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How to Keep Employees Happy at Work

03/22/2013 12:36 EDT | Updated 05/22/2013 05:12 EDT
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What makes you happy at work? It's a simple question, with a very complicated answer.

Arianna Huffington wrote recently about stress on workers and the resulting decline in their productivity.

Academic studies are finding that if you can increase the happiness of your employees, you can increase their productivity. If you increase your team's productivity, you sell more and, consequently, you make more money. The question is: who is leading in this and what do they understand about their employees and productivity as it relates to the human capital that is their workforce?

A friend of mine, Patrick Dion, is a true leader. He understands what I like to call the emerging business ethos of this decade: if you want to be successful, you have to help others succeed. He left a great job because his boss felt he was spending too much time volunteering on "ridiculous" things like mental health and the environment.

Volunteering enabled Patrick to meet new people, to understand the community he was working in and to extend the brand of the business, yet his old boss felt this was a waste of time. This outdated thinking is one of the reasons today's leadership is puzzling over how to motivate their workforce. They don't understand what makes their staff happy. It isn't sitting in long meetings or hearing leadership drone on about mission and values, or how people are their greatest assets. If people were their greatest assets, they would treat them with respect and endeavor to make their dull jobs more bearable.

Leadership is defined by different organizations in various ways. One is the technical definition given by Webster's dictionary: "The office or capacity of a leader." An effective definition goes much deeper.

Leadership is not power over people who need to work. Leadership is the ability to engage followers to share your vision and act on it because they believe in it, not because they need it to pay the rent. Anyone can lead people who need to work to live, very few can lead people who are talented and can work anywhere. Which workforce do you have?

Patrick has gone on to create with his partners a workplace that challenges and respects talented people. Besides working with their clients, they have become involved in a benevolent project to improve the community in which they live and work, called Waterfire Rideau. Corporate partners have joined with them to build this art project on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, designed to increase tourism and, in turn, tourism-related jobs. As Patrick says, Waterfire is also "a lot of fun." He believes that "when you are laughing and having fun, you will make money."

Patrick is not alone in this belief, and he is not alone in leaving a job to start his own business in the hope of living to work rather than working to live. Imagine the change in your workforce if everyone on your team was able to indulge in his or her passion even for just a brief period a month. Your return on investment, as Google, Microsoft, Safeway, and other blue-chip companies will tell you, is substantial.

To do this, however, you need to provide leadership training in how to communicate and how to listen to your followers. Listening is not a skill leaders use today. Most of us have forgotten how to listen and how to observe. But, as I have demonstrated in my research, if you can train your leaders to use these two skills, as well as understanding the basic principles of servant leadership, you will increase the productivity or your workforce by at least 10%.

If Patrick's former boss had indulged in a little more training and a little less focus on billing clients, he would now be enjoying the benefits of working with the government, building a project that benefits our nation's capital, and reaping the benefits of some very positive press.

Dr. Mary Donohue is a workplace therapist specializing in leadership building. She is the author of three books, including her most recent book on mentoring and structure. This year she was awarded the Queen's Jubilee medal for her business acumen, as well as her work on culture and millennials in the workplace. To attend Dr. Mary's workshops in May - The Power of Two: 13 Conversations That Will Help You Make the Sale, email info@drmarydonohue.com.

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