Employee Engagement and the Pursuit of Happiness

Most workers aren't happy. They're just going through the motions.
Employee Engagement and the Pursuit of Happiness
Image credit: Xavierarnau | Getty Images
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On July 4, 1776, our forefathers declared unanimously that the citizens of the United States of America had certain rights that cannot be given or taken away, including “the pursuit of Happiness.” Fast forward a few centuries, and we find ourselves in a workaholic, technology-crazed nation where we are plugged into email and available to work 24/7/365 -- and we are still pursuing our happiness.

For many years, work and life have been labeled as two separate events that compete for equal balance and attention. As more and more of our personal lives overlap with work, it is natural that we should pursue our happiness at work, too. With this equation, it would be wise for employers to institutionalize practices at work that support employee well-being and help to create a positive work environment. In turn, organizations will benefit by having more engaged employees who will be more committed, more productive and more willing to go the extra mile -- employees who say “how can I help” rather than “this isn’t in my job description.” 

Employee engagement has measured surprisingly low in the U.S. for many years, most notably by the Gallup organization, which reports only 30 percent of American workers as engaged. This leaves 70 percent of the workforce just going through the motions, or worse, actively seeking ways to disrupt other employees’ productivity or damage the organization in some way. 

With this dismal outlook, employers can move the dial in their own organizations and increase their employee engagement by following these steps:

The first step is to pay attention to the people.

People naturally want to be recognized both as professionals and as human beings. When you start to acknowledge the people in your organization, they will notice, and their work will respond to your well-deserved attention. This can be as simple as stopping by someone’s office and saying hello and thank you for the well-planned meeting agenda.

Related: 5 Companies Getting Employee Engagement Right

Reframe your employees’ relationship with accountability.

Too often, accountability at work is viewed as something that happens to you when you do something wrong. This relationship with accountability will stifle information sharing and creativity and breeds fear in work cultures. Create opportunities for employees to connect being accountable for their job responsibilities and work product as something to be proud of -- and that being accountable represents success, not failure.

Related: How to Increase Accountability Without Breathing Down People's Neck

Make sure you appropriately reward all behavior.

Your best employees will notice when poor performers are not called out on their bad behaviors, and it will foster resentment. If allowed to linger, your best employees will leave, and you will be left with your poor performers.

Connect the position to the purpose.

People crave work that is both meaningful and challenging, so make sure your employees understand the connection between their responsibilities and tasks, big and small, and the organization's mission and vision.

Institute multiple engagement touch points.

This includes the first day -- make sure they know they made the right choice when they accepted your job offer -- ninety days and one year markers. Small but meaningful engagement touch points can boost employee engagement at times it would naturally start to ebb.

Prioritize well-being initiatives over a “fun” work environment.

A fun work environment, with perks such as game rooms or happy hour, provide short-lasting rewards for employees, but it doesn't lead to long-term motivation or engagement. Invest the money into well-being initiatives that address important issues such as decreasing stress and increasing resilience. Your best and most engaged employees are most likely the hard workers who face burnout as a result of the consistently high levels of work they produce. Make sure they are taking advantage of opportunities to pause, refresh and breathe.

Related: To Meet Employees' Expectations, Improve Engagement, Don't Just Cater to Their Whims

Practice gratitude.

A little gratitude can go a long way and takes minimal effort. A popular theory in positive psychology is that we must maintain a ratio of several positive to one negative event to maintain a positive outlook and perspective, especially at work. Positive events can include very simple things such as being on the receiving end of a thank you for a job well done, listening to a favorite song or taking a short walk. Create opportunities for these types of events for your employees, and yourself, and encourage them to do the same.

To transform your employee engagement initiatives into lasting results, be sure your organization is committed to turning the dial. Shifting a culture has to be an organization-wide initiative with buy-in at all levels -- not just a program that is coming out of Human Resources. Seek out champions who want to be a part of moving the work forward to create a team of engaged employees and foster a positive workplace culture. Happiness can and should be pursued and realized at work as a part of life, not something that happens off the clock.