I’m a firm believer in the potential of happy, fulfilled employees to affect positive change towards business goals, but getting there can often feel like a challenging task.
The key is to break down the problem into smaller parts. Richard Branson has talked about this a lot: any company has three core constituents: its customers, its employees and its investors. A company’s DNA lies in the order of priority it gives these three key audiences. Many companies, understandably, like to place customers first in the line, while others, again understandably, put investors at the top of the pyramid.
At Campaign Monitor we believe we’re here to serve our employees first. If we take care of employee experience as our top priority, our employees will do better work in their day-to-day jobs. Those motivated, high-performing employees will be more helpful for the customers they serve, and those happy customers will stick around longer and act as advocates for the brand, which will ultimately grow the company and please investors. It’s a virtuous cycle, one that we strive to improve every day.
Start with a definition
It’s easy to describe this virtuous cycle in the abstract, but when you’re managing a fast-growing business, and all the highs and lows on employee morale that entails, you want and need practical guidance. Part of the challenge of establishing happiness at work is that it differs from business to business. No two companies are the same, so a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work.
The best way to start is by defining exactly what happiness in the workplace means for your company. I see employee happiness as having three key strands.
Firstly, employees need to feel like they have the opportunity to do meaningful work that they’re genuinely excited about. It’s hard to overstress the importance of this: if employees feel like their work isn’t making a difference, they’ll be under-motivated and their work will suffer. It’s vital that senior management is in regular communication with the rest of the organisation to put particular business goals in proper context to enable staff to see the bigger picture.
For example, at Campaign Monitor we hold regular standups with all members of the team to make sure that everyone understands what’s going on with the business and that we’re being as transparent as possible. This becomes more challenging if, like us, you’ve expanded into new geographies recently, but the increased employee motivation and trust in management makes it all worth it.
Secondly, employees need to get behind a shared set of values. At Campaign Monitor our core values are to ‘make mum proud’, and that ‘if our customers kick ass, we will too’. These values reflect our common priorities of taking pride in our work and placing our customers’ needs first, and they’re phrased in our company’s casual and friendly tone of voice. A well-designed set of values, properly implemented, can remind everyone in the company of why they’re there, granting a firmer meaning to what they’re doing day-to-day.
Thirdly, sustained workplace happiness relies on your employees having a ‘growth mindset’. In other words, staff have got to believe in their own capacity to improve, and that their current job will provide them with those opportunities to improve. Look carefully at your interview process, and make sure that the questions you’re asking will give you enough information to assess whether the candidate truly has this mindset. Take care of the first two ingredients of happiness first, and you’ll create a perfect environment for optimistic, growth-minded individuals to thrive.
People, not resources
When companies talk about their staff, they refer to them in the abstract, as ‘resources’ or ‘talent’, passive objects to be moved and rearranged as necessary. This attitude can be really damaging: people are individuals, and businesses need to treat them as such, recognising each worker’s unique skills, challenges and needs.
At Campaign Monitor we reflect this by having ‘people managers’ rather than HR staff, and a dedicated ‘employee experience’ programme: we treat our staff like we would our customers, with people in account manager-like roles to help them through any tricky spots.
The measurement problem
Measuring something like employee happiness will always be tricky, but there are some obvious metrics that you can be tracking on a regular basis. Employee turnover rate, frequent staff ‘pulse check’ surveys and quarterly employee feedback cycles can all be used to effectively monitor employee happiness on a macro scale.
The key is to ensure that these things are being monitored on an ongoing basis by the senior team. It’s not enough to have these metrics siloed within the HR department: senior management needs to be looking at these data points regularly, monitoring for any changes, and forming and testing hypotheses about why those changes are occurring. In the words of Mark Twain, ‘continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection’.
Following these steps will create a work environment properly geared towards promoting employee happiness in a far more sustainable (and cost effective) way than simply offering lots of perks. On a base level everyone works for money to survive, but the key to employee happiness is to move the workplace up the pyramid, making your company a place where people can learn, thrive, and feel like they’re truly improving themselves.