Employee Happiness is a Leadership Issue

They say that happy cows give more milk, and what leader does not desire more milk: better collaboration, better quality, better performance? We know by this time the stats about engaged employees and productivity, and happiness is a key indicator of engagement. If our people are unhappy, then surely, it must be time again to tell HR to run an Employee Happiness campaign.

The best leaders, however, do not run to HR to make their people happier.

Nobody can make anybody else happy, but as leaders we have a responsibility to create work contexts in which employees can be happy. Our performance depend on it.

People need to be treated with dignity and respect, and they need to feel safe; that almost goes without saying. Yet, we encounter numerous organisations where the relationship-norm for manager and employee is still that of boss and servant. “Do as I say.” “Do it that way.” You’re an expendable cog in the machine.

How many “career-limiting moves” are there in your organisation? How likely is an employee to give her best in a specific situation if she suspects that it may be career-limiting?

Emotional intelligence is not a nice to have for the leader. It’s not about being nice and always friendly, it’s about being fair and having empathy. We’ll jump through the fire for a leader who listens, who is humble, and who really cares for our wellbeing as an individual. It’s simply, really, about treating other human beings as human beings like yourself. It’s not much to ask, and it can be developed.

People need some certainty. I know that we live in tumultuous times where nobody but the great pretenders is really certain about anything, but when we need to work together, we need certainty at least about what we wish to achieve, what work is important, what is considered up to standard, and so on. It is a key leadership responsibility to reduce uncertainty. Uncertainty about basic things just adds to the anxiety we are already experiencing.

People need to have a sense of meaning and purpose. A great leader never leaves his or her people in doubt about why we are doing what we are doing. They make clear how our contribution fits in our quest to achieve a vision. We’ll endure much discomfort, and remain basically happy, when we feel that we are working towards something greater than ourselves.

People need to belong. We are social creatures. In the distant past, banishment used to be a worse punishment than death. We need great team, where we can trust in each other and know that “we’re in this together”. Great leaders create great teams, teams that are safe and challenging, teams that allow us to grow as human beings.

If you are an HR or an OD practitioner, and you are facing, once again, feedback from your cultural survey that tells you your people are unhappy and disengaged, it may be time to think of an alternative to the Happiness Day or the Wellness week.

Maybe your leaders are making it hard for people to be happy. Maybe they leave them in a state of constant confusion, uncertainty and panic. Maybe they treat them like serfs. Maybe they’re just shouting about non-performance all day, but never recognises achievement.

Help them to get out of the rut. Leaders are people too – sometimes happy and sometimes unhappy. Give them the space to engage with each other, and the tools to engage with their people, to agree on a better way of working together to achieve great things.

How do you prepare and support your managers to create a meaningful, happy and productive workplace?