Feb 272012

Aline Masuda, EADA

Aline D. Masuda holds Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Industrial Organizational Psychology. Professor and Co-Department Head at Department of People Management.


Making your employees happy despite the financial crisis.

You are worried. You just read the latest Harvard Business Review article where Dr. Daniel Gilbert reports the scientific evidence showing that happy employees are more productive than unhappy employees. You are asking yourself: how can I make my employees happy if I have to cut their salaries, fire their colleagues, and eliminate their perks?

You may have some reasons to be worried.  Almost half of the managers I surveyed in a recent study in Cataluña have claimed that their working environment has gotten worse since the economical crisis.

However, you may also have some reasons to be happy.

First, 38% of managers that I surveyed believe that the working climate has not changed since the beginning of the financial crisis. Better yet, 14% of the managers have reported that the climate is now better than before.

Second, fortunately, it is possible to create an environment where employees are happy without spending a lot of money.  Specifically, for years psychologists have been accumulating research evidence showing simple ways to make a person satisfied at work. Here are some things you can give your employees and that will not cost you anything.

1.    Give your employees social rewards instead of financial rewards.

Social rewards such as feedback and recognition are as effective as financial rewards. Dr. Peterson from the Arizona State University provides scientific evidence to this claim. She conducted an experiment in restaurants in the U.S.A. to answer the question: Can social rewards be as effective as financial rewards? The results of her study were encouraging.  Specifically, profits increased 30% in the restaurants where employees received financial incentives, and 35% in the restaurants where employees received feedback and recognition.

Employees are thirsty for information about their performance.  If they do
a good job, then they would like to hear about it. If not, then they would like to know how they could do it better.

2.    Give your employees challenging goals and the opportunity to learn.

Employees have the need to grow.  You don’t necessary need to send your employees to an expensive training course. Employees can learn from theirs peers, mentors, or challenging and new assignments.  I just recently published a study with my colleague and former EADA student, Claudia Holtschlag, showing that MBA students who pursued challenging career goals were committed at work because they were satisfied with their jobs.

Employees are hungry for challenge and knowledge. They want to learn and grow. Boredom kills happiness while challenge creates passion.

3.    Give your employees some degree of autonomy. 

My research has shown that employees who are able to work from home report higher levels of job satisfaction than those who are not given the same opportunities. But teleworking and flextime is just one way to give employees autonomy. You may also consider giving up some of your power and letting your employees make some decisions at work.

4.    Give your employees a sense of purpose.

Your employees need to see how their work can contribute to the organization and to the society at large. You must show them the big picture. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of my organization (besides making money)? How can my organization contribute to society? How can I show to my employees that they are also contributing to this purpose?

Last but not least, the best reason for you to be happy is that making your employees happy will make you happy as well!  This recommendation is consistent with scientific evidence showing that helping others is a great way to experience happiness.

As you can see, there are more reasons to be happy than worried. And the brilliant Jazz composer Bobby Mc Ferrin probably knew that when he wrote the song “Don’t Worry Be Happy!”

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