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Of course you don't want your employees to be miserable, but should you make your employees happiness a business priority? In a word, yes. In addition to creating a more pleasant work environment and reducing turnover, happy employees are more productive and collaborative, according to 2010 research by Harvard University business administration professor Teresa M. Amabile and independent researcher Steven J. Kramer.
On employees' best days they reported making progress in their work (76 percent) and being collaborative (53%). Those numbers plummeted to 25 percent and 43 percent, respectively, on days when employees felt unhappy.
So, what makes employees happy? Jill Geisler examined that issue in her book, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know (Center Street, 2012). Geisler, who is a senior faculty member in leadership and management at The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school based in St. Petersburg, Fla, maintains that happy employees share some common traits.
Cultivate these secrets to employee happiness and reap the rewards for your business.
1. A supervisor who cares. Happy employees feel like their supervisors are "on their side," and have a sense that their boss knows their strengths, weaknesses, hopes and dreams, says Geisler. "It takes face-to-face conversations, not just email," she says.
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"Great bosses have a prescription for workplace health of each individual and the team." That means understanding how each employee works best, what his or her "hot buttons" are, and at which tasks each excels. Happy employees believe their boss listens to them and actually takes their input seriously.
2. Sincere and specific praise and feedback. You have to know how to give feedback to each individual, says Geisler. When you give praise, state specifically what earned it. For example, "I loved the way you structured that report by putting the bullet points upfront. That was really smart. How do you think of things like that?" which invites creative input from the individual instead of "Putting those bullet points upfront in the report was smart. That's just the way I would have done it," which is controlling and doesn't give the employee credit for a creative and positive contribution.
3. A supportive and fair workplace culture. Happy employees typically have a workplace culture with clear expectations and rules, but which also supports employee needs. If you invite people to hang photos of family in their cubicles, but don't allow your assistant to leave early to see her son's baseball game, you're not creating a workplace with consistent values, she says.
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The best place to get a handle on how your employees feel about working for you is right there in the trenches. "Go out there and talk to your employees. Ask them what it's like to work here." says Geilser. Pay attention to their body language, tone of voice, and eye contact (or lack thereof) as they answer. Enthusiastic, direct responses are a good indication that you're getting straight answers. Awkward pauses, vague answers, and uncomfortable body language may indicate that you have a problem.
Hiring well is also part of the equation, Geilser adds. Look for people who are positive in nature, hard-working, and will add to your team. When problem employees cause trouble, deal with it quickly or you'll end up punishing other employees by making them tolerate unpleasant or unfair working conditions. "Life's too short to work with jerks," she says.