Welcome back to Work Tip Wednesday! Come to CareerBliss every Wednesday for a brand new work-related tip to help you make your company a happier place!
Most of us are all too familiar with that unpleasant phenomenon known as the Monday Morning Blues. You know the feeling - it creeps up on you towards the end of Sunday afternoon, hangs over your head all through Sunday evening and refuses to leave you in peace as you toss and turn in your bed on Sunday night. As for that moment when the alarm sounds early on Monday morning - well, I need say no more.
Even if you are a manager or a business owner, comfortably ensconced in the higher echelons of your company, you may still suffer from the curse of the MMB, or remember a time when, as a lowly employee, it reared its ugly head and ruined the latter part of your weekend. But now - hold this thought - you are actually in a position to do something about it. You now have the power to look for ways in which to transform your workplace, to remould it into an environment to which people enjoy returning on Monday rather than dreading, to banish for good the MMB canker which so often blights the lives of your employees.
"Shiny Happy People"
So sang R.E.M. in 1991 (a 1980s rock band, for those too young to remember). It seems almost too obvious to say that, in order to run a truly successful company, you need workers who are happy, productive and fulfilled.
And the secret of contented, hard-working employees is a happy work environment. This doesn't mean one in which laughter constantly rebounds from the ceiling or where everyone waltzes around with huge beaming smiles on their faces, but one in which thoughts don't dwell primarily on the next paycheck while eyes look constantly at the clock in eager anticipation of the end of the working day.
There are so many elements which contribute to building a happy workplace - everything from the overt physical environment to more subtle influences, such as company culture and management styles. So how do you turn a company from a place to simply put in the hours and take out a paycheck into a place to which employees look forward to going each day?
Whistle While you Work (Preferably Quietly...)
The physical environment is one in which even the smallest of changes can make an enormous difference to the lives of employees. A clean, bright and comfortable office is as important as having a clean, attractive, comfortable home.
Good lighting is vital. If possible, make maximum use of natural light when desks are being positioned, including the provision of adjustable blinds to regulate sunlight. If natural light isn't possible, consider using light fixtures with adjustable filters. These may be more expensive but the increase in productivity will speak for itself - poor lighting causes serious eyestrain, blurred vision and headaches, all of which contribute to a significant loss of efficiency and a subsequent drop in production.
Sound levels are important too. Some people work better in a quiet environment, whereas others prefer a background of low to moderate noise, whether it be soft music or the gentle hum of background chatter. If possible, those who like silence should work separately; if that's not possible then workers who are uncomfortable with quiet should be able to listen to music through earphones (on low volume, of course). One idea might be to develop an office custom where those who don't wish their train of thought to be interrupted whilst working can place a 'Do Not Disturb' notice on their desks. If an office space is prone to echoing then consider the use of acoustic tiles to help deaden the reverberation. Matting or carpeting on the floors can have a similar effect.
Also important is giving employees the freedom to personalize their workspace in whatever way they wish - photos, plants, mementoes and so on. Personal comfort is vital, especially in jobs where workers are seated at their desk for long periods. If the budget allows, each worker should be able to choose their own chair, rather than the standard office practice of "one size fits all". This is where the recent system of "hot desking", whereby no-one has their own desk but instead works at whichever work station is free, falls down. The idea behind it is to encourage collaboration and the sharing of information and resources, but it tends to be unpopular with employees as the loss of control and ownership over one’s own physical space can make it harder to handle stress, and the constant competition for seating can make employees feel less valued.
The provision of a separate place where employees can relax and unwind is essential. It fulfills the need for social interaction, not to mention providing an arena in which to blow off steam without worrying about being overheard. Having somewhere quiet and private to sit and drink coffee or eat a sandwich with fellow-workers helps morale, far more so than grabbing a quick drink at a machine and taking it back to one's desk.
Foster a Caring Culture
One of the most important things an employer can do is to be open and honest with their employees. Nothing creates more stress and worry in the workplace than uncertainty. If any changes are afoot - a company restructure or merger, a change in management or personnel - it's vital to be as transparent as possible with everyone concerned. The rumor mill will inevitably pick up on anything which is going on, and equally inevitably the associated gossip and rumor-mongering will lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions, so treat your employees as responsible adults and keep them fully informed.
Face-to-face meetings with employees are another vital ingredient in creating a happy workforce. These meetings are crucial to enable the employer to give feedback on each individual's performance, to give them positive reinforcement and to show them how their role contributes to the success of the company. Appreciation is vital and goes a long way towards generating enthusiasm, building trust, increasing productivity and producing results.
These meetings shouldn't be all one-sided, however - they should also be an opportunity for employees to give feedback to the employer, to express any concerns or explain any problems, and also to contribute ideas which they may have, both for their own role and for the company in general.
Communicate, Consult and Collaborate
Overloading employees, giving them more work than they can handle, is another cause of stress and unhappiness in the workplace. If there is a sudden call for a higher-than-normal volume of work to be completed, if possible this should be outsourced, or else staff should be consulted to see if they have work of a lower priority which could be temporarily shelved so that they can focus fully on the new task. Again, adopting a culture of open, two-way communication is a vital ingredient in a company's success and in the wellbeing of its employees.
Christopher G. Fox, communications analyst and founder of the business performance advisory organization Kindness Communication, suggests using the word "Let's" instead of "You should" when giving direction to staff. "It's a simple but effective way to create a sense of shared mission," he says. "It works everywhere from big strategic plans to small projects. Once you create that mind-set, you can break the mission down into specific tasks and make it clear who is accountable for what. The result is a better, more engaged environment."
All Work and No Play....
Fun activities during the working week can go a long way towards creating a happy and relaxed atmosphere. Many companies hold such events out of working hours, which can cause problems for employees who often feel obliged to attend, at the expense of precious leisure time which would otherwise be spent with families and friends.
Instead, you could instigate a weekly or monthly bring-your-pet-to-work day, which can be an excellent stress-reliever provided the puppies (or kitties) are well contained. Other ideas could include birthday celebrations, Easter egg hunts, costume competitions, charity cake sales, book-swapping days, and so on. Such events held during working hours are doubly appreciated as they serve to break up the week and to thank employees for their hard work.
Happiness is a Serious Business!
It is vitally important to recognize and embrace happiness as part of the culture of a business or organization. The happiness of one's employees should be at the heart of any productive, energized and forward-thinking company. Not only does it make a very real difference to a company's bottom line, but it is the crucial ingredient in retaining a loyal and committed workforce who are secure in the knowledge that you care enough about them to invest in their wellbeing.
As the author and columnist Herman Cain said: "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success."