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This is what makes employees happy at work [TED Talk]

Natalie Davis

By Natalie Davis

Mar 13, 2021

This is what makes employees happy at work [TED Talk]

In less than four minutes, Michael C. Bush cuts directly to the three ideas that he believes will make employees happy at work

Before diving into those three ideas, he explains why organizations should care about making their employees happy. 

In reality, it’s actually quite profitable for employers to focus on employee happiness. Bush proves this point by stating that “Organizations that have a lot of happy employees have three times the revenue growth, compared to organizations where that's not true. They outperform the stock market by a factor of three.”

However, most employers have not “cracked the code” on how to make employees happy. This is evident in data he reveals that states only 40% of the three billion working people in the world are happy at work, leaving almost two billion people who are unhappy. 


So how can we increase happiness in our employees? Let’s take a look at the three suggestions from Michael C. Bush.

1. Feeling trusted and respected

Bush notes that while a lot of companies say that they trust and respect employees, they don’t actually show it. He provides a real example of a company that claimed that they trust and respect their employees, but required a 15-step approval process to make a $1500 laptop purchase.

By showing this clear lack of trust in their decision-making, the company frustrated employees as opposed to motivating them. 

Rather than contradicting the notion that they trust their employees by having such a lengthy approval process, the company could have set clearer guidelines for employee decisions. This way, they could give employees the freedom they crave while minimizing issues that could arise with a fully open policy. 

To show an example of these guidelines, Bush refers to the phrase that Four Seasons tells its employees; “Do whatever you think is right when servicing the customer."

As long as employees follow that guideline, there doesn’t need to be an approval process.

Similarly, as detailed in No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, Netflix was able to remove its formal approval process as well.

The guidance they provide to employees is as simple as “act in Netflix’s best interest.” That phrase, in combination with their strict adherence to only keeping high performers on the team, has allowed them to almost eliminate the time spent on reviewing/approving purchases.

2. Practicing fairness

According to Bush, “The thing that erodes trust in an organization faster than anything else is when employees feel that they're being treated unfairly.” 

In this case, fairness means that employees are “treated the same, regardless of their rank or their tenure or their age or their experience or their job category, compared to anyone else.” 

Clearly, fairness is something that you want to get right if you are trying to have happy employees.

He uses Salesforce as an example to show how he has seen companies improve fairness in their workplace. In this example, Salesforce realized that their compensation between men and women in the same job and level of proficiency were making different amounts of money. In realizing this, they did some calculations and made a large investment to balance out the difference.

By doing this, they showed their employees that fairness is something they truly practice as opposed to just preaching it. 

3. Really listening

The third and last thing that Bush says contributes to employee happiness across the board is whether or not they feel listened to. 

This doesn’t just mean staying silent or reacting to someone speaking, it means that their ideas are actually considered when a decision is made. 

According to Bush, “the one thing that everybody appreciates and wants when they're speaking is to know that what they say matters so much you might actually change your mind. Otherwise, what's the point of the conversation?”

Reflecting on the last time an employee proposed an idea, were you truly open-minded? Were you willing to change your mind, or were you already set on your decision on how to proceed?

We can all benefit from being more self-aware, so make a point to evaluate your mindset the next time someone approaches you with an idea. Try to detach yourself from any decisions that have already been made, and discuss your genuine feedback with the employee about their idea and the reasoning behind your decision for the next steps.

At IMPACT, we encourage ideas to be shared through quarterly team surveys, regular one-on-ones with managers, regular group feedback meetings with upper management, and an “open door” policy to discuss ideas with our CEO. 

From there, we’ve put a big emphasis on “closing the loop” when ideas and opinions are submitted. For us, closing the loop means circling back to the person who submitted the idea to let them know the outcome and how their feedback was considered in the process. 

Even if you don’t end up going with their idea, this approach will help employee happiness by simply showing that their thoughts are really being heard and considered. 

Evaluate your current status and set goals

While you might think your organization is doing well in these three areas, it really comes down to what the employees think. 

If you aren’t already measuring your efforts in these areas, consider sending out an employee survey to get some real data and feedback. From there, it’ll allow you to set and measure goals for improving employee happiness across your organization. 

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