June 4, 2018 Jeevan Mahil

Happy (wife) employees, happy life

When discussing workplace culture these days, be it over a cup of tea with friends or a global HR conference, it is almost impossible to avoid mentioning the leader of the workplace culture club, Google. And why shouldn’t they bask in the limelight of landing the top spot on Fortune’s list of ‘Best Companies to Work for’ six years in a row? It seems that they are definitely doing something right. A recent study revealed that companies that prioritise employee engagement and satisfaction experience a direct increase in performance; a 12% spike in productivity to be exact. This highlights that there is much more to making (and keeping) workers happy than solely financial incentives. The investment by Google in employee support led to a 37% increase in employee satisfaction, thus also positively impacting productivity.

It makes sense. As discussed in the book The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Anchor, positive and happy people are more creative, more adept at solving problems and are more effective collaborators working towards common goals. This contrasts starkly to unhappy people that are clock-watching and dreaming of hometime. So, in essence, happy workers lead to higher levels of profit for the employer. A win-win situation for all parties. Those bosses at Google aren´t silly!

As well as boosting productivity, happier employees also stay longer in their companies. In the current climate where the majority of employees remain within a position for just 4.6 years and millennials stick it out for just 2 years before moving onto the next challenge, it is more important than ever to explore methods with which to keep employees interested. Bearing in mind the costs associated with hiring and training new team members, higher retention rates are only a good thing for employers. The total cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be anywhere between 90% to 200% of their salary.

Sounds like a no-brainer that businesses should strive to keep employees satisfied, right? Then it is surprising that so many companies continue to shy away from explicitly highlighting employee happiness as a priority in their corporate strategies. For CEOs of start-ups and small companies, it often feels overwhelming when trying to mirror the likes of Google’s free lunch policy and countless perks and benefits. However, there are many daily steps that can be taken by companies, regardless of size and budget, to boost happiness of their teams. In the book ´Work rules! Insights into Google´, it is revealed that Google´s tradition of free meals started just with free cereal and an enormous bowl of M&Ms, highlighting the need to adapt employee satisfaction initiatives based on budget and stage of growth.

There are many steps that can be taken regardless of size of company that need not break the bank. For example, small efforts to create a relaxing and pleasant workspace for employees can subconsciously trigger happiness and a willingness to be in the office. Small changes such as plants in the office, pleasing scents such as candles, and relaxing music can make a world of difference. You only have to look at places like supermarkets, casinos and your local Starbucks to witness their use of methods such as these, which they call ‘aroma marketing’, in order to increase the optimism and willingness to spend of customers. It is all about the customer experience. Transferred to an office setting, similar methods can be utilised to heighten productivity, as adopted by organisations such as WeWork, a prominent player in the international co-working office space.


WeWork, Parque 93, Bogotá, Colombia                WeWork, Paddington, London, UK

Habits such as recognising employees´ achievements in a group setting can raise morale whilst also encouraging recognition between coworkers and expression of gratitude. It helps to set the tone for how colleagues work together. It is common that we as humans tend to discount events that happen repeatedly, regardless of how positive they are. Therefore, it is important to vary the awards or events used to congratulate and celebrate employees´ achievements, no matter how big or small.

Increased openness and transparency at all levels of an organisation can also directly lead to increased productivity and performance. In Work rules! Insights into Google, it is claimed that employee performance improves simply by being transparent and sharing data. ´One of the serendipitous benefits of transparency is that simply by sharing data, performance improves´. This is based on the logic that more information enables workers to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways that a top-down management structure would not nurture. This goes hand in hand with the concept of voice and making employees feel like they are part of a bigger purpose. When members of a team feel that their input is indispensable and essential for the growth of the company that they are dedicating themselves to, they will be more engaged and productive. According to Laszlo Bock, former Senior VP of People Operations at Google, ‘Voice means giving employees a real say in how the company is run. Either you believe your people are good and you welcome their input, or you don’t’.

Introducing traditions such as a new experience or activity as a whole team every quarter can have a huge impact on team morale and the feeling from team members that they are really part of a family. Anyone who has worked in a start-up will agree that this is of great importance when you are in the trenches together trying to build a company. These activities do not need to be expensive, just something exciting and new to learn or experience together as a team. Some examples might include a cooking class, a paintballing session, an escape room. Establishing rituals and traditions is as important to be built into a company’s culture when it is less than 10 people strong as it is when it grows into a huge team.

It is clear that small initiatives can lead to relatively much happier employees, and the results of this are beneficial for all stakeholders of a company. We have come a long way in recognising the positive impact of investing in employee satisfaction and engagement; however, there is still much work to be done. It is important to decipher the optimal amount of resources to devote to employee happiness in order to maximise the outcome, as well as determining the practices that are most successful. However, regardless of what and how much, I believe that there is enough reason to believe that this is a rare win-win situation, in which you really can make everyone happy, regardless of whether you´re a tiny start-up or a tech giant like Google.