What CEO doesn’t wish for an office filled with happy, creative and hyper-productive employees? The fact is, CEOs who understand and nurture happiness create better people and better employees, which results in amazing effort and genius that will benefit any organization.
In my many years as CEO of Micrel, I noticed a clear correlation between my employees’ happiness and their performance. When people connect to what makes them feel truly happy, they change. Their outlook changes. Their desire to cooperate and collaborate improves. They carry this happiness to their homes, to their churches, to their communities. It improves every aspect of their lives, including their work lives. This happiness is buried within every human, and yet most companies do nothing to expose this foundation of human behavior.
So how does a CEO nurture happiness? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s look at what does not work:
Money: Having folding cash alleviates worry and buys entertainment. But these things are not happiness themselves. They last only as long as the cash does. Bring back a memory of the happiest moment of your life and I doubt it includes a pay raise or bonus check.
Change: Most people see change as stressful. Yet many CEOs, faced with the need to change, put on clown-make-up expressions and try to make change appear enjoyable and adventurous. For most of their employees, it only generates fear.
Your vision: Your business vision is certainly important … to you. It likely isn’t important to your employees, unless you are a superb communicator and motivational speaker.
As you can see, none of these things create lasting happiness, without which no enduring human or corporate progress is possible. One reason is that none of these things changes people. Money is fleeting, business verities are painful, and somebody else’s objectives are rarely internalized.
To create happy employees who desire to help their organization succeed, you have to change the person. At Micrel, I often told employees, “I can’t make you rich, but I will make you a better person.” Few employees ever ran in fear from the idea of being a better human. Through our corporate culture, we minted better people daily.
Business school literature is littered with the idea that employee recognition creates happiness. This is half right. It is true that if you give an employee a bonus check, that nod of appreciation will not be remembered two weeks later—yet give the same employee a plaque that thanks them for doing something well, and forty years later they can tell you exactly which box in the attic holds that plaque, if it isn’t actually hanging on the wall of their den.
Recognition is great, and highly useful. But without understanding why it works, corporate recognition programs risk looking like participation trophies given to elementary school soccer players for just showing up. Recognition as a routine motivation tool is little better than the bonus check, though likely less expensive.
The difference is in the specificity of the acknowledgement. Pat someone on the back and say, “Great job,” without mentioning what they did, and the compliment goes into the employee’s mental waste basket. But say, “Great job on the Smith account. You made that customer very pleased with us,” and the same recognition takes on an entirely new scope.
The reason isn’t the specificity itself. It is how the employee perceives their connection to the recognition. This is what I’ve found to be the secret to happier employees: value.
We are valuable
People need to feel valuable. Parents feel this daily, and it may be the main reason anyone has children (a somewhat cynical friend of mine once claimed no sane person has ever voluntarily had children, but his tune changed when he acquired his own). People who volunteer see their value in action. Soldiers and police officers know it intimately.
When a person sees their value to others, they obtain earthly happiness. They have to understand their value, and to believe their value. Their value doesn’t need to be rewarded or publicly proclaimed, though these tools solidify the effect of exposing an employee’s value. This then should be a major goal for managers, executives and entrepreneurs—to establish a culture that identifies the true value that every employee provides to their company and their co-workers, and make sure they recognize it in themselves. When this occurs, and an employee finds himself near the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, true happiness at work is theirs to keep.
And they do keep it. But they also share it, week in and week out, all year long.