Employee Engagement

13 Ways to Increase Employee Happiness & Productivity at Work in 2021

By
Lindsey Wilcox

Table of Contents

The pandemic has shifted the world of work, hitting the fast forward button on several workplace trends. It’s now more important than ever for companies to keep their employees happy and productive.

Employee happiness is one of the most important factors in running a successful, profitable company. Happy and engaged employees tend to miss less work, perform better, and support company innovation. When employees are happy, loyal, and engaged, company profits are much higher—and turnover is much lower.

However, when employees feel unhappy and unmotivated, productivity goes down, turnover goes up, and the company suffers. Replacing an employee can cost up to 33% of their annual salary. In fact, unhappy employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion annually.

It can be difficult to figure out exactly how to keep employees happy in today’s economic environment. In addition, external factors can have an impact on employee happiness, and those are often out of your control.

So how can you build a happy and productive workforce? And why does it matter? Read on!

Why Does Employee Happiness Matter?

The key to your success as a business revolves around focusing not only on your customers, but also on your employees. But why should employee happiness make a difference to your business?

Happy employees feel pride and accomplishment in their work, and they like what they do. This sense of meaning has a positive feedback loop—that sense of satisfaction reduces stress, which can in turn positively affect productivity.

Here’s why you should take employee happiness seriously:

  • Happy employees make smarter decisions at work. According to a Swarthmore study, workers tend to make better decisions when they have less fear and anxiety. Employee morale can make a big difference in your workforce and the decisions they make. Stressed-out workers might be more distracted and take more risks, while happy employees might make educated and calculated decisions. As a manager, you need to instill respect, admiration, and confidence in your team so they feel inspired and happy to do their job to the best of their abilities.
  • Happy employees are less likely to quit. Unhappy workers are far more likely to leave your company for a new position—often with your competitor. If you have an unhealthy workspace, there’s no doubt it will affect employee retention. Faster employee turnover puts undue stress on your business, and it ends up redirecting your resources and efforts to hiring new employees instead of focusing on your current workforce.
  • Happy employees provide better customer service. It’s reasonable that employees with a better mindset and attitude will be much more attentive when delivering customer service. Likewise, clients will much prefer dealing with employees who have a positive attitude. When your clients enjoy interacting with your staff, customer satisfaction will grow, and you’ll be far more likely to make a sale—and reduce client churn and improve client retention.
  • Happy employees are more creative. Employees who feel satisfied and happy are much more likely to innovate and put their creative thinking to use, according to a study by Adobe.
  • Happy employees make others happier, too. Happiness is infectious. It will spread throughout your team and organization, and it will affect the energy of your entire team. It will boost overall employee bonding and camaraderie, and happiness will elevate the energy of your team!

How to Keep Employees Happy—and Productive

Handing out a raise or promotion is just one short-lived way to keep employees happy, satisfied, and content at their jobs. There are so many different cost-effective ways to keep your employees feeling their best at work. Here are some of the best ways:

1. Prioritize Work-Life Balance

Employees’ work-life balance plays a big role in their happiness at work. Work-life balance has become a little bit of a buzzword, but it still plays an important role in any healthy work environment.

What is a work-life balance? It’s the management of time spent both at work and outside of work. In other words, it allows people greater balance and flexibility between their work commitments and their family and personal commitments.

Making sure your employees have a great work-life balance is a crucial part of building a healthy work environment and keeping employees happy. In fact, giving employees more flexibility will reduce overall stress and help prevent burnout at work.

Many employees experience chronic stress at work, and it can lead to physical consequences like digestive issues, chronic pain, and heart problems. It also has a negative impact on mental health and can cause depression, insomnia, and heightened anxiety.

In turn, too much stress over time leads to burnout, which can be a much more serious issue. What might contribute to burnout?

  • Longer working days.
  • More overtime hours.
  • Chronic stress.
  • Too much pressure.

