The secret of making your people happy

The results are in! Brand Learning completed our bi-annual ‘Happiness Survey’ at the end of September and I was thrilled to see that results were already being shared in this past week’s Team Meeting. Over 85% of our staff completed the survey and we gathered an enormous amount of quantitative and qualitative data to help us improve the way we run our company. This survey is a way for us to engage with our employees, offering an anonymous way for them to be heard. Employee happiness is something we take seriously (board-level follow-up is rigorous) and we’re not the only ones. According to a Harvard Business Review article, 'Happiness' has found its place on the top research topic list in the worlds of psychology, neuroscience, politics and economists for the last twenty years.

The Harvard Business Review highlights many of the reasons why happiness has become such a hot topic; happy employees produce more over the long term, have less sick days, are less likely to quit and, most interesting to me, go above and beyond the call of duty. In other words, happy employees have the motivation to think and act beyond their day-to-day job. It makes me wonder: if a happy employee is one that has the motivation and energy to want to create the future with forward-thinking - what should companies being doing to keep them happy and motivated?

If I can think of one thing that will keep marketers happy and motivated, a particular word immediately comes to mind - and no, it’s not money! Daniel Pink, in his best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, claims that when making money is the sole goal, the results can actually be detrimental to the organization. No, the word I’m actually thinking of is ‘Learning’. In other words, what keeps an employee motivated is when they're able to further enhance their capabilities to do their job better. As Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychology professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness points out, “We know that people are happiest when they’re appropriately challenged – when they’re trying to achieve goals that are difficult but not out of reach.” It makes me think back to all those conversations I've had with people over the years about their careers - they enjoy the work they’re doing, they like their work colleagues - but yet they're not satisfied with their jobs. Eventually it comes out: "I just don't feel challenged - I'm not sure what I'm learning anymore.

The link between motivation and learning is clear; Daniel Pink’s Drive cites one of the three key influences of motivation as ‘mastery’ - in other words, people want to get better at what they do. In Alastair Campbell’s recent release, The Happy Depressive, one of his recommended ‘5 a Day’ for general well-being includes “Keep learning.” Furthermore, The Harvard Business Review points out that in order for employees to thrive they must be learning; people who are developing their abilities are likely to believe in their potential for further growth. At Brand Learning we share this belief that keeping stimulated through exposure to leading edge thinking and personal learning is what keeps employees happy. And customer-centred capability development is at the core of this.

It should be the goal of every company – regardless of the industry – to have motivated employees who are acting with a mind-set that extends past the day-to-day. These are the employees who feel challenged and in turn are engaged in creating the future success of the organisation. But how do people get to this point? Through thoughtful and organised capability development:

  • Start with the development of a robust, rigorous programme strategy that involves senior management and is continually updated to ensure learning is tied to real business issues in order to be relevant and immediately applicable
  • Through a variety of different learning techniques, an individual should have access to toolkits, online classrooms, e-modules, face-to-face mentoring, assignments and a chance to actively apply new learning on the job
  • Don’t think that learning is limited to a classroom scenario; 70% of skill development happens ‘on the job’ and 20% through contact and interaction with others – 90% of learning is informal!
  • It’s not all up to employers; employees need to be encouraged to actively create diary time for learning

There is no shortage of projects and people to manage, fires to put out, problems to solve. You will always be busy. But does having a full plate while juggling necessarily mean an employee is learning? Not always. If an employee is too busy 'doing' vs. 'learning' they'll soon realise that all they're actually doing is treading water. Where needles really move, where objectives are exceeded, are from those that have the motivation and the head space to learn and do more. It’s from those that are happy. Give people the tools, the access and the permission to learn and see for yourself how a happy team member is more motivated to drive your business forward for sustainable, profitable, consumer-centred growth.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s HR capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on HR.

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