Weekly Wrap: The 5 Rules That Make For Happy Employees

I’ve worked at a lot of companies during my career, and as you might imagine, I preferred working at the ones where people seemed to be happy.

The big question, then, comes down to this: what is it that makes an organization — and its employees — happy?

Fast Company recently tackled this topic in an article titled Secrets of America’s Happiest Companies, and it’s pegged to a study done by CareerBliss on the 50 happiest companies in America. When I sift through the many “happiness” factors that popped out of the story, they came down to this:

  • An organizational commitment “to perpetual improvement, and not just as a line item on the balance sheet.”
  • Cultivation of “a culture of mindfulness and meaning,” where employees strong perceive that the work they do has a “meaningful impact” on the world around them.
  • A simple pat on the back — regular and meaningful recognition when employees do good work.
  • Seriously honoring the “humanity” of people, and environment where “employees are human beings first and worker bees second.”
  • Aligning employees “with their passions both on the job and in the rest of their lives.”

You’ll probably agree that all of these sound good, although with the exception of “a pat on the back,” they’re all somewhat broad and a little hard to put into actual specifics.

5 Rules of Happy Employees

However, Fast Company also highlighted the 5 Rules of Happy Employees, and although the list seems to be more guidelines than rules (as Bill Murray famously noted in Ghostbusters) they may be a little more specific and tangible if you’re really looking for some guidance on how to improve your organization’s work environment.

They came down to this:

  1. Happy employees don’t stay in one role for too long. Movement and the perception of improvement create satisfaction. Status quo, on the other hand, creates burnout.
  2. There is a strong correlation between happiness and meaning; having a meaningful impact on the world around you is actually a better predictor of happiness than many other things you think will make you happy.
  3. A workplace is far likelier to be a happy place when policies are in place to ensure that people regularly get acknowledgement and praise for a job well done.
  4. Recognize that employees are people first, workers second, and create policies that focus on their well-being as individuals.
  5. Emphasize work/life integration, not necessarily “balance.”

OK, some of those sound the same as the first list above, but I think you get the picture.

If we can identify happy factors, why don’t more follow them?

Still, as I think about my career and the places I worked where I found people to be the happiest, I come up with a lot of the same things:

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  • A strong, shared sense of purpose centered around the corporate mission and business goals.
  • A culture of recognition where employees felt what they did was not only appreciated but rewarded.
  • A sense of equity and fairness that emanated from the very top of the organization and was embraced at all levels.
  • A fast-moving and nimble working environment that emphasized smart problem solving and quick, decisive decisions.
  • A joyful day-to-day working environment that was full of laughter and fun.
  • A deep respect for people and the work they did, and regular acknowledgement that what they did really, truly mattered.

If you look at these three lists of workplace “happiness factors,” I think you’ll find a lot of overlap. That says to me that it isn’t all that hard to come up with the essential qualities that make for a happy and highly productive workplace environment.

But, that brings me around to a simple but urgent question: if the factors that make for a happy and high performing workplace are relatively easy to identify, why aren’t a lot more organizations embracing them in order to make their own companies better?

CEOs still aren’t doing much hiring

THAT, to me, is the ultimate $64,000 question.

Let me know if you come up with a good answer.

Of course, there’s a lot more than what makes for a happy company in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Why can’t we trust employees? Sometimes, the same workplace theme seems to pop up in more than one place, and so it was this week with the issue of trusting employees. Both Liz Ryan at Bloomberg Businessweek and Tony Schwartz in his HBR blog tackled the issue of why we need to be trusting employees a lot more. As Ryan put it, “If we value talent, we’ll start dismantling the lumbering Godzilla of controls and policies that hampers creativity in virtually every organization, and we’ll start trusting ourselves to hire people we trust. Then our jobs will get easier and the energy at work will improve dramatically. What are we waiting for?”
  • Despite improving economy, CEOs still aren’t hiring. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know this, but companies aren’t doing a lot of hiring despite the slowing improving unemployment numbers. As the Los Angeles Times reported, “CEOs surveyed by the Business Roundtable expect … to see increased sales and to spend more on capital investment, over the next six months … But their expectations for hiring new employees remain flat compared to the final three months of last year. (That’s) because of slow economic growth and lingering concerns about Washington’s inability to deal with fiscal issues in a comprehensive way, said Boeing Co. Chief Executive Jim McNerney, chairman of the Business Roundtable.”
  • What’s with all the complaining in the office? The workplace has turned into a complaint department, as The New York Times points out. And one expert tells the newspaper that, “Incessant complaining could … signal a truly serious problem in the workplace … which is why managers must be able to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic complaints. Not resolving an authentic complaint could lead to workplace incivility, lower productivity, higher absenteeism and possibly even legal action.”
  • One way to motivate workers: an office beer cart. Motivation can take different forms, and as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out, sometimes that comes in the form of an office beer cart. “Advanced Medical in Port Orange, Fla., has had “Beer Cart Fridays” for two years and the company’s chief executive officer, Jennifer Fuicelli, plans to keep the free suds coming …  Fuicelli says it’s a way to show her 350 employees she appreciates their work. … (But) there are limits to the drinking at Advance Medical. Workers can have only one beer, and that’s only on Fridays, Fuicelli said.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


3 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: The 5 Rules That Make For Happy Employees

  1. This is a great article. Human workplace culture – actually hearing what employees needs are and aligning work with meaning for them personally. Not just cogs in the wheel anymore. @JudyMartin8

  2. Great post, John.

    As for why CEOs aren’t hiring… here’s a thought:

    Companies may have just realized that their workforce’s are getting along just fine and that there is no need to go back to pre-financial crisis headcounts. I hope that this isn’t the case, but with the stock market hitting record highs (and most new jobs being lower paid service roles) I’m wondering if we’re just living in the new market reality.

    Thanks for sharing, and keep writing.



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