Why it’s important for employers to be concerned with the happiness of their employees.
The workplace is being revolutionised. Technology, mindset shift and a seemingly insatiable desire for the pursuit of happiness is changing the way we see the world. It’s also changing how we want to interact with our world, and importantly, how we want to the world to see us as an individual and communicate with us accordingly.
In a recent study, Forbes.com reported that happy employees were at least 50% more productive in their jobs. “That’s a margin too large to ignore as a manager, but also an intimidating prospect for those meant to be inspiring a team to perform better in an already overly stressed world,” says Godfrey Madanhire, life coach and professional motivational speaker.
In a report by Gravitate Design, a US digital marketing agency, it’s predicted that an average of 550-million work days are lost due to absenteeism in the US. This absenteeism is cited as a result of work-related stress and costs the US economy the equivalent of US$30-billion per annum. Scarier than the amount lost to absent employees, is the amount vanished as a result of what the report terms presenteeism or employees who are at work, but are just unproductive. This equates to approximately US$200-billion, which in people terms means that six out of every 10 present employees are not working at their full potential.
The same study echoes that happy employees are more likely to assist colleagues with tasks and will also have a stronger involvement in building a company culture. Happy employees were also discovered to be on average 55% more effective in their efforts, and 85% more efficient with their time.
In relation, the productivity of a team (or lack thereof) can be attributed to the overall happiness of that group. This happiness can relate to the direct environment of the workplace, the attitude of fellow staff, the resources available to that team and, most importantly, feeling supported by their manager. The bottom line is that an unhappy team is likely to lead to conflict, which makes any manager’s role that much harder.
“Well, what am I supposed to do about my employees being unhappy? Surely that isn’t my responsibility?” tends to be the standard response from managers who are stumped by how to mend a situation of conflict amongst their team. However, it’s time to change your thinking in this regard, because how you manage your people has a direct impact on their happiness, and by association, the
potential for conflict to rise in the ranks.
“Managing conflict amongst team members is never going to be easy and the issues around which it surfaces will always vary and inevitably be unexpected from time to time,”
Victor Lipman, a US businessman who has managed teams at Fortune 500 companies and now writes extensively on management for various publications, believes that the first step to dealing with conflict in the workplace is accepting that as a manager, you are required to deal with it fairly and decisively. In an article for Forbes, Lipman states that many managers will spend time ruminating on the problem or feeling bad about how to deal with conflict fairly, instead of delving in and sorting out the issue as soon as it arises.
Dealing with conflict requires interpersonal communication skills, but that can also be a minefield in itself in today’s tangle of channels. Communication has changed form with the introduction of new technologies in the work environment. Theoretically, talking to your team and co-ordinating action has been made easier with the use of e-mail, instant messaging and video calls, but in fact it’s driven down the quality of communication, says Baden Eunson in his book, Communication in
Eunson furthers that because of technological innovation, face-to-face communication is no longer the norm. This really indicates how urgently this situation needs to be rectified in many ways. Employees respond best to face-to-face communication: they can understand tone, read a manager’s body language and talk through an issue. The opposite is achieved with email for example, where an employee may take offence to the wording of a message, misconstrue the issue being dealt with or, worse, respond in an aggressive manner from behind the thin veil that technology can provide.
Instead of assuming the defence and dealing with any conflict between members through an online channel, simply take the time to speak to all the parties concerned and get to the root of the problem faster than any email conversation laced with innuendo would take. A manager should never assume that team members have purposefully chosen to be difficult. Often, employees may feel vulnerable or confused by another’s actions and a simple conversation can alter the situation for the positive.
Try and avoid rushing through any type of conflict resolution. You want your team to understand that their happiness and relationships with each other are just as important to you as the bottom line is. Choose a quiet location, a suitable time and give the situation your full attention.
Remember that to grow happiness, you need to focus on it. When conflict arises, don’t allow negative emotions to swell and overcome a situation. Ask your team members to explain the problem in neutral terms, taking time to jot down notes before any meeting that will aid them to voice their concerns and issues clearly. Encourage team members to add in a positive thought or compliment for the other team member to smooth things over. This may be difficult at first, and almost unnatural, but it will become second nature to your team once they learn this is a productive way to deal
“Opting to train your staff in soft skills might seem an unnecessary expense at first, but over the long term, the smart money sees it as an investment. The ability to set goals, effective communication both up and down the ranks and focus maintenance are vital for any business to succeed and grow. Employees who are empowered with these so-called soft skills are happier and more productive and it’s a safe bet their managers are happier too,” says Madanhire.
Compromise (from all parties concerned) is typically the outcome you’ll be looking to achieve from any conflict resolution, but don’t forget that this compromise should not come at a cost to the company. While it is tempting to let employees continue as is because it seems easier, make sure you evaluate the consequences of any outcome. This is where you’ll have to take charge as an employer and make a decision and be firm. Explain why a situation cannot continue or take the suggested route and an employee should understand whether their actions could be detrimental to your company.
Managing your team should also extend beyond the physical locale of your work space, says US business coach Cheryl Stein. She recommends building thoughtful actions into everyday routine to build happiness. This is not only happiness amongst yourselves, but also to the community around your business. By getting out of your work routine and giving back to the community, you give your team members the chance to see each another in a different light, and learn more about each other as human beings. This will bring compassion and humanity to your team that may have otherwise been difficult to achieve in the work environment.
“Depending on the size of an organisation, some employees might only know each other in passing or only come into contact occasionally during meetings. Should they suddenly be required to work closely, there could well be conflict or at least difficulty in relating to one another. When employees spend time together outside of a work environment on a team-building exercise ,it is easier for them to bond and establish more effective communication
patterns,” says Madanhire.
Happiness, as a tangible outcome, has traditionally never been seen as a primary goal to strive towards in the workplace. It’s almost always been a byproduct of success and a nice-to-have that isn’t pursued by managers in the world of business. With the increased focus on the value of employees by large international companies such as Google and Facebook, a trend has surfaced in the workplace that expects managers to increase their direct involvement in personable communication, mental health and the general mood of their teams.
Companies playing in the field of technology have blazed the trail in this regard. Google, for instance, designs its office spaces around its staff and their primal functions as human beings. In an article on the design of Google’s headquarters in Canada, managing director Chris O’Neill says: “Google’s workplace environments are a critical part of our culture, crafted in ways that encourage collaboration and creativity while promoting happier and healthier Canooglers (Canadian Googlers).”
The office is not only impressive in terms of its décor (its described as Elegant Garage, strangely enough), but the work space focuses on areas that are meant to spark creativity while offering ergonomic office design. A fitness centre, secret rooms, wacky artwork and full-service canteen all lend themselves to the quirkier side of life while encouraging employees to design their own routine and enjoy their time at work. After all, when you’re working a 12-hour day, don’t you at least want to feel like the space you’re in is conducive to creating great work as an outcome?
Managers will often object to this point and argue that they have no control of the location or aesthetic of their work space. But even on a small budget, vast improvements can be effected on your surrounds. Open spaces, natural light, fresh air, plants and some interesting artwork can perk up your team. Interestingly, Work Design Magazine cites a Norwegian study in an article on the benefits of plants in the work space, which discovered that fatigue decreased on average 30% in work spaces where employees were surrounded by natural plants. Energised employees are happier employees, and all because of some plants.
Being a manager and looking after a team is not an easy task, but a happy and harmonious team can increase results sevenfold and improve your bottom line results. Invest time and energy into creating a happy team, and you’ll reap the results.