Burnout can be a serious issue for employers. Employees who experience burnout will often report fatigue, mood swings, irritability, and more. It’s no joke! According to this report by Harvard Business School, the effects of burnout don’t just have an impact on employees and teams. In fact, the psychological and physical effects of burnout in employees can cost businesses an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion each year in healthcare spendings in the U.S.

So how do you fight burnout and instill a better work-life balance at your company? It’s not easy to commit to such a sweeping change, but it can make a big difference. Try these tips:

  • Offer flexible working options, like allowing workers to work remotely some days, and utilize video conferencing to make everyone feel included no matter their location.
  • Encourage managers to measure progress in productivity and projects—instead of time spent in the office.
  • Managers should encourage their leaders to take breaks and disconnect.
  • Conduct regular reviews of employees’ workloads and ask them about their management of the workload.
  • Give employees time to volunteer and give back to their community.
  • Reconsider time off policies to allow employees more time to unplug.
  • Increase support options for parents.

When employees have more time to better balance their lives, they will be less stressed—and much happier.

2. Allow Flexible Working Schedules

A flexible working environment is more than just a buzzword: it’s the future of work. When employees feel as if they have greater flexibility at work, they feel more freedom to balance between their professional and personal lives.

That level of comfort will only lead to greater happiness and productivity, because employees don’t feel as if they are being squeezed in any way. Flexible working schedules allow workers to feel less stressed, more refreshed, and happier overall.

Everyone has their own working schedule, and everyone feels as if they can work better during certain times of the day. Some employees may be early risers while others may work much better at night. Flexible working hours help each employee maintain their own best personal schedule, all while still putting in the time to manage and complete work projects. When employees feel freedom to work on their own schedule, they will be much more productive.

3. Listen to Your Employees

At many companies, leaders make decisions—and employees only hear about them after the fact when they cannot contribute to the process. When big decisions are made that affect the workforce without their input, employees tend to feel left out and forgotten. This, in turn, leads to overall unhappiness and a lack of motivation.

When considering how to build a positive work environment and keep employees happy, it’s important to listen to employees and ask for their feedback. Managers and their behavior can make a big difference in how employees perceive their work. According to the TINYpulse Employee Retention Report, 40% of employees interviewing for new jobs rated their supervisor’s performance as poor.

Instead, consider taking employees’ suggestions and feedback into consideration. Involve your employees in the decision making process early on, especially if the decision will impact them. These gestures will indicate to your staff that you value their input and their opinions—and it makes them feel heard!

4. Create Career Mobility

Employees need room for growth and career mobility in order to feel motivated, productive, and secure. It can be tricky for employees to feel as if they are striving for something when they have nowhere to go, career-wise.

In many cases, employees are striving for their next promotion or raise to keep going. But if they don’t have that option, employees often feel as if they don’t need to try harder—because no one will appreciate the work and it won’t benefit them in a tangible way. Instead of moving up within your own company, they will instead look elsewhere for their next opportunity. Would you be happy at a job with no career growth?

Career growth and upward mobility is an important stepping stone for employees. It allows them the emotional freedom to take greater risks, pitch new ideas, ask for support and mentorship, work on their skills, and grow as employees and people.

How do people ask for growth opportunities? It comes down to creating a transparent culture at your office. Employees need clear direction on how they can seek out growth. They need to know that it’s available and open to them when they need it. When it comes to employee happiness, offering career growth opportunities is one of the best ways to keep people happy and motivated.

5. Build a Positive Work Environment

Building a positive work environment can be tricky, but more than ever it’s crucial to build a work environment that excites employees! Positive work environments constantly come up as one of the most desirable factors for workers; a Deloitte study found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a positive corporate culture is key to a company’s success.

Many factors go into building a positive work environment, but transparency and open dialogue remain key to ensuring that issues don’t stay bottled up and negative feelings don’t thrive. That’s why a transparent work environment is key to building the type of workplace where people feel they can discuss anything—and get their negative issues out in the open.

