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Why Happy Employees are Winning Employees


Hand drawing unhappy and happy smileys on blackboardMany would say that in life, happiness is winning. Quick, name the single most important contributor to happiness in life.

Chances are you said things like family, friends, achieving your goals, or having a good job and nice place to live. Or for the hedonists in the audience, perhaps you said fame, money, good looks, or even a great sex life.

According to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology <>, you would all be wrong. The secret to happiness, they say, is autonomy. (And no, that doesn’t mean having a self-driving car, although I imagine that would rank high on the list for many.)

In the work world, autonomy – the feeling that the activities and habits of your life are self-chosen and self-endorsed – translates closely to empowerment. Research shows the more empowered employees feel, the happier they are on the job. When you have happy employees, you get better results in many areas of the business.

For example, a University of Michigan study <> found that empowered employees report five traits that every organization would love to have:

  1. A high level of job satisfaction
  2. Greater sense of organizational commitment
  3. Improved performance
  4. Increased motivation
  5. Lower turnover

When you get all five of these going at the same time, by creating engaged employees, you’ve got a business operating in high gear. 

Engagement Doesn’t Happen by Itself

To create an empowered workforce, I teach a process called Inform, Inspire, Engageä.

It starts with defining the destination – where the organization needs to go and what it will take to get there. Then teach employees about the business of the business. They don’t need to become financial wizards, but they should have a basic understanding of profit margins, key processes, products and services, and how they can help lower costs. Also, teach employees about your customers, including their most pressing business issues and how to find new and better ways to add more value.

Answer the five questions every employee wants to know <link to 100212 Top 5 things employees want to hear blog>. This will empower people to make moment-to-moment decisions that support reaching the destination.

Most important, keep employees informed about their job performance in relation to the goals. This means conducting regular ongoing performance check-ins, not just the once a year performance review. (Hint: feedback is consistently ranked as one of the top factors in employee engagement.)

To inspire employees, focus on the aspirational components of what the business does. When your organization wins, how will that make the world a better place? How will it improve the lives of your customers and their customers? Share examples of positive customer feedback to make it real.

Suppose your business makes lug nuts or paper clips. How do you get people inspired about such a seemingly pedestrian product?

The good news is you don’t have to be working on a cure for cancer or developing the “next big thing” in technology products to inspire people. People want to make a difference in the workplace, and they want to win. Help them do both and they will buy into and feel good about what they do on the job. When people feel good about coming to work, they bring more of themselves to the job every day.  All products and services meet some need or your business wouldn’t stay around for long, so make sure it is clear and shared often.

To help people stay focused on their jobs without losing sight of the big picture, keep the destination and other important strategic goals on everyone’s radar. Inspiring employees may not seem like a top priority. But when everyone stays focused and moving in the right direction, your organization can achieve amazing results.

Build Engagement Into Your Culture

I could list dozens of ways to help employees feel engaged. But here’s one that may surprise you – accountability.

Few things erode employee engagement like tolerating poor performance and behavior that violates organizational norms. When employees see others, especially managers and supervisors, getting away with unsatisfactory performance or inappropriate behaviors, they disengage and either retire on the job or start looking for another place to work.

To support a culture of accountability, leaders need to:

  • Model the behaviors. Make sure your actions align with your words.
  • Develop a structured performance management system that builds accountability into the culture
  • Provide employees with ongoing performance feedback (amazing how this one keeps coming up, isn’t it?)

An engaged workforce doesn’t happen by accident. Leaders need to make it a priority, then plan, monitor and manage it so people feel connected to and aligned with the organization’s vision of winning. When you get everyone moving in the same direction with passion and purpose, reaching the destination becomes a matter of when, not if.


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