What do Fidelity Investments, Pfizer, Hilton and Nordstrom have in common? Not only are they some of the largest and most successful companies in the world, they also have some of the happiest employees. That is not a coincidence. There is a clear relationship between a company’s employee relations practices and its bottom line.
Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette recently revised and expanded their seminal 1998 work titled “Contented Cows Give Better Milk.” The title is based on the knowledge of generations of dairy farmers, and the authors show that those lessons translate to the workplace. Treating people right has tangible benefits for businesses in any field. However, benefits, perks and amenities don’t tell the whole story. Employers do not have to provide giveaways to produce happy, productive employees.
Hadden and Catlette are highly sought-after public speakers, and they lead seminars across the country that provide advice and promote best practices for employers who seek a more productive workforce. They list four features of a great job: leadership, meaningful work, work that fits into the employee’s lifestyle, and compensation that motivates.
A healthy work environment starts at the top. Strong leadership should be a condition of employment for all managers, and companies should not let bad leaders hide behind good numbers. Capable leadership requires strong communication through both word and deed. Employees who rate leaders highly emphasize honesty and integrity, compassion, optimism, communication, decisiveness and impartiality.
Companies with employees who view their work as meaningful work hard to minimize employees’ frustrations by removing barriers to getting the job done, and that requires continuous communication. They provide frequent, helpful and honest feedback to their employees on a regular and ongoing basis, and they ask their employees what they can do to make their job better. They keep employees committed to the company’s mission and prevent distractions that weaken their energy and enthusiasm. People leave jobs when they feel cheated, abused and taken for granted. Companies with happy employees are essentially always recruiting those employees, finding out from the people on the ground how their jobs can be performed more effectively.
People always remember their first day at a job. Years later, they will recall whether their workstation and benefits were set up before they arrived. An ideal employer or manager will ensure that new employees feel welcomed upon arrival and will check in with them at the end of the day. They will also find out who helped a new employee on their first day and thank them. In fact, many of Hadden and Catlette’s recommendations require very little effort. The power of a simple “thank you” cannot be overemphasized, for both specific work and general appreciation.
A good manager knows everyone’s name and what they are good at, both at work and outside the workplace. They know what they do for fun, their strongest passions, the parts of the job where they need help, how they get to work and how long it takes, and what’s important to them both at work and at home.
Finally, employers with the happiest, most productive employees hire for fit, not just skills and experience. They identify the non-technical fit requirements for the job before they start interviewing, and they use behavioral interviewing methods to ensure a seamless transition. They are always recruiting to find and retain people with the capacity to make the organization happy, productive and successful.