Set aside time for workplace safety trainings, like online ​​sexual harassment training and codes of conduct, to help them understand how the company functions. It’s also important to implement a whistleblowing channel for greater transparency; it ensures people have a secure way to report any concerns—and have those discussions free from fear of reprisals.

Another easy way to make the workplace a positive environment? Smile more! Smiling is a sign of positivity, and it’s one of the easiest ways to convey happiness and positive energy. Managers in particular should consider smiling more. Happiness is contagious, and your smile will spread and make others happier too.

6. Recognize Employees for Their Hard Work—and Reward Them

Saying “thank you” can go a long way. Managers may not always realize that recognition of an employees’ hard work or achievements doesn’t have to be a big, grand gesture. But big or small, recognizing employees for their sales skills or success completing an important project plays a significant role in how employees perceive their workplace—and how they feel about their work.

Employees feel comforted and recognized when their managers and leadership praise their hard work and recognize the effort and time that went into their achievements. How can you recognize your workforce?

  • Implement a financial reward for certain achievements.
  • Ask managers and leadership to recognize employees for their work, no matter the rank.
  • Hand out prizes at company celebrations. 
  • Encourage managers to frequently hand out positive feedback. 
  • Use team meetings as a chance for everyone to recognize others on their team and “shout out” their good work.
  • Start a peer recognition program like Nectar.

Recognition does not just have to come from managers, either. A peer recognition program can be a great way to bond and unite coworkers. While employees often appreciate recognition from their peers and colleagues, it can be difficult to start such recognition and conversation when the company doesn’t encourage or reward such behavior.

That’s why it’s so important to have a transparent company culture: so employees don’t feel the need to compete with each other, and instead they encourage and uplift each other.

7. Offer Extensive Benefits

Benefits are one of the most effective ways to keep employees happy. It’s a no-brainer: when employees feel their company takes care of them, they’re far more likely to feel satisfied and productive.

However, most companies don’t want to put any extra money toward benefits, especially when they have just spent so much money and resources on hiring a new employee.

Benefits can be a tricky situation. The key? You need to communicate with your employees to build a comprehensive benefits package that actually suits your employees’ needs. As a leadership team, you need to communicate with your employees. You can use office-wide surveys, feedback systems, and more.

Do your employees find maternity leave the most important? Do they want better education or health benefits? You may never know until you hear from your workforce exactly how they feel. The reality is that, depending on office demographics, the needs of your workforce will vary greatly. There’s a chance you’re paying for an expensive benefit that no one really needs or uses.

When planning your benefits package, consider thinking about both big and small employee needs. For example, does your company do anything special to celebrate employee birthdays? Does your company have any added wellness benefits to encourage employees to stay healthy?

Whether it’s giving your employees the day off on their birthday, or giving them extra maternity or paternity leave, it’s critical to figure out just what each employee needs—and how you can better help them. When employees feel as if you are truly listening to them and fulfilling their needs, they will be much happier and work harder.

8. Encourage Breaks

It’s important to work hard, of course, but managers should be careful not to overwork their employees without realizing it. Managers may find it easy to encourage their workers to stay late to get the project done, or skip lunch or eat at their desks. This is a counterproductive practice that leads workers down a steep, quick path to burnout and unhappiness.

Instead of encouraging people to buckle down and work more, try encouraging your employees to step away from their desk and take a break. It may seem easier said than done, as many employees are aware that managers value time spent in their office chairs as the measure of a job well done.

How can you encourage people to take a moment to themselves? Here are some of the breaks you can recommend:

  • Take a walk.
  • Get a drink.
  • Get a snack.
  • Take your lunch break.
  • Step outside the office.
  • Have a conversation with a colleague.

Allowing employees to take more frequent breaks may seem contradictory. However, the more breaks employees take, the more mental breathing room they have. Workers will return refreshed with a clearer mind, ready to work smarter, not harder. You may even see productivity increase with more breaks, and frequent breaks help fight burnout.

9. Change Your Office Space

The overall office environment plays a much greater role in employees’ happiness than you may expect. The physical layout of an office can have a big impact on how workers can do their job—and how productive they can be.

