastically talented people who wanted to come and join us – our environment really stood out against our competitors.

    Pre-approve decisions

    Henry Stewart knows a thing or two about happiness at work.  Founder and ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ of ‘Happy’, he’s a regular on the conference circuit, talking about creating happy, productive workplaces.  In his book ‘The Happiness Manifesto’, he emphasises the importance of giving freedom to staff within clear guidelines.

    This is something I adopted at Rackspace.  Every project was pre-approved. Staff knew that the work they did would lead to something.  So, when a group of female staff came to me saying our maternity benefits needed to be revised, I gave them clear guidelines and enabled them to make it happen.  Their recommendations were immediately adopted. It’s all about feeling appreciated. People are far more likely to give you their best work if they know it will be valued and followed through.

    That pub inside the offices at Peer 1 was another pre-approved project outcome. I had thought wind-proofing on the patio was more urgent. I missed a site meeting and the team bought a pub off eBay instead. Good for them! It was fantastic to have a beer with the team in the Sherlock Arms after work (named after Gary Sherlock the CEO).

    The importance of social interaction

    One of the more intriguing questions on the Gallup Q12 measure of engagement is ‘Do you have a best friend at work?’  This is based on research showing a concrete link between having a best friend in the workplace and high performing teams.  This can cause some hilarity when you roll it out. But it makes sense.  If staff feel there’s someone they can turn to, who has their back, they’re more likely to feel secure and happy.

    The reason many people come to work is for social interaction – so this should be encouraged by employers.  I spoke to a company boss recently who said to me, ‘You don’t have to like the people you work with’. Really?  I guess that’s technically true, but do you really want to go to work with people you don’t like? Every day? Sounds miserable to me.  People do their best work when they’re in flow – time flies and they find joy and satisfaction. This is much harder to achieve if they’re in an unhappy environment.

    Sense of fairness

    Another key point that’s not in either Bruce Daisley or Henry Stewart’s manifestos; I believe if you don’t deal with poor performers, then you’re significantly impacting on the rest of the team’s happiness.   This can be a quantitative failure to meet job performance expectations or a failure to behave according to the company’s core values. Mood hoovers, negative pixies or miserable Daves need to be given the option to stop their miserable cynical rants or find another company to drag down.

    I’ve been in jobs where I’m working harder than the next guy and yet they’re being paid more than me. This goes against the natural human values of fairness and equity.  No wonder women get so riled about the gender pay gap. These types of issues can become really corrosive in business and impact levels of happiness and productivity. Staff start to think that management doesn’t care or hasn’t noticed and both are corrosive.

    If you want to promote someone, make sure you’ve seen they can do the role before you make the big announcement.  I’ve learned this the hard way. You and they need the ability to step back from a decision to promote if it’s a failure.  Give staff interim roles or projects without the pay rise to see if they’re ready first. If they’re not up to it, be honest.  Tell them why and what they need to work on.

    Praise and encouragement

    They’re simple things but a bit of praise and encouragement goes a long way.  The Gallup Q12 acknowledges this in its question, ‘Have you received praise and recognition for good work in the last 7 days?’  Honing in on 7 days is deliberate – it’s very recent. If you’ve built a culture of celebration, staff should instantly recall a recent moment where their contribution has been recognised.

    At IT Lab, we had an ‘all-hands’ meeting every month where we shared financial information and asked each of the managers to say three positive things.  They were briefed to catch people doing the right thing and call this out, giving awards wherever possible. This monthly all-hands should be combined with a weekly email from the CEO, again putting a positive spin on what had happened that week and what was being planned for the following week. By using a ‘carrot not stick’ approach, we modelled the sort of behaviour we wanted to see in the organisation and taught staff to understand what was expected of them.

    When I was MD at Peer 1, we introduced a system where public ‘thank you’s’ became the norm, accompanied by a round of applause. It became a regular thing and was hugely powerful for staff motivation.

    It’s important for staff to feel there’s someone in the organisation who encourages them.  Ensure your managers have a coaching mindset.  Coaching is different to managing – it’s not at all about command and control and is much more about development. Instead of directing their team, challenge your managers to motivate, support, encourage and reward in every one of their interactions.  This really will pay dividends, unlocking potential in your staff, and increasing engagement and productivity.

    Measure and respond

    It amazes me how few companies have a proper handle on levels of staff happiness and engagement.  Without a good metric that tracks this, you’ll have no early warning system that things are going wrong. I’ve always used the Gallup Q12 but there are now other great solutions out there including Office Vibe or my favourite Friday Pulse.  These give a weekly temperature check of happiness levels in your office.   

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    Happiness has always been the thing that drives me. I like to have an impact on the lives of the people I work with.  When I was running businesses, the financials were always healthy. But the thing that made me feel good was seeing individual people blossom, learn more, earn more, and do more than they’d ever thought possible when we hired them.  We’d employ people with potential and the right attitude and then give them a workplace where they thrived. I knew they would go home happy and this would ripple out into their wider life – a happy husband/wife, happy kids, happy community… happy world!  

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