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6 ways leaders can create a happier workplace

How to create a happier workplace – tips from business leaders

The global pandemic put a pause on the movements of many workers, who decided it was better to ‘sit tight’ as the world’s businesses drew down the shutters and waited for better times. Now, as the economy begins to recover, ‘The Great Resignation’ has now begun, which estimates that around 41% of people plan to leave their jobs this year. In light of this, to mark International Happiness at Work Week, a selection of experts provide their tips for leaders and managers looking to retain their workforce by facilitating a happier workplace.

Adequately train your senior managers

Recent research by The Bute Group revealed that 81% of those surveyed would not re-employ their manager. What’s more 79% of senior managers would rather employ a new team of their choice than re-employ their direct reports. What this essentially means is that employees are not happy with their managers and managers are equally unhappy with their teams. So what is the issue?

“It’s definitely more than just bad management, however bad management plays an immense part in this,” explains Margo Manning, a leadership and management consultant, and author of ‘The Step-Up Mindset for Senior Managers’. 

“From empirical observations, it is clear that managers and leaders can turn a happy, confident individual into a stressed, underperforming and lacking individual. An inexperienced manager will always look to blame external sources for issues around motivation and productivity, and that external source is often the team. Organisations have a responsibility to adequately train and guide their senior managers so that they can nurture happy, harmonious and productive teams. This, in turn, will lead to happier, harmonious and productive teams, as well as improved retention,” explains Margo.

Be supportive and empathetic

People often act differently at work when they feel out of their depth or exposed in some way, suggests Elisa Nardi, a former Chief People Officer and founder of career development company Notebook Mentor

“Rather than criticizing or triggering a defensive response, talk to people about what learning, support, or development might boost their confidence. Supporting people’s professional development is a great way to engage and motivate, helping them see a better future,” she explains. 

“But most of all, be kind. Some days, people may be difficult because they are simply exhausted or feeling at odds with the world. Perhaps they had a row at home before leaving for work? Maybe they bumped their car on the way into the office? For whatever reason, sometimes you can’t reason with someone when they are just having a bad day. If it’s a recurring problem, then act as suggested above. When it’s the occasional one-off, take a deep breath and be kind. After all, one day it might be you feeling the same way,” says Elisa. 

Creating a happier workplace
creating a happier workplace

Communicate a clear purpose beyond profit

One of the most notable impacts of the pandemic in the business world has been to expose those businesses who have covered their brand in a fancy purpose wrapper, but have not taken the time to really consider how to organise around a core purpose and deliver more than paper-thin promises to society, and those who work for them, explains Neil Gaught, a strategy advisor and founder of sustainability champion, Single Organizing Idea.

“It’s helped people to identify those businesses that are truly committed to improving society and the world around them, and identify roles in which they will be able to make the most impact,” he says.

Neil explains that businesses which are organised around their core purpose will have no trouble keeping their workforce engaged, happy and productive, as long as they communicate their intentions internally and actively involve their staff in their pursuit of a sustainable future. 

“This is particularly the case for younger workers, because this generation is not motivated by money or pretence, as survey after survey shows. They want to be heavily invested in the cause. They want their work to be meaningful. They will seek out roles where they are rewarded and recognised for their contributions and will be driven by the impact they are making both individually, and collectively,” explains Neil. 

Help employees to act on unexplored passions outside of the workplace 

It may seem counterintuitive to support employees in cultivating their own projects and side hustles, but management consultant and founder of In•Side•Edge Christy Kulasingam believes that this can go a long way to creating a happy workplace and retaining high performing talent. 

“It is clear that the pandemic gave people more space than ever before to really consider what makes them happy, their work-life balance and what their next move might be. Even those who love their colleagues and job were left feeling unfulfilled and despondent.” says Christy. 

“Empowering employees with the skills, resources and confidence to explore their passions and side hustles will not only create fulfilled employees, who will in turn be happier and more productive because you clearly care about their overall wellbeing, but will give you additional skills to tap into during your next phase of business growth.” 

Christy suggests initially working with a representative sample of employees on a co-designed entrepreneurship program to see how this could look in your organisation. 

Embed authentic wellbeing strategies for a happier workplace – not just flashy perks 

“Employee wellbeing has rightly featured highly on the agenda for organisations over the past year and this is something that certainly needs to continue as we navigate the post-covid workplace.” comments Karen Meager and John McLachlan, organisational psychologists and co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy

However, they are keen to remind leaders that employee wellbeing isn’t synonymous with sleep pods, pool tables and gym memberships. 

“We have often seen organisations introduce these flashy perks with great intentions of enriching the employee experience, when really they are celebrating ‘busyness’ and encouraging people to work long hours without breaks. Without addressing these fundamental cultural issues, leaders will find it much more difficult to create an authentically happy workplace.”

Karen and John recommend that senior leaders seek honest feedback from their teams on the entire workplace culture and have transparent conversations with line managers about how their unhealthy behaviours could be trickling down. Additional benefits can certainly supplement our working lives, but they are not a substitute to an authentic wellbeing strategy.      

Don’t neglect celebrations of success and unique differences

For many over the past year in particular, focus has been on business survival and just getting through the days, weeks and months. But as we emerge and look to the future, belonging and celebrations of unique differences need to be central, argues Teresa Boughey, founder of Inclusion 247. 

“Now is a prime time to accelerate your inclusion journeys and this will be especially important within hybrid organisations. So often we keep focused on the next thing, but inclusive organisations will always make time to celebrate the successes of individuals, recognising and valuing their unique differences. This will have a considerable impact upon happiness levels and motivate team members for the next sprint”

Teresa suggests this could be achieved through Friday huddles that are dedicated to the successes from the week, but also monthly equivalents to take a longer term view and regular one-to-ones to demonstrate you are committed to their growth. This should involve all stakeholders; employees in the office, remote and freelancers/contractors.  

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