From proper office furniture to live plants to ample fridge space, the physical office environment should be engineered to better serve your workforce and their needs. It’s not just about what managers think their employees want. It’s about communicating and understanding exactly what your employees need to feel more comfortable and at ease in their office space.

How do you do this? Regularly conduct surveys and communicate with your employees and find out what they want from their office space, and how you can meet their needs.

What does an ideal office look like? Consider some of these features:

  • Large windows to allow daylight (and avoid too much artificial light), with blinds that employees can control when the sun becomes an issue.
  • Lots of live, green plants for a more natural feel—and more healthy air.
  • If your office is located in an area with pollution, make sure you have an air quality filter that maintenance changes frequently.
  • Comfortable and ergonomic office furniture, including high-quality chairs and desks. Consider offering standing desks.
  • Offer both collaborative and individual workspaces so people have the ability to pick one that best aligns with their preferences.

In addition, it’s important to offer a number of features in your office to make employees’ lives easier. That includes a space with office supplies (paper, staplers, paper clips, etc.) to ensure employees don’t need to provide their own.

A kitchen or break room can also be a nice option for employees, so long as the fridges have plenty of space for their food. That way, employees can store their own healthy food and snacks. Some offices will also provide free snacks for their employees, so they don’t have to leave the office if they want a little something to manage their hunger.

10. Be Supportive of Innovation

When employees feel as if they can grow at their job, they are far more open to being productive every day. How do you better support innovation? Innovation starts with training.

Allow employees space to learn new processes and grow their skillset. Set up a system to help people better pitch their new ideas—and set up a process for follow-through. A feedback process will also help employees feel as if their ideas weren’t shot down for no reason. Once an idea has been approved, implement it as soon as possible and give credit to the employee whose idea it was, so people see that you take innovation seriously. 

11. Learn More About Your Employees

Work isn’t all fun and games—but who says you can’t play a few games? Some managers may scoff at the thought of setting aside time during the workday to do something fun, but taking the time to get to know your employees outside of work can be valuable. Plus, organizing time during work to celebrate holidays or play games is a great way to boost employee happiness.

Who doesn’t love taking some time off to do something fun? Games can be team-building activities that help bring your team together. The better your team knows each other outside of work, the better they will be able to collaborate together when they are working. It’s a win-win situation!

What can you do? Consider these ideas:

  • Celebrations of holidays, like the Fourth of July.
  • Sports days at work, which include indoor and outdoor games.
  • Picnics.
  • Festival celebrations.
  • Volunteering days.

Building time into the workday for some of these smaller celebrations is an easy way to make employees feel refreshed and centered. It also helps employees know you see them as more than just workers—you see them as people. Picking team-building games can be a great way to better connect your team.

12. Don’t Keep Score

A manager’s behavior can be a make-or-break point for most employees. Keeping score is one of the least effective ways to act as a manager. Managers that keep a list, mental or physical, of all the mishaps or successes each employee has or has not accomplished will often find their employees come to resent them.

Instead, try remaining positive and reassure employees, even when they fail. Creating a common goal and encouraging employees to do their best will get you farther than keeping score and criticizing people when they are down.

13. Create a Transparent Workplace

Workplace culture can play a big role in how employees view the company, but sometimes companies don’t actively work to strengthen and grow their workplace culture. How do employees feel at work? Are they stressed or anxious? Many factors play a role in workplace culture, and it’s your job as a manager to help put employees at ease.

When it comes to workplace culture, there’s nothing more important than being transparent with expectations. That transparency has to start the first day on the job. Ensure your onboarding is complete and includes all necessary training for team members. In addition, consider processes for events, projects, deadlines, and more.

This onboarding, coupled with your actions as their manager, will help new employees better understand how to interact and behave around the office. It will also ensure they have the confidence to engage in transparent practices—and speak up if they need anything or notice a problem. Making sure all employees are on the same page will increase motivation and productivity.

Actionable workplace tips & insights for fellow people lovers

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