Happy Employees and How to Get Them

The workforce of any business or organization is its core. However, businesses and organisations are often uncaring and have nothing more than a ‘suggestion box’ to offer their employees. Rather than treating employees like mere ‘cogs in the machine’, caring for them like they are family can help companies reach the heights of success by helping employees reach their full potential and garner unparalleled loyalty of employees.

Everybody Matters (2015) by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia, chronicles Chapman’s search for the best leadership style and the quest for the best approach to business. It narrates how one businessman put his employees first, gave them room to innovate and sought business success.

Treating Employees Like Family

It is common to measure the success of a business by looking at the profits and the number of its sales. However, the true measure of a business’s success lies in the well being of its employees. Creating a work environment where employees are, first and foremost, happy, is essential.

Strong leadership, rather than stewardship, is the answer. It entails letting employees know that the company truly cares for their best interests. It requires more than just managerial skills. To make employees know that they are cared for, one has to actually go beyond merely acknowledging or recognizing productivity and take time out to tell them that their efforts are valued.

Leaders have to keep time aside for a one-on-one appreciation talk, perhaps as often as once a week. Such gratitude, especially when shown by leaders, instils a sense of security, fulfilment, and can even result in health benefits for the employees.

Such leadership is akin to good parenting, where a parent is constantly checking to ensure that all is well with their children. Questions such as – ‘Do you feel secure?  Is your work meaningful for them? Do you feel fulfilled?’ can help.

Leaders who ask such questions themselves also find that they are actually responsible for the happiness of their employees. A workplace is after all like home, where security and safety are paramount.

Everybody Matters (2015) by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia
Everybody Matters (2015) by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia

Creating Trust In The Management

Employees need to have faith and trust in the management. It is vital for their security and psychological safety. A motivational mission statement like a company charter is one way to do this. It clearly states out the values and goals of the company. However, a company charter that itself doesn’t make employees feel valued can leave them underappreciated and unhappy.

Leaders should reach out to their employees to create an impactful charter. As CEO of Barry Wehmiller, the manufacturing equipment supplier, co-author Bob Chapman clearly understood the importance of this. He sat down with his employees when he wrote the charter of his company ‘Guiding Principles of Leadership’. He included everyone’s input, thereby learning about their concerns as well as acknowledging their opinions.

Many employees had expressed their concern about a lack of trust between the management and the employees. He thus prominently advocated the creation of an environment of trust at the top of the charter.

Putting the words of the charter into action is the next important step. Chapman, therefore, worked towards backing his words. An employee was annoyed at the rule of set times for bathroom and coffee breaks. Chapman and his management, the very next day, started dismantling all rules and practices that were perceived as the management’s lack of trust in employees. He did away with time clocks and timed breaks. He showed employees that the management was listening.

This action helped forge trust between employees and the management.

Empower Employees To Make Their Own Decisions

Oppressive rules are the direct link to employee unhappiness. Top-down edicts lead to a lack of trust as well as stunt creativity, motivation for innovation and individuality.

Cultivating an environment of responsible freedom and designing the workplace in a manner that helps employees reach their full potential is vital. A goal-oriented approach called the ‘just enough’ method at Barry-Wehmiller gives employees a clear idea of what ‘winning’ is and what they should work to achieve.

‘Winning’ can be defined by a customer-oriented company, as scoring the best result on a customer satisfaction survey. Employees can then work towards achieving that goal. However, they should have the freedom to use their individual skills and talents. Moreover, the management should allow employees to use their own judgement to carry out tasks and achieve goals. This is empowerment.

At Barry-Wehmiller, a team of employees were allowed to choose a laser-cutting machine. What might have seemed like a simple decision was in fact one of their biggest purchase in the history of the department? It enabled garnering a sense of responsibility within employees to ensure that the machine was set up. Employees were willing to work even on weekends, learn and research about the machine. They were so thorough, that they knew more than the installation representative.

The empowering approach was even gathered praise by the Harvard Business School group that toured the company later on.

A Strong Cultural, Business Vision

A stagnating company is often the abode of unhappy employees. To change this, organizations should use visioning. Visioning entails visualising a path forward. It entails asking questions such as ‘Where is the company heading? And why is it heading there?’

The ‘why’ in the question pertains to the cultural vision of the company. It highlights the company’s higher purpose, reflecting on how the company plans to improve the lives of employees.

Design Group, the consulting company prioritized maintaining an inclusive work environment, over increasing the size of the company, as part of their cultural visioning.

While cultural visioning is one pillar, business visioning is the second pillar. A business vision answers the ‘where’ question and addresses how to achieve the goal set by the vision.

Design Group, over time, realised that the company still lacked momentum. They thus added a bold business vision of doubling the size of the company in a span of five years.

This ambitious business and inclusive cultural vision got the employees excited to be a part of a growing company with a bright future. It eventually led the company to achieve its business goal in not five but three years.

Celebrate Team Achievements

Leaders must understand that acknowledging hard work and achievements is a sure path to a happy employee. Additionally, when a team recognises and praises the effort of a colleague, employee morale gets boosted ten-fold.

At Barry-Wehmiller, awards as bestowed on employees through a system where employees nominate their peers for the awards. All nominees – irrespective of whether they get the award or not – get a letter of acknowledgement and praise. In fact, the letters are more appreciated by the employees than the awards themselves, as colleagues put a lot into just writing nomination letters. Such a system instils motivation and inspiration to improve, much more than what monetary incentives do.

Monetary incentives help with career orientation and aligning an employee’s goal with the company’s. On the other hand, creative and personal appreciations are uniquely memorable. When the System of awards was introduced at Barry-Wehmiller, the CEO also included a prize for the winner. The award winner would get to drive one of the CEO’s convertibles for a week. An excellent example of establishing and strong-holding trust!

With other innovations in the award program such as inviting the family of the award winner to be a part of the ceremony and celebration, the award ceremony is today, one of the most important celebrations at Barry-Wehmiller.


Business success is completely misunderstood. It isn’t a by-product of good leadership or high sales. It is in fact, attributed to happy, satisfied and content employees.

Organizations need to treat employees like family and truly care for them. Celebrating achievement in a meaningful manner, doing away with oppressive rules and giving employees the chance to be responsibly free, can skyrocket an organization to success. In addition, companies should provide employees with a strong cultural and business vision to achieve success.