Wednesday, October 21, 2015

No Joy at Work - No Problem?

Many of us grew up with messages all around us extolling the virtues of work and the pleasure that a person gets from a job well done.  Some of the more famous examples of films and shows in this category would include "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" and "Thomas the Train".

In Snow White, the seven dwarves headed off to work every morning with a song, "Whistle While You Work".  The Princess and each of the seven had a job to do and they took a great deal of joy in doing it well.  The song, if you want to listen to it here, is actually quite catchy.

In the "Thomas the Train" series of shows, each of the train engines are taught lessons on how to be the best, most efficient worker they can be.  Although oriented towards a British audience the themes are very similar.  That is, if you work hard at your job and follow through you will have a wonderful (and timely!) life.

With so many messages telling us that we can all achieve happiness through our work, why does it seem that the emotion of joy is missing from the corporate office?  Yes, this assertion is overgeneralizing to a certain extent, but let's experiment.  How many of you reading this posting have felt actual joy in doing your job more than once in the past week?  To take it further, would you describe the environment of your company as being joyful?  Odds are that you won't.

This is a big problem for businesses today.  Many, many firms have mission or value statements that state in various ways the following: "Employees are our most important asset!"  Why, then, do recent studies show that 70% of the workers in the United States and Canada are actively dissatisfied?  Worldwide, that number jumps up to 87%!!!  These are numbers that we can't ignore, especially if each of you is a leader within your company.  Unhappy people lead to all kinds of negative results, which if you live in the United States equates to $550 Billion per year in lost productivity.

It comes as no surprise that the most profitable companies in the United States - Apple, Google, McKinsey, USAA - spend more than just lip service on developing joyful employees.  But the counterargument for following the practices these firms use is the cost.  If your company isn't profitable like these, it would be difficult to spend on free food, child care, posh gyms, and nap pods.
There is good news for all of us.  These perks are great, but they reinforce a key component already in place at these top companies.  What is it - can you guess?  It's the same thing you've probably already heard.  Satisfied employees, and hence joyful workplaces, are the outcome of excellent manager to employee relationships.

Did you get that one?  If you are an excellent leader to your people you've already won the battle.  Here are a couple of facts for you to absorb and own.

  1. 80% of dissatisfied workers became that way because they lost respect for their manager
  2. Joyful workers are 87% LESS likely to leave their company.  This fact takes on a whole new meaning when it costs 100-300% of an employee's total yearly salary to replace them when they leave!
  3. Joyful workers are 50% less likely to have a workplace injury or safety event than those who are not happy.

There are so many facts and studies out there on the Internet that show the incredible benefit brought on by joyful workers, it only makes sense to promote "the pursuit of happyness (sp)" in your workplace.

So what should you do?  Here is some basic advice from me to you on things you can easily do as a leader to re-introduce joy into your environment. 
  • Be respectful.  Cultivate a personal belief that your title does not bequeath to you any special moral or sociological superiority to the people who work under your supervision.  Show that attitude by treating your teams with respect and dignity.
  • Focus on results, not time served.  Give your people a tremendous amount of flexibility to manage their schedules.  Focus on the results they deliver, not the time they spend starting at their computer screen.  The more results that are generated, the more freedom you should give to that person (or people)
  • Be honest and transparent even if you can't tell the whole truth.  In this day of information on demand, there are few secrets.  Always opt to tell your people as much as possible without sacrificing your ethics.  When your folks know that you are ready to confide in them they will trust you in return.  High levels of trust equate to high levels of engagement.  Any combat officer will tell you that.
  • Have at least some idea of the personal lives of each of the people you manage.  Remember that almost everyone has a life they lead away from work.  The more you understand what your people pursue outside of work, the more you can help them maximize those pursuits.
  • Once you've hired the best people, give them the best tools, computers, furniture, training, etc.  To a certain extent, all people are materialistic.  Feed that by being as generous as your company's policies will let you be.  (I don't know how many leaders are outright despised for being stingy when they have no constraints placed upon them)
  • Especially in IT, assume your folks know everything and act accordingly in a truthful and ethical manner (this is the right way to be anyway!).  Odds are that you'll never keep secrets from them even if you try.
  • Practice saying, "I'm sorry".  Every leader, especially the best, make many mistakes.  Be quick to own up to your own failings.  It makes you "human" and eliminates hidden resentment.
Some (all?) of this advice is common sense but only if you follow it.  You CAN have a joyful workplace full of happy people.  It just takes a little work.

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