Sunday, November 18, 2012

Putting A Price On Employee Happiness

Today, a good friend of mine and I were joking about happiness in the workplace.  During our conversation, he quipped that to the people he works for, his name might just as well be employee number 0155077.

In addition to my conversation today, several stories involving workplace happiness have made headlines recently.  

Recently, John Schnatter, the chief executive at pizza chain Papa John's publicly commented that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would raise employee benefit costs and force them to cut employee hours to compensate.  Although Schnatter was making a political statement in advance of the election, I believe that there is something really negative to a CEO telling his employees that he doesn't want the company to participate in providing healthcare for them and cutting their hours to achieve this is a double whammy.     

Also, there is a looming disaster at Wal-Mart this holiday season with employees at the world's largest retailer threatening to strike on Friday, traditionally the largest shopping day of the year.  The employees are continuing to fight the company for higher wages and better working conditions.

Even the headline of the week, the closing of the 85 year-old Hostess bakery, is rooted in a dispute between management and its labor force over wages and pensions.  This negative dynamic helps to explain how a company that made over $2 billion last year is broke and shutting down. 

Unfortunately, each story is an indication that, at least somewhere, a negative culture exists and a clear divide between the goals of the company and its employees.

On the other hand, both Apple and Microsoft, two very successful companies, have dismissed top managers for their "abrasive" management styles over the past couple of weeks.

I am of the belief that happier employees are more productive.  Having worked in a variety of places, I know that it's easy for an employee to disengage when they're unhappy.  This undoubtedly hurts the company in a number of ways that are not obvious simply by looking at balance sheets.  Therefore, companies that make employee happiness a priority, and who perhaps take on additional costs to do so, will often discover net gains from higher productivity, morale and lower turnover.  Of course, happiness doesn't have to come in the form of higher wages and more benefits.  They're are a lot of little gestures companies can make that make a huge difference to their employees.     

Tony Hsieh, the founder of online retailer Zappos, is a pioneer in maintaining happiness within the workplace.  He's written a fantastic book on the subject and is highly regarded for creating a happy workforce at Zappos.    

Whether big gestures or small ones, what ideas do you have for improving happiness in the workplace? Feel free to share any thoughts or personal stories you have from your job in the comments section.  As always, thank you for reading and sharing.    

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