In the past 20 years, the field of positive psychology has blossomed, and extensive research has shown that employee happiness is good for business. At the company where I work, called Delivering Happiness, our philosophy is simple: happy employees = happy customers = successful business + meaningful lives.
Each organization’s people and, thus, culture is unique, but there are universal principles that lead to some of the most cherished employee benefits that help to boost morale and leave employees feeling appreciated.
Sense of Progress
Progress is about establishing incremental benchmarks that can be attained over short periods of time. But we want to focus beyond that and lean toward helping employees sense the progress being made individually and as a team. This includes behavioral rewards, social recognition, feedback, growth, and learning.
One well-loved progress benefit is a growth budget ($ benefit): Allow each team member to take ownership of his or her learning by providing an appropriate budget for professional learning and development. If you have Millennials on your team, this is especially effective; 59 percent of Millennials named “growth opportunities” as the deciding factor in their job selection. Growth opportunities could include training, coaching, reading books, and taking any course that inspires and challenges them.
Each 1: Teach 1 (free benefit) is a recommended requirement for each team member who uses funds from the aforementioned growth budget. The “Each 1: Teach 1” concept means each team member presents what he or she learned to the work group. This is an easy way to increase not just the individual’s sense of progress in learning a new skill, but also boost the collective knowledge of the group. It also increases team unity and provides a sense of control (two other Happiness Principles that we will cover). This benefit doesn’t necessarily have to cost money; leaders can encourage team members to share any recent professional tips they picked up so all can benefit.
Sense of Control
Control is about autonomy and sensing that you are the master of your professional fate. It goes hand in hand with trust, because when control is extended, trust is built. The focus of a successful culture should be about providing a sense of control. This could include providing flexible work schedules, career direction, choice of job titles, group input on decision-making, etc.
Employees generally value a sense of trust across the board, but freedom and flexibility can be valued in different ways. For entry-level professionals, providing them with opportunities to design their destiny and their career paths through learning and regular coaching/feedback is desirable. For experienced or senior-level team members, more self-management and a flexible schedule are key.
When it comes to bringing more flexibility into your team’s work schedule, there isn’t a one-size-fits all model. For each organization, there will be different takes on what works best. Some organizations are comfortable with employees being 100 percent remote/digital, some allow work-from-home privileges on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and others have an out-of-office workday every other Friday. Again, this benefit will depend on your team’s dynamics and workload. The value of these out-of-office days is it allows you and your team a regular reset. It also sets the intention for building a culture of accountability and trust. When you extend trust from an authentic place, employees are appreciative and work harder to keep it.
Connectedness is a central force for thriving organizations. It is the critical bond that holds relationships, projects, and organizations together, increasing empathy, teamwork, personal resilience, and, ultimately, success. When we feel united, we feel more determined for both our own and each other’s success. I can’t say enough about this principle! Here are some ways to foster a sense of connectedness.
Core Value Shout-Outs (free benefit): At my company, we start our weekly “All Hands Calls” with various five- to 10-minute culture segments. One of our favorites is called “Core Value Shout-Outs,” where team members give a shout-out to one another for the way they are exemplifying a particular core value. This form of meaningful recognition doesn’t have to cost a thing.
We also present quarterly Core Value Awards, where the team votes on people who are exemplifying two or three of the values. You can also do “Shout Outs” to recognize one another for a job well done. One tip: The more specific you are with WHY this person is being recognized and HOW they are doing well, the better.
Employee-Hosted Events or Dinners ($ benefit): Another well-loved employee benefit comes from our friends at Airbnb. Aligned with their core value of “be a host,” Airbnb provides stipends for “AirFamily Dinners,” where employees sign up to host dinner in their homes. Guest lists are intentionally made up of people who are least likely to work together so new bonds are created. This is an effective way to increase cross-team collaboration and a sense of connectedness.
What are some of your suggestions for creating a positive work environment? At Delivering Happiness, we coach clients on five “Happiness Habits,” which include altruism, optimism, flow, gratitude, and mindfulness. It would be ideal to embed all five, but embedding just one of the habits will make a difference in cultivating a positive work environment. I recommend choosing the one that feels most natural for your team. A few ideas include:
- Altruism: Altruism is the practice of or selfless devotion to the well-being of others. One of our clients sponsors “Conscious Acts of Kindness.” Every month, one team member receives $50 to use toward a Conscious Act of Kindness. Whether it’s feeding the homeless or providing toys for kids in need, the team member who did the Conscious Act of Kindness then shares the story at a future team meeting. The stories are inspirational and build stronger relationships among staff.
- Flow: Flow is the state of being fully immersed in what you are doing. Athletes often refer to flow as being “in the zone.” We experience flow when the level of challenge in a task meets our level of skill. Employees who regularly experience flow while working (compared to those who do not) are seven times more likely to report that their culture has kind, supportive relationships between employees and is open to new ideas and projects. To bring more flow to your workplace, leaders/managers can start by including “flow” as a question during their team meetings or 1:1 check-ins. Begin by sharing the meaning of flow and then asking: “What would you say is the percent of time you experience flow at work?” and “What tasks or projects give you the most flow?” The more flow your team members experience, the more they will excel. For the tasks that don’t provide flow but need to get done, try gamifying them. See my “From No Flow to Flow at Work” blog post.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of the present moment. With technological advances that can take us anywhere in the world at the click of a button and with the growing demands of business at scale, the concept of mindfulness in the workplace can feel unrealistic. But mindfulness is a simple practice that supports employee well-being, resilience, and stress management. Even five minutes of mindfulness has a positive effect. Try starting your meetings with mindfulness. If there is a team member who is comfortable leading a meditation, have them lead a five-minute session to help people settle in and be present. Alternatively, have people “tune in” by taking a moment for people to quietly focus on their intention for the meeting. Ask them to let go of the rest of their to do’s, because they will still be there after the meeting ends. Then, have each team member share his or her intention with the group.
- Work/life balance: In short, this depends on your definition of balance, both individually and as an organization. What remains universal is the simple truth that we are human beings, not “human doings,” and that balance is a direction to move toward rather than a destination to arrive at. A few examples of how our clients move toward work/life balance include:
- Zero work communication after a certain time each day, such as 7 p.m. or 9 p.m.
- A monetary bonus for NOT checking email while on vacation. It’s frustrating to be out for the week, be constantly on your phone or computer, and then feel like you never really relaxed. When you’re out, you’re out. Ensure the entire team respects that.
- At my company, we do a “Happy, Healthy Me” bonus where we provide team members with a small budget once a year to put toward self-care. Each team member then shares pictures on our team calls to show how they spent their “Happy, Healthy Me” budget. This sends a signal that the health of your employees is important to the organization. If you don’t have extra budget, you could also make this a topic to kick-start a meeting or a theme for the month. Even sparking the conversation can move your culture in the direction of balance.
These examples have worked for certain organizations, but my best recommendation is to ask your team directly. One fun way to open up dialogue is to host a lunch where you invite people to share their greatest pain points when it comes to work/life balance and their ideas for creating more balance.
Employee appreciation, or gratitude (one of the five Happiness Habits), is the easiest and most meaningful way to recognize your employees. People often leave companies because they don’t feel valued, heard, or appreciated. Create a culture of recognition and appreciation by embedding gratitude into as many organizational practices as feels right.
Kelsey Wong is an experience designer, community orchestrator, and culture consultant. With a passionate curiosity for people, Kelsey consults with organizations worldwide to design emotionally intelligent workplaces with humanity at the center. Kelsey is in her happy place when she’s writing, traveling, or floating in the sea. Read more about Kelsey’s work at Delivering Happiness and follow her journey on her blog.