Making Happy Employees

by | July 7, 2010

Many studies show employers the value of “happy employees” to a business’ productivity and success.  An obvious question arising from these studies is:  “What makes for a “happy employee?”   The studies address this to varying degrees; but to me, a particular employee’s happiness in his or her work depends on many factors such as age, financial needs, passion for the business and its customers, and role within the organization.  The many contributing factors make it difficult to create a workplace that satisfies all the varying needs of the workforce.  In small companies, the “employer” is often also the owner and works closely with all the employees making it very easy to engage the team in the vision and passion he or she feels for the company.   As an organization grows, though, this becomes more difficult.  The vision and passion are still felt among certain ranks, but these important messages are heard second-hand by most employees through their manager or human resources contact.   The receipt of such information second-hand makes it difficult in many companies for all employees to adopt the vision and passion of the employer.

In my experience, one essential element can be linked to employers’ success in hiring: expectation setting.   Where an employer has a formal procedure for hiring that outlines job responsibilities and expectations, the employer creates an environment for success.

As an employer, the first step in setting expectations for an employee is knowing what business needs are being filled by the new employee.  Employers should spend a great deal of time understanding what the job duties are and what skills are necessary to do the job.  Furthermore, the employer must be sure the interview process targets these skills to determine if a candidate can fill the gaps required by the business.   Some companies even include personality testing as part of the interview process to ensure there is a fit between employer and employee in certain essential areas.

Next, when the new employee comes on board, the employer must have a formal new-hire process.  The new hire process should set the tone and example to the employee of the quality expected by the company.  Documents sent to the employee for signature should be accurate and delivered timely with clear expectations to the new hire of next steps required by him or her.

One important document is the employee manual or handbook.  The employee manual sets forth the policies and procedures of the company and is often the most efficient way to set expectations and tone for the workplace.  The employee manual not only includes policies of the company in areas such as dress, attendance, technology, social media,  violence and sexual harassment; but the manual also allows the company to communicate the mission, vision and core values to the employee at a time when they typically are interested in engaging with the company.

An area that is becoming more and more important to companies is the protection of intellectual property.  The employee manual is frequently the place to include “restrictive covenants” such as non-solicitation, confidentiality, assignment of intellectual property and non-interference provisions.  Where a company is not large enough to want a full-employment manual, these “restrictive covenants” remain critical to the business and should be included as part of the new hire process.   The laws around which provisions are enforceable and under what circumstances differ from state to state; so a company must be aware of these differences, especially when operating in multiple jurisdictions.

An employer should also set an expectation of regular communication with employees.  This communication may differ across companies but to define it upfront allows the employee to prepare for and use the opportunity to express needs.  Employees will be less defensive and the employer may learn how to help them be more productive and “happy” in the workplace.

Setting expectations with employees reduces this reduces the risk of miscommunication and missed expectations and also sets a standard for dealing with issues as they arise.  Clear communication of expectations to the employee in the specific context of his or her employment will drive confidence on both sides and result in “happier” (read “more productive”) employees.