Ways Firms Can Help Keep Employees Happy

There is a difference between employees that are happy to have a job and those who enjoy showing up to work every morning. And it is not all about having chosen the right profession. It usually boils down to the right company culture and executive practices.

The Conference Board research group recently reported findings from a survey that indicates about 45% of all Americans are satisfied with their work—an all-time low since the study was established in 1987.

It is not a good sign because “unhappiness on the job has some very real consequences,” says Dave Anderson, president of Dave Anderson's Learn to Lead, who has given over 1,000 leadership presentations in 13 countries. "It is impossible to create a healthy company with unhealthy employees."

In today’s housing market enough stress comes from the economic crisis and the fact that a servicer’s shop is busier and more different than ever, so executives who have the tendency to ask and wonder whether their employees are happy are better off than their peers. It is common knowledge that work productivity is directly related to quality management.

Furthermore, according to Anderson, author of “How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business,” unhappy employees are unhealthy employees “psychologically, emotionally and sometimes even physically,” because their potential misery “prevents them from working at top capacity.”

Good leaders distinguish themselves with their ability to inspire and motivate employees so they find renewed passion for their work, “even in a less-than-thriving economy.”

Anderson’s tips start with redefining the company vision for 2011 by getting clear about the direction it is taking and by enrolling others in that campaign in a fashion he describes as pulling dreams out of the mothballs.

A new and bold vision for the organization should also redefine performance and behavioral expectations for employees, which tend to be watered down or forgotten during a downturn. “It motivates people” to know where the firm is going, what is expected of them along the way, and what is in it for them when the destination is reached.

“Clarity of vision, core values and performance expectations" is crucial he says. "Great leaders don't allow people to live in gray areas because they know that it is tough to be aggressive and confused at the same time."

He sees the tendency to micro-manage as one of the most unproductive traits, since during a downturn there is a tendency “to begin nitpicking and second-guessing your people, making every decision and coming up with every idea yourself.” Ultimately it saps the energy and morale from the team.

Celebrating all successes however small is another way to generate positive energy around the workplace. Everyone loves to celebrate the homeruns in their business, he explains, but especially in times of fewer "big hits" to cheer lack of positive reinforcement can lull a culture to sleep. He suggests looking for the "little" things that people do right, reinforce them publicly, create an attitude of "good finding" and begin to shift the culture in a positive direction. “Reinforced people tend to reinforce other people.”

Leading from the front—getting out of the office to re-engage with both employees and customers by becoming more visible, accessible, instructional, and motivational, or by asking more questions that engage employees and show that you value them—is equally important.

"The biggest morale problem in most businesses today is rooted in the fact that the leaders of the organization have stopped leading," says Anderson. Instead, they tweak, tinker, tamper, manage, maintain, administer and preside “but have no positive impact on their people or culture.”

Change, however, can start with setting shorter-term goals that liven up a workplace, creating energy, urgency and more teamwork, he says, because long-term goals during a downturn are less relevant.

And a combination of activity and results goals is the best way to create positive motion and employee energy that evokes emotion and shakes out apathy.