In the words of Deborah Stephens in her book Maslow on Management, “Amid today’s impressive technological innovations, business leaders sometimes forget that work is – at its core – a fundamental human endeavour.” A quick look around will tell you how aptly she has captured the essence of general modern business environment. The rush of meeting deadlines, the pressures of meeting targets and the race up the corporate ladder have indeed put the ‘human considerations’ on a back seat in today’s work environment. There are of-course exceptions but then these are a handful and get quoted around to only to find a place on the wish list of majority of SMBs. It’s is incessantly said that the likes of Google and Zappos can invest towards employee happiness because they have the financial muscle to do so. I always argue that they started with such a culture when they were in their infancy and the financial woes of a startup. They have worked up their way to the current status because of the intent and focus right from inception and that has been a significant contributing factor for the financial muscle they have now.
Is happiness in workplace really so elusive? Does it really take a lot of financial muscle to make a work environment joyful, fun and happy? Happiness is our natural state of being. Everything we do has something to do with our happiness. The intrinsic motivation behind our actions is the attainment of happiness on culmination of an action or in doing an action. In other words it is rather unlikely that we would do something if we knew it is not going to make us happy at the end, unless of course there are extenuating circumstances. It is inexplicably paradoxical that work or job, that people voluntarily venture out to do, invariably becomes a source of discontent and unhappiness. One’s job is actually the very source of contentment, joy and happiness that prevails in one’s personal life.
I always discuss my “Job = Happiness” equation with the employees when I get to speak to a new lot for the first time. Here is how the equation goes:
Job = Salary (money) = Meet Desires/Needs = Satisfaction = Happiness
Hence Job = Happiness -QED
I generally put the equation across in form of questions like, why are you doing a job, the answer is invariably ‘for the money’ (or you get them around to money), why do you need the money?, what happens when you meet your desires or needs?, how do you feel when you get the satisfaction of having met your desire/need? It is most rewarding to see the wonderment of realization on their faces. The equation and it’s explanation may not be transformational for all, but it surely sows the seed in the minds. With some people it actually does change their perception of the job they are doing. To hammer the point home and to deal with the capricious human mind, I had the equation printed out as posters and stuck them at strategic locations in the office. Perhaps subliminally, it worked.
The equation would however go fundamentally wrong if the company, or to be more precise, the managers, do not adopt supportive practices that patronize and inculcate a sense of well being, happiness and joy among the employees. We thrive on positive relationships and have an insatiable need to be appreciated and respected. Building a happier, conducive and cooperative environment has always helped me whether it was at department level or at the organisation level.
Rhetorical as it may sound but the truism: “employees join companies, but they leave their managers,” discovered by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman who studied eighty thousand managers in over four hundred companies, shall consistently hold true. The single most variable contributing to employee comfort and happiness in a workplace is the quality of relationships between employees and their immediate supervisors.
The information revolution has made competition vigorous. Global political and economic turbulence in the past two decades have businesses vying for profitability and at times, even survival. It is no surprise then that profits dominate the corporate and individual agendas in today’s workplace putting accountability for building relationships in the shadows. It would be presumptuous however to overlook the fact that no company balance sheet values relationships within an organization but the values on the balance sheet are a result of the relationships within an organization.
The need to inspire employees to a consciousness of interdependence can never be over emphasized. The awareness of ‘we have each other’ and ‘we are for each other’ is the foundation of teamwork that delivers excellent results and provides the aura of happiness and cohesiveness to the organization as an entity. Companies that have transcended from mediocrity to excellence have consistently proven that outstanding financial results are only possible through optimizing relationships with employees and not just customers, investors.
Meaning in Work
Managers and leaders have a great deal of influence on how a workplace is created. If the managers believe people need to be watched and controlled (McGregor Theory X) the workplace will mirror this belief in stringent control and monitoring systems. If the leadership, on the other hand believes that people are motivated to work and enjoy controlling their environment (McGregor Theory Y), the workplace will be a reflection of an engaged, involved and motivated lot, fewer checks and balances, with people having the freedom and empowerment to make choices on how to deliver best results.
“People have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning” – Viktor Frankl. It is a fact that in this era work dominates our lives more than ever before. The socializing, time to follow hobbies, time with the family that used to provide a meaning to our lives are taken over by overstretched working hours, long commutes and smart devices that keep us connected to work at all times. Such an overbearing work environment is the cause of burn-outs and high turnover in traditional companies.
Companies that have transformed and learnt the secrets of ‘employee engagement’ and ‘providing meaning in work’ are the ones enjoying the luxury of higher retention and excellent business results today. The managers and leaders of such organizations commit to creating a shared mindset and making people see the connection between what they do daily with the company’s sense of mission. People want to work for a cause and not just for a living. Making them realize how important their work is and the role it plays in achieving organizational goals gives them a feel of their importance in the larger picture and provides a meaning to what they do. This gives the employees the engagement and intrinsic motivation to endure the demands of 24/7 connectedness with work while still being happy in doing so.
Psychologist and philosopher William James once wrote “The deepest hunger in humans is the desire to be appreciated.” Appreciation is to human mind what water is to fish. We thrive and flourish on appreciation. It is the most effective and longest lasting intrinsic motivator. This is really not an esoteric fact yet it is surprising how widely it is missed by most and so often. We never forget to toss a biscuit to or pat our dog when he does a roll or barks on our command but, and sadly so, we seldom remember to appreciate our fellow human beings for their efforts. Especially when it comes to a work environment, there is an overbearing propensity to consider what people do routinely, as something that does not deserve appreciation since it is considered to be in line with what they are supposed to do.
Creating a culture of recognition will mean happier employees, less turnover and better productivity. If your workplace is more focused on giving feedback only when something goes wrong as opposed to celebrating what’s going right, a high divorce rate can be more than expected. Most of the times we get so caught up in the tangibility of productivity and profitability that the wrongs begin to take precedence over the rights. So much so that we completely forget that giving authentic recognition to peers and subordinates is the single greatest way to bring a smile on their faces and motivate them to deliver even better.
A small but significant lesson I learnt during my uniformed days in the Navy was that it really does not take much to spread happiness. It’s not the big things but small gestures and little things that are more important. Little things like using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ gives people their due respect and make them happy in delivering what they are asked to. A small ‘thank you‘ on a post-it is enough appreciation most of the times.
I would summarize with Chip Conley’s words in his book Peak – “ Taking care of business means taking care of relationships… for a company to develop, there is a constant need to invest in these relationships.” A culture of mutual respect, admiration, appreciation and where employees are able to connect their contribution with the larger picture will finally prevail and create a workplace with happy and engaged employees committed to deliver excellence.