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What Makes Employees Happy?


Ah. The ultimate question. How do we make employees happy? Well, we don’t think this is a question that can be answered in a blog post. It also doesn’t have a silver bullet answer that works for every employee. Having said that, here are six effective solutions based on our research and experience.

1) Have open conversations on what motivates them

Many employers assume that they know what their employees want out of their jobs. Some may be right, but some definitely are not. For some employees, it may be the company’s mission. For others, it may be flexibility. Maybe it’s money. Who knows?

Instead of guessing, we think employers should have open conversations with their employees. Ask them, “What do you want to get out of this job? What motivates you?”. Having this open conversation accomplishes two things:

  1. Employers can learn more about how to effectively motivate individual employees (and whether they can/want to afford it).
  2. The conversation shows employees that employers care.

Obviously, employers have to take what they learn from the conversation and actually act on them to maximize impact. Stop guessing. Ask questions. Start listening. We also recommend documenting these feedback conversations in an employee feedback software.

2) Celebrate strengths and successes

This one is a little bit obvious, but generally, employees like being good at their jobs and being recognized for it. Don’t be shy – celebrate others’ strengths and successes! A survey conducted by the America Psychology Association found that employees who receive recognition have higher levels of satisfaction, motivation, and work effort!

There are good and bad ways to provide positive feedback/recognition (as per our feedback cheat sheet), but you can start by simply saying “what you did there was awesome. Great job!” You may also find this article on great employee feedback examples helpful!

3) Provide development opportunities and show progression

For many employees, skill development is a big driver of motivation. Give them constructive feedback regularly (i.e., not once a year or once every six months) to push their skills to the next level. You can read our blog on the importance of feedback here. You can also use our cheat sheet referenced above to deliver constructive feedback.

On a related note, many employees like seeing their progression. Have you ever played games like Candy Crush? That awesome feeling you get when you level up? That’s it. Through meaningful conversations – enabled by platforms such as Pavestep 🙂 – employees can see the progression towards their goals.

One side note: if your company determines employees’ performance (and therefore progression) by using bell curves, forced rankings, or any similar framework that compares employees to other employees, we suggest looking into social comparison vs. temporal comparison evaluations. Again, there is no silver bullet answer here, but hopefully a helpful data point as you think through what works best for your organization.

4) Provide autonomy to the right people at the right time

When it comes to “autonomy”, we may have a slightly different view from others. Autonomy doesn’t always work. From what we’ve seen, providing autonomy works well when employees have (i) a clear understanding of what they’re trying to achieve, (ii) the ability to create an effective plan, and (ii) the skills to execute that plan. If employees do not possess any one of these three things, they tend to waste time working on the wrong things or spinning their wheels.

Before we provide autonomy blindly to our employees, let’s at least ask how prepared they feel on those three things. We’re not saying you have to micro-manage. We’re saying you should set your employees for success.

5) Foster meaningful relationships in the workplace

People are social. Research has found that people who have a “best friend” at work are more engaged. While it’s difficult to manufacture relationships among your employees, you can certainly provide the environment to enable them. Team building exercises, lunches, etc. Ask your employees for ideas!

6) Encourage flexibility in the workplace.

It’s no surprise that flexibility is important to many employees. Employees report that they are more productive and engaged in their work when they can juggle the demands of work with other aspects of their lives. If you haven’t done so already, start by encouraging your employees to have some balance in work, professional development, and life.

What else has worked for you? Let us know!

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