The Secret to Employee Happiness -- Revealed

Make your office a place employees enjoy going to each day. And, yes, this is easier than it sounds.

learn more about Heather R. Huhman

By Heather R. Huhman

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People often confuse happiness and wellness as being one and the same. But while both are essential to the employee experience, they're far from synonymous. Rather, employee happiness is a wellness factor: By focusing on happiness just as they would physical and mental health, employers have the power to enhance well-being initiatives.

Related: 7 Tips to Increase Employee Happiness and Productivity

Still, as good as that may sound, the question still remains: Exactly how do you encourage employee happiness?

Happiness, after all, is a vague goal; but it's a goal that can be achieved when leaders attend to their teams' relationships. When employers help create positive social interactions among co-workers, employee happiness increases, according to Global Wellness Summit's 2018 Global Wellness Trends survey of more than 600 executives.

To unlock employee happiness by focusing on creating positive and memorable social interactions between employees, employers should consider these four steps:

Make the company mission social.

To create a deeper bond among employees, and thus improve overall happiness, employers need to refer to their company mission. Luiz Massad, HR director at the New York-based fitness discovery platform Gympass, did just that with the company's "Gympass Games" initiative.

"We implemented something called the "Gympass Games,' which is quite connected with our purpose," Massad said via email. "We divided 500 employees into 40 groups and charged them to compete and secure points collaboratively by going to fitness or wellness classes."

Related: 7 Secrets to Employee Happiness

To ensure cross-employee and departmental interaction, the teams were randomly selected. During the "games," employees had fun in a social environment while getting to know co-workers they may have never met before.

As a result, leaders noticed a significant decrease in turnover and absenteeism within those groups that had high participation in the games. The more engaged and involved employees were in their relationship-building activity, the happier they were in their jobs.

Look to your company mission for inspiration. Use the foundation of your mission to spark creative team-bonding activities that build employee relationships based on fun and encouragement.

Get people out of the office.

Many employees feel that the workplace is meant only for work. This makes building relationships during in-office events challenging because employees are reluctant to relax and build true camaraderie.

David Royce, the founder and chairman of the Provo, Utah-based pest control company, Aptive Environmental, knows a fun company culture isn't immediately associated with a pest control company. But that didn't stop him from nurturing co-worker relationships through fun and easy out-of-office events.

"One of our larger activities is an off-site retreat to Hawaii for managers and top performers," Royce explained in an email. "We also host Food Truck Fridays on a monthly basis to provide meals for our team."

To heighten the bonds between and among co-workers, Royce encourages employees to bring their families and friends to workplace events. Adding this personal aspect helps employees further unwind and connect over shared home-life experiences.

No matter how elaborate or simple your employee outings are, be sure they're in an environment where co-workers feel comfortable. Giving them the opportunity to get to know one another outside of work allows them to shape a more meaningful bond.

Embrace the weird.

Employees need to feel they belong before they can feel comfortable building relationships with co-workers. If employees feel out of place, getting them to open up will be difficult.

That's why Christine VanCampen, senior director of talent management at CHG Healthcare, a medical care provider in Salt Lake City, helps employees find their tribe at work. "We believe that by making our people a priority and creating programs that encourage them to build relationships and friendships, they will be happier and, in turn, want to stay with the company," VanCampen said in an email.

To create relationship-building programs, CHG Healthcare established themed networks in which employees tcould spend time with like-minded individuals. "We currently have 80 groups with more than half of our employees participating in at least one -- if not more -- of the groups, which range from outdoor-enthusiast groups to book clubs to service-oriented groups," she said.

Creating a people-first culture, like CHG Healthcare's, makes the office a place employees enjoy going to each day. Build this type of culture by setting aside an annual budget for each group's activities to help employees stay active in participating.

Be prepared to scale.

"One of the hardest tasks in a quickly growing company with almost 300 employees is preserving the same social environment we all had when it was just the 12 of us in one room," Eric Rea, CEO and co-founder of Podium, an online review management company in Salt Lake City, recently shared with me via email.

Most company leaders can only dream of reaching this amount of growth. That's why Rea's issue is one leaders need to focus on now. However, it can be challenging to find a communication method that enables employees to have meaningful connections. For Rea, email was not that method. "As a company, we rarely, if ever, use email," he said. Instead: "The majority of communication happens in public Slack channels."

So do as Rea and his employees do: Find a communication channel, like Slack, that preserves dialogue transparency. To effectively build relationships, employees need a way to keep conversations going -- even when they're not at work.

Related: Stop Trying To Make Your Employees Happier

Encourage meaningful relationships by publicly celebrating work and life milestones with employees. Whether it's a promotion or the announcement of a new baby on the way, calling out these exciting details in a shared chat is a great way to help employees connect on a deeper level -- and find some measurement of happiness at work.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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