Why Is It So Hard to Keep Employees Happy? Strategies to Implement at Your Company
Description: High employee morale is difficult to achieve, but it is essential for productivity, innovation, and employee retention. Learn how your business can keep employees happier for longer.
“Why aren’t my employees happy?”
Countless managers and business owners have asked this question over the years, and there is still no easy answer. If morale is low at your company, there could be many reasons behind the problem. Maybe the workload is too intense, and everyone is feeling overworked, stressed out, and exhausted. Maybe one toxic employee is bringing the whole workplace down. Or maybe you just haven’t done enough to curate a collaborative, team-focused environment at the office.
Regardless of what the problem is, employee happiness (or unhappiness) isn’t something you can afford to ignore. Unhappy employees jump ship, leading to high turnover rates. High turnover rates mean you spending more time in the interview room trying to fill vacant positions. They also mean that you have vacant positions, which is a productivity killer and can hurt office morale even more. If your employees think your business is an unpleasant place to work, the word is going to get out, and that perspective will affect the quality of your applicant pool.
It is in your best interest to make your employees happy. The question is, how can you do it?
The Science of Employee Morale
At best, keeping employees happy and engaged is an inexact science. As much as you might like to refer to your workers as a “team” or a “unit,” your office is not a hivemind. People think and behave differently and respond to different things. As such, what seems like a morale booster to one employee could be detrimental to another person’s enjoyment of their work.
The reason it’s so hard to keep employees happy at work is because it’s work. As much as we all strive to pursue our dreams and do what we love for a living, very few of us end up with careers built around our passions. In other words, we’re not doing the things we would choose to do if we weren’t getting paid. That means that, at least sometimes, coming into the office is going to feel like a chore—more about punching the clock than finding fulfillment. This factor, combined with the sheer amount of time that most people spend at work, helps explain why strong employee morale is such a difficult thing to attain.
In most cases, employee happiness is a mix of salary, benefits, work/life balance, rapport with managers and co-workers, company culture, workload, clear expectations and communication, the nature of the work, variety, challenges, feelings of value and accomplishment, and opportunities for growth. However, depending on the employee, other factors might move in or out of the equation. Since that employee happiness list already encompasses so many different things, balancing it all in a perfect plan is not always possible.
How to Start Making Your Employees Happier
The quickest documented way to boost morale in the workplace is to give everyone a substantial raise. Not all businesses can afford to pay their employees more, and the fact is the money will only serve as a band-aid if the culture at your company is truly toxic. Most people can work jobs they hate for a little while if the money is good, but eventually, no amount of cold hard cash is worth a soul-sucking 9-to-5. If you want your employees to be happy, you are likely going to need to dig deeper than pay.
Treating your employees like individuals is a good place to start. While team mentality is good for your business, employee happiness ultimately happens on a case-by-case basis. Managers should sit down with employees regularly to discuss goals, expectations, and feedback. These one-on-ones are useful because they allow for a true two-way engagement. If a manager has concerns about an employee’s performance or attitude, she can raise those issues in the meeting. If an employee has complaints to discuss or wishes to talk about potential learning and development opportunities, he can bring those topics up, too. Making employees feel heard, respected, and valued is one of the easiest ways to improve morale, and individualized meetings are the place to begin.
Strong communication is another important facet of workplace morale. Don’t let information get locked in silos, or leave team members or departments feeling out of the loop. Instead, foster interdepartmental communication. Be transparent about what is going on in different parts of the company and the future of the business. Being more open with information makes even large companies feel more like tight-knit teams in which everyone is working together toward one goal. It’s a great way to make every person feel like their work matters to the bottom line.
On the subject of creating more interdepartmental communication, try to foster opportunities for connection between teams and coworkers. You want your people to love working together. Employees with friends at work feel deeper ties to the companies they work for—ties that are harder to walk away from than the job itself. Encourage mentorships and companywide learning opportunities, or push different departments to learn things from each other. Use gamification or social recognition to foster healthy competition between teams and colleagues, and always take the time to recognize superb work. Plan activities and get-togethers outside of work to nourish employee friendships. Ultimately, it’s the people at a company that come to define the culture. With that said, you can still give your company culture a firm push in the right direction by creating a more team-focused environment.
By no means do these tips cover everything you can do to make your employees happy. From adopting benefits that push strong work/life balance to trusting your employees to take on new responsibilities and learn as they go, there are a lot of ways to engage and gratify your people. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you make it a priority to build a company culture in which the employees are happy. After all, investing in the happiness of your workplace also means investing in productivity, creativity, and overall success. There isn’t a business in the world that could argue with those outcomes.