C'mon Get Happy: Building an Employee-Centric Environment to Boost Morale and Productivity

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Camaraderie with peers—not money—is the No. 1 reason employees will go the extra mile at work. Here’s how to get the best from your team.

According to a recent study, two-thirds of all employees fail to see adequate opportunities for professional growth where they work, and about the same number report that their organizations lack a strong work culture.

Perhaps the most staggering figure from the 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report is the one showing just how worthless employees feel they are to their employers: nearly 80 percent feel they are unappreciated and undervalued.

This information seems to corroborate the findings of a 2013 report from Gallup, indicating that more than 85 percent of the world’s employees are disengaged from their work.

Related Article: Your Most Valued Employees Are Unengaged: What Do You Do?

The Good News

While a clear majority of this data represents disquieting news for the nation’s managers, the study—conducted by the employee survey company, TinyPulse—offers a glimmer of hope in an otherwise forlorn sea of gloomy numbers.

7 Key Trends Impacting Today's Workplace

Image via TINYpulse

The survey shows, for instance, that 44 percent of all employees will provide unsolicited, consistent recognition to their coworkers if given the tools to do so. Equally encouraging? Most employees identify peer-to-peer camaraderie as the No. 1 influence on their motivation, with 20 percent indicating it as the source of their willingness to go the extra mile at work.

Leveraging the Good

Understanding what motivates employees can help managers develop constructive methods to maximize productivity and revenue. The TINYpulse study provides a clear picture of what employment personnel value most about their work culture and the answer is not all that surprising: quite simply, employees place great value on one another.

With this information in mind, managers should be working hard to find new ways to make their workplaces more “employee-centric.” From an executive standpoint, this idea might seem frightening, especially when you consider that companies like Zappos Labs have adopted a “no-bosses” approach they call “holacracy.”

The Zappos Experiment

The management philosophy at Zappos (a footwear retailer) is for employees to self-organize, self-manage and self-govern. Not only do personnel work without bosses, they work without any of the trappings of the traditional command-and-control corporate hierarchy.

In March, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh issued a company-wide memo telling employees to get on board with the holacracy program—or leave. Now, if you believe that ordering employees to “self-govern” seems rather contradictory, you might be on to something.

Zappos Company Culture

Image via Sunni Brown

In fact, after the release of Hsieh’s memo, more than 200 of the company’s 1,500 employees felt the culture just didn’t fit and moved on (albeit with a generous severance package). While the radical approach wasn’t for everyone, the new hires who replaced these outgoing workers have embraced the program and seem to like it.

The idea of a “holacracy” might sound a bit edgy, but businesses have been experimenting with management techniques for years. As far back as the mid-1980s, for example, Western corporations were trying to dissect Japanese management practices (consensus management, bottom-up decision-making, etc.) and apply these techniques to the American workforce (with mixed results). They even made a movie about it, featuring Michael Keaton: Gung Ho.

More recently, quite a few American offices have adopted the ROWE™ management philosophy outlined (and trademarked) by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler. ROWE™, which stands for “Results-Only Work Environment,” focuses on allowing employees to come and go as they please, so long as the work gets done. Under the typical ROWE™ model, employees get paid for output, not hours.

Related Article: Is Zappos Crazy? A Look at Their Management System "Holacracy"

Creating Your Employee-Centric Culture

Developing an employee-centric work culture doesn’t have to be radical. You don’t need to take seminars in holacracy, Japanese philosophy, or ROWE™ to give your employees the tools they need to be productive. In fact, many traditional companies provide a fabulous work environment for their teams by following these six management rules:

  1. Recognize stellar employees. Employees have an innate desire to be recognized for their achievements, hard work and results. When you see your staff congratulating each other for a job well done, don’t miss out on the opportunity to show your gratitude. If you really understand the interests of your employees, you can recognize them with a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Even something as similar as a pat on the back might not seem like much, but it can go very far in strengthening the bonds between you and your team.
  2. Communicate effectively, and emphasize collaboration. If communication is the key to success (and it certainly is), then collaboration is the lock that secures it. Spelling out assignments, creating clear directives and urging cooperation between divisions and departments all help to create an environment where everyone is equally important to a successful outcome.
  3. Provide ongoing guidance. Once the directives are issued and everyone understands their role, be available for follow-up questions and respond accordingly. As a manager, your duty is to ensure the integrity of the process. Also, be ready to lend a hand when necessary; after all, you’re as much a part of the team as anybody else.
  4. Hold everyone to the same level of accountability. Don’t pick favorites, and don’t move the goalposts. Holding everyone to the same standard is critical to building trust, promoting camaraderie and developing a well-functioning process.
  5. Hold team-building activities. When a major project is completed or the company is experiencing a seasonal lull, take advantage of the time by holding a retreat or team-building activity. Even if it’s just having lunch together, bonding with your coworkers can provide insights you might otherwise miss.
  6. Incentivize appropriately. Adhering to promotions and pay increase schedules is perhaps the best way to ensure your team stays hungry but feels valued. Offering periodic special incentives such as gift cards or event tickets is a great way to create healthy competition, but only if the rewarded employees are deemed universally worthy of the prize. Be sensible, and remember—it’s all about the process.

Don’t let your company become the next work-culture statistic. If you listen to your team and cater to their needs, you’ll find your organization overachieving operationally, setting records financially and working together productively.

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