What Top Companies Know: The 5 Basic Rules of Happy Employees

© 9lives - Fotolia.com
© 9lives - Fotolia.com

My timing seems to be a bit off.

Yesterday, I wrote about 4 Ways to a Happier and More Engaged Workforce, and then Fast Company  comes out with an article on just that – Secrets of America’s Happiest Companies.

Looking at organizations including Pfizer, NASA, Philips, and Adecco and further drawing on research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Globoforce, the article boils down these5 rules of happy employees:

  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.”

Need that in even simpler terms? If you want to create a company culture and workplace in which employees want to engage because they’re happier for doing so:

  1. Offer challenges;
  2. Spotlight the deeper meaning in the work;
  3. Recognize people;
  4. Remember employees are human, not robots;
  5. Make space for employees’ lives.

These individual steps are fairly simple. It may even be easy to implement them with specific managers or in specific groups. But changing the culture of an organization such that all employees, at every level, are on board – well, that’s a bit of different challenge.

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You certainly won’t solve that challenge with yet another local initiative or program owned by HR. You must create a culture that is owned by every employee. And the most solid culture to build that can feed all of these elements is a true culture of recognition.

What would you add to the list of rules for happy employees?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


14 Comments on “What Top Companies Know: The 5 Basic Rules of Happy Employees

  1. Good points, all of them. I would add: provide open and honest communications; be open to ideas and suggestions regardless where they come from in the organization; tolerate zero discrimination.

  2. So true. To make a better environment happen, managers need the tools, training and support to ensure they are providing these things to employees.

  3. I like this list, and I like it even more because it doesn’t include the big red herring of the workplace: high salaries. Sure, people like money, and good employees should be paid good money. But so many studies on motivation demonstrate just what this article says: the keys to motivating people are autonomy, meaning, and the perceived ability to advance and achieve your ambitions. Money is consistently shown to be less motivating than those factors.

  4. Amazing, I was thinking about this one and a half years, but you did in 5 simple points. The only tools what managers need for making this happen are their brain and deep motivation.

    1. does it mean that many managers lack brains, motivation, or even both? if it’s that simple, how come very few managers do it?

  5. These are great points. I think the move toward the idea of work life integration is much more achievable than the work life balance. It is easier to integrate than to find balance between things. Also for #3 I know a handful of small business/companies that shrug at thinking about acknowledgement policies: it can feel forced, it can be difficult to identify a significant “award” and some companies think policy doesn’t equal organic. Just with anything from business development to finance planning, if it isn’t planned for it doesn’t occur regularly and it rarely happens or happens well.

  6. I like this as well however it seems some of these points are more oriented to the person beginning his/her career. Happiness is an inside job and one has to be careful in thinking it is somehow the employers responsibility to make someone happy. I do have a small point with number three, policies to make sure people receive regular acknowledgment, I can’t imagine a company having a policy on that, in most companies where it is present it happens organically and cannot in my opinion be legislated. I would just remind those who may read this your career is your responsibility and not your employers. Self direct your career.

  7. It took me so long to learn these points and yet it is so obvious. Help others, be nice and friendly towards all, avoid factions and water cooler discussion. Whatever you do keep a smile on your face and be positive regardless of what may be happening around you.

  8. Great blog! I couldn’t agree more with #2 on your list: “There is a strong correlation between happiness and meaning”. Further, you are certainly correct that employee recognition needs to be personalized, not “cookie cutter”. One of my coworkers actually recently blogged on this topic of customized and meaningful employee recognition and incentive programs. Please feel free to share your thoughts after reading : http://www.awardsnetwork.com/dont-tempted-cookie-cutter-employee-incentive-programs
    Thanks again for the insight you shared!

  9. Can you please share some of the research reports or studies used for this post? Also, how did you compile them to come up with the 5? Thanks

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