Lessons on employee happiness from the B Team at Virgin Disruptors

It’s been said before that a happy employee is a productive employee. But how are businesses ensuring their staff’s happiness?

The B Team ran a session on staff happiness at Virgin Disruptors in San Francisco last month, here’s what we learnt from the panel of Patty McCord (Ex Netflix Chief Talent Officer), Duane Bray (Partner, IDEO) and Raul Leal (Virgin Hotels, CEO) about employee happiness…

Happiness at work comes from doing meaningful work

Some think that initiatives to improve staff happiness are essential to having a productive workforce, while others say it’s more important that they believe in what they’re doing.

“I do think it’s a little bit ‘fluffy stuff’ when we create these initiatives to make people happy,” Patty admitted about the traditional way of dealing with employee wellbeing. “What makes people happy at work is to accomplish amazing things with other people. So I think that if we can spend more time putting the right people together with really hard problems that really challenge them and they can accomplish them, that joy and that satisfaction of doing something, that’s happiness at work.

“We’ve put a lot of activity around being happy that doesn’t give you that deep-seated joy I think and that’s the response of people when they go home and think work’s frustrating. They don’t feel like ‘I did a great job, I accomplished something, I was amazing today’.”

Image credit: Hardy Wilson

Working environment is key to employee happiness

Businesses have a responsibility to their staff to ensure that the workplace is an environment that will help keep them happy while in work – though for some industries this looks very different to others. “We took a very purposeful approach with not only our purpose and our mission statement and our beliefs, but also making sure our teammates were a part of it from the beginning,” Raul Leal explained of how they tackled this at Virgin Hotels.

“Our internal purpose was everyone who stays at Virgin Hotels should leave feeling better. So immediately it became a consumer brand motto but then we said we should take that further and apply it to the team in-house, how do we get our teammates to come in every day and leave feeling better? How do we create this environment? Not just by doing activities that everybody else in the hotel business does but by creating this environment where they feel comfortable and relaxed.

“We created an internal community that on an ongoing basis could reinforce our company behaviours, but also allow employees to speak to us. So we created an employee app, and this was as important to us as creating our consumer app. At the end of the day it was about a strategy, and the internal motto is ‘make love and steal heart’, not make love to your customers but deliver experiences with love and part of the strategy with the app was to bring employees together very closely, and so far it’s been a big hit.”

Image credit: Hardy Wilson

Giving employees freedom is better than empowering them

Patty admitted to hating the term empowerment, saying that businesses shouldn’t have to empower their employees. “The reason why we focus on empowering people as companies is because we took it all away,” she said. “Why don’t we just assume that everyone walks in the door every day powerful, strong, ready to contribute, understanding the mission, there because they want to be and create companies where people have the freedom to do that?”

Raul agreed, saying that Virgin Hotels is passionate about allowing their employees to be themselves. “In the hotel business, empowerment is tough, some of the leaders specifically don’t ever like to give up that level of control,” he explained. “We had to stand up in front of our staff and say ‘you are empowered here to make a decision and to be yourself’, I had to tell them I don’t want scripted service in this hotel.

“It was interesting what happened the first few weeks, they gingerly started to test it to see what would happen and when they saw that we were supporting, everyone jumped into the fray. We said we want you to be yourselves here because when you are yourselves, it allows our consumers to be themselves and be relaxed in the environment that we’ve created.”

Watch the highlights of what else happened in the B Team's panel session...

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