Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, define happiness as “an overarching quality of life that is rich in a variety of emotions, even including episodes of anger, sadness, and stress.” The same definition holds for how happy we are at work.
When employees are happy, they are healthier and have a greater sense of well-being. Their problem-solving skills are more creative and effective. They’re more productive, innovative, and willing to go above and beyond.
The impact of happy, engaged employees is felt outside of a business as well. In “The State of the American Workplace” report, Gallup found that engaged employees are more likely to create and maintain strong relationships with customers. These connections result in a 20% increase in sales.
Yet, a disconnect remains.
Are employees happy?
I often find that the real question we need to ask is how happy people are in their jobs. Most people I talk to are unhappy with either their jobs, their bosses, their employers, or their career paths. I’ve seen how a business environment can impact individual job satisfaction, career aspirations and workplace culture. So many of us feel stuck; we feel like the victims of decisions over which we have little control.
The data on our happiness at work can be deceiving. In August 2018, a Gallup poll found that 34% of U.S. employees are engaged. This result tied with the research company’s highest rate of happy employees since the survey’s inception. Alternatively, 13% of employees report being “actively disengaged,” the lowest percentage ever.
While this is positive news, the fact is that well over 60% of the workforce is either indifferent about their jobs or so dissatisfied they frequently miss work or deadlines, and their negative attitude influences other employees. Not only is this bad for morale, but it is detrimental to a company’s financial health.
Gallup estimates that a disengaged employee costs a company 34% of the staff member’s annual salary. For example, for every US$10,000 they make, it costs the organization US$3,400. If 66% of a company is there to merely collect their paycheck, the financial impact of unhappy employees has the potential to be dismal.
What causes employee disengagement
While multiple factors play a role in an employee’s disengagement, research indicates it comes down to one common denominator: their direct supervisor. Whether it is because the manager lacks good communication skills or they play favorites, it is evident that the manager-employee relationship is critical to success.
A survey of 18,000 employees from 150 organizations found that nearly half of employees list their manager as the reason for their disengagement. Eleven percent distinguish how they feel about their managers from how they think about the company overall, highlighting how a dysfunctional relationship can sour a worker’s experience. Meanwhile, 15% of employees are disengaged due to a lack of communication and because their direct supervisor has not adequately established expectations for them.
For 12% of respondents, their manager has not provided recognition or facilitated teamwork. In other words, employees do not feel emotionally supported. While the last group gives their managers relatively high marks for accountability, 15% report that their manager fails to provide them with the autonomy to do their jobs well.
Improving employee engagement
The truth is, many of the reasons employees disengage from their job can be eased by asking a few questions. Managers can start to shift their relationship with staff by using I refer to as “Champion Leadership.”
Champion Leadership is a strategy that managers and executives use to encourage employee feedback. Management then makes adjustments accordingly. Typically, supervisors can start by asking their employees three simple questions on a weekly basis:
- How are you?
- How am I doing?
- How can I help?
Asking these questions lets employees know they matter, and so do their ideas. It signals to the staff that management is open to changing what isn’t working or could be improved. The open lines of communication lend themselves to more creativity and innovation, thus higher profit margins.
Creating cultural change from the bottom
It’s not solely up to management to create change within an organization. An assistant account executive can start the movement, albeit in a slightly different manner than a manager or executive would. It’s called perfecting the push back.
One of my favorite quotes is “behind every bad idea is an executive who asked for it.” In my experience, the lousy television ads we see or clickbait headlines are usually a result of an executive who either didn’t know any better, let their ego get in the way, or had a staff that was too afraid to push back.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With two simple steps, employees can tactfully ask questions that make management think critically about the latest project or idea. Not only does it force everyone to be clear on the goals and if it will resonate with customers, but this process demonstrates that employees are invested in creating the best possible outcome.
Step 1: Observe and learn
I advise employees to consider their past interactions with their supervisor and evaluate how they went. Consider how many times they have gone to their manager with an idea. Were they receptive? Or did the manager blow them off?
If the manager is unapproachable, it’s time for an employee to put themselves in their supervisors shoes and evaluate their objectives. This perspective helps them form a plan on how to strategically challenge them without being too pushy or unprofessional.
Step 2: Ask three questions
Just as I recommend managers ask their staff three questions, employees can do the same with their supervisors. Use the following questions to help gauge why a project matters and set the individual expectations and the specific milestones that need to be met to be successful.
Question 1: Why does this matter?
This question forces managers to get clear on their reasoning behind a new initiative. While it is not uncommon to hear “this is how we’ve always done it” from an executive, that reasoning is not enough.
When it comes to projects, each member of the team needs to be clear on their role. Additionally, they need to understand the anticipated overall impact on the organization and its customers. Asking why it matters can help everyone gain clarity on the purpose behind the new idea.
Question 2: What’s the impact?
Not only does this question allow employees and management to assess if it is the right decision for the customer, but it also allows employees to get clear on what is expected of them in the project. By asking about a project’s impact, it has the potential to illuminate a disconnect and serve as a good starting point to resolve the conflict.
Question 3: How will this be measured?
Everyone wants to a project or initiative to be successful. However, success requires multiple milestones that need to be met along the way. If step three out of a 15-step project is not done well, the end product or service could be dramatically different than the original idea. Everyone’s time and effort will likely have been wasted, ultimately costing the company money.
That’s why knowing how a project will be measured is important. It helps maintain accountability with each phase and prevents side-tracking that could waste time and financial resources.
No one wants to be miserable
We spend too much time at work to be unhappy or disengaged. Instead of going with the status quo, get curious about your organization and its future. By asking a few questions, we can open the lines of communication between employees and management. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.