In pursuit of happiness: why it pays to invest in your people

When news of the first COVID-19 lockdown broke in March 2020, most of us expected it to be over in a matter of months. It was unthinkable that we’d still be confined to our homes a year later, venturing out only after having masked-up, armed with hand sanitiser. And yet, here we are.

While the easing of restrictions gives business owners some confidence about the economy, there’s no denying that our working life is unrecognisable from how it was a year ago. Teams are scattered and fragmented, and although many managers have adapted well to the situation and technology has been a massive help, people are uncertain about their futures.

With this in mind, it is now more important than ever for businesses to invest in their people. In this unpredictable time, people need confidence that their employers are doing everything they can to secure their futures.

So how can we achieve this?

If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad!

A study by the University of Oxford concludes that happy workers are 13% more productive. If people are comfortable in their jobs, they are more likely to work harder and be more efficient. They are also more likely to stay. The cost of replacing a single member of staff can be more than £30,000. So, hanging onto your team is a no-brainer.

But a fair salary isn’t enough on its own. Staff need to feel valued and listened to, and they also need to see where their career can go. It’s up to you to create an environment that staff can thrive in.

Communication (as ever!) is key

Studies have shown that good communication plays an essential role in greater employee satisfaction. And greater employee satisfaction means lower staff turnover and increased profitability. In fact, companies with effective communication strategies have 47% higher returns to shareholders.If the doors of communication are closed, your employees may not feel comfortable coming to you with an issue. Instead, they might simply let the resentment fester and quietly look for another job. Keeping communication regular will help you feel how happy employees are in their position and allow them to voice minor concerns before they turn into big problems.

So how can you improve communications?

• Place more importance on delivering your messages. To do this, you’ll need to devote time, energy and specialist expertise to crafting your messages with the right context and background.

• Consider how others might interpret your messages. Why not do an anonymous 360-degree review to gather honest impressions of how you come across?

• Find out what is important to your employees. This will help you position messages so that they are relevant to their goals and objectives.

• Make sure you have a robust plan in place for your communications. Your comms strategy should work around multiple steps to deliver messages. This should be on a timeline populated with key actions.

• Respond to employee suggestions. This will help them feel valued, and their feedback will further improve communications.

• Don’t ignore the basics. Make sure your company policies are clear and as jargon-free as possible. Policies and employee handbooks are not there to tick boxes; they should be usable, working documents that help employees to do their jobs. If you’re not sure where to start, we can help.

Getting internal communications right is a long game. And your organisation’s values should run through everything, from large scale campaigns to policies and employee handbooks. The results won’t be instant, but if you’re consistent, listen to feedback and are open to improving, you won’t go far wrong. And talk is cheap, so why not do more of it?

Invest in employee development

If you want to keep talented staff, you need to offer development and career progression opportunities. It could even cause reputational damage if the organisation is perceived to have few options for existing employees.

In the current economic situation, businesses might – understandably – be nervous about investing in development and put a freeze on promotions. But development opportunities needn’t be costly. For example, you could offer secondments, internal mentoring or special project work. This can all develop employees’ skills and broaden their experience so that when promotion opportunities come up again, they feel they have been supported by the organisation and able to go for them.

Regular performance discussions are a must, and they should always start with the employee. The member of staff begins by outlining their achievements and identifying areas for further training. It should be an open and two-way discussion, and there shouldn’t be any surprises! If you have plenty of opportunities for regular communication and your culture is open and collaborative, you should never get to the point where an employee doesn’t know how well they are performing.

Specialist training workshops are also a great way to inspire and motivate your staff. Development programmes can help employees recognise their working style, appreciate other team members’ strengths and encourage effective communication between workers. Workshops are proven to boost company morale, increase workplace productivity, and reduce employee turnover. In short, you get a pretty good bang for your buck!

Of course, we understand that not every company has its own dedicated HR department to orchestrate regular staff workshops. So why not bring the experts to you? Outsourcing employee development and training is a cost-effective way for SMEs to build positive, hardworking teams. And we just happen to know of an HR consultancy firm that does just that! If you’re not sure where to start, we’d be happy to give you some pointers.

Create a positive workplace culture

Culture seems a broad and potentially never-ending term. But what it boils down to is the organisation’s values, behaviours, processes, environment and language. It is concerned not with what your organisation does but how and why it does it.

Take a look at your organisation’s norms. Are they potentially unhealthy or unsupportive? Is there a culture of blame rather than one of collaboration and mutual respect?

High-performance business cultures foster positivity; they are proactive and supportive. To achieve this, you will need to work on your mission, vision, values and expectations around employee behaviour and professionalism.

This is something that is ongoing and needs to be consistently monitored through regular employee surveys. Besides helping you understand what is and isn’t working, staff surveys boost engagement as employees feel listened to. You might even find that your staff offer ideas and perspectives you hadn’t considered.

Work-life balance & a happier workplace

In a lot of ways, adults are just like children: we respond well to praise. But a pat on the head and a tube of smarties might not cut it with your staff. While the principle is the same, making adults feel motivated and valued is slightly more complicated than it is with kids.

For adults to be happy and motivated in work, they also need to be satisfied outside the workplace. Now, I’m sure some of you may be scratching your heads at this point, wondering how on earth you can have anything to do with your employees’ lives when they leave the office?

But you definitely can. I’m not suggesting you start lurking around your employees’ local pubs or turning up on their doorsteps – we’d be having a very different conversation if you were doing that! It’s much simpler. You just need to acknowledge that your staff are whole people with lives, hobbies, hopes and dreams that are unconnected to their jobs.

Companies that invest in employee satisfaction foster conditions that create happier workers. So, how can you do this?

1. Offer flexibility with working hours. If employees have families, acknowledge that sometimes they may want a flexible start and finish time to fulfil these commitments. For example, they might need time off for a school play. You could work out a way for them to easily do that with a flexitime provision.

2. Offer flexible benefits. A relaxed and customisable benefits package tailored to each employee will help them feel that their individual needs are being met. For example, one employee might choose discounted childcare; another might choose free gym membership. Empowering employees to make their own decisions can also increase wellbeing and positivity.

3. Help to build positive relationships. You could organise activities away from the office, awards evenings to recognise exceptional contributions or even just a regular team lunch. You can also boost relationships by implementing peer recognition schemes where colleagues can celebrate team wins. This will create a sense of camaraderie and encourage a collaborative and positive working environment.

However you do it, there’s no doubt that investing in your people is a proven way to increase productivity and profitability. Implementing a strong and positive culture, adopting regular and effective communications, providing training and development opportunities, and acknowledging work-life balance, are all strategies you can adopt to create a happier workforce.

And a happier workforce means your business is much more likely to survive and thrive in the long term.