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Seven ways to create a happy workforce

Two thirds of the world's employees feel disengaged in the workplace, write Peter Flade, James Harter and Jim Asplund for the HBR.org Blog Network. But there is a recipe for happy, spirited employees and it has seven essential ingredients.

The Gallup authors researched employee engagement in more than 140 countries over a five-year period. Despite the gloomy overall picture, they identified 32 exemplary companies in which 90% of employees felt engaged.

So what were these companies doing right? Flade, Harter and Asplund reveal the seven things employers should do to engage their workers.

1) Have curious and involved leaders who want to improve. The actions and attitudes of leaders have a powerful influence on a company's culture. When employees see that their leaders are interested, curious and keen to improve themselves, they are more likely to understand the level of engagement expected of them.

2) Have great HR support. It's common for an executive to rise through a company's ranks without learning how to be a good manager. Therefore it is essential to have HR leaders who can influence, teach and hold executives to account.

3) Meet your employees' basic requirements. "When employees know what is expected of them, have what they need to do their jobs, are good fits for their roles and feel their managers have their backs, they will commit to almost anything the company is trying to accomplish"; insist Flade, Harter and Asplund. If these needs are not met, workers will be unable and unwilling to engage with their company's mission.

4) Don't use the downturn as an excuse. None of the 32 exemplary companies have used the state of the economy as an excuse to neglect workplace culture. In fact, these companies actually improved their cultures during the downturn. Openness and great communication have been key to maintaining the morale and confidence of these workforces, the authors explain.

5) Trust, hold accountable and support managers and teams. When teams are allowed to solve their own problems, they get stronger, observe Flade, Harter and Asplund.

"Exemplary companies lavish support upon their managers, build their capability and resilience, and then hold them and their teams accountable for the micro-cultures they create," they insist.

6) Be a "recognition junky" and never tolerate mediocrity. Great workplaces use recognition as "a powerful incentive currency", fostering greater capability and commitment from their employees. For these companies, mediocrity is the enemy. The authors remark that without appropriate and visible consequences for action and inaction, employees can become disillusioned and disengaged.

7) Do not pursue engagement for its own sake. Finally, the authors warn against employers "managing to the metric". Instead, they should "keep their eyes on the outcomes they need greater engagement to achieve".
 

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Peter Flade, James Harter and Jim Asplund

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