Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What's The Best Way To Keep Employees Satisfied?


There's a reason why The Office is such a popular hit TV show, that has been subject to numerous remakes from around the world. While often exaggerated, the life of seemingly regular office workers relates to many, many people who can see glimpses of their own office in the TV show.



86% of American workers sit all day at work- and the majority of these, like Michael Scott and co., are likely to be office workers. Given that the economy is driven by people working, the office is a generator for growth and economic success, and thus plays a key role in any nation's fortunes, let alone a company's.

When it comes to how offices should be run, however, there is a distinctive lack of uniformity across businesses and countries. From the renowned 'Google-plex', the Silicon Valley HQ of Google, to the more traditional cubicle based offices that have existed for decades, the office today arguably plays the greatest role it ever has in the lives of employees.

To begin looking at what kind of office brings the best results, we have to first determine what the desired result is. This will, of course, differ between businesses- but a safe assumption to make would be that a business seeks to maximise the productivity of its employees, taking cost into account. That is, the business wants to maximise output, while relatively minimising how much it pays for it.

And to go deeper, what determines productivity? Again, there are an abundance of factors- but, for simplicity, we'll look at two of the biggest- employee satisfaction, and employee organisation. We'll be exploring the first of the two today.

Employee satisfaction
The term 'satisfaction' is highly subjective, of course. Many people, usually those on the lower end of the income spectrum, will not be overly concerned with job satisfaction- sadly because many will not have the luxury of doing so. For people struggling financially, or with a lack of alternatives, hard work is a must.

Recently, a trend of 'job-hopping' has emerged, particularly among the younger generation, who seem more willing than ever to switch between jobs. They seek new challenges, new experiences, and for the more educated there is arguably more choice than ever, especially given the globalisation of the jobs market.

Thus, some younger workers today are more sensitive to their satisfaction at work- which is why companies nowadays must invest significantly in their offices if they want to recruit the brightest young people.

Not only does the prospect of job satisfaction help a business' recruitment, but it has been proven to improve performance on the job. A recent study from the University of Split in Croatia concluded that "there was an impact of the majority of job satisfaction factors on organisational performance". This is rather common sense- people who feel happier at work are likely to spend more time at work, likely to be more willing to work and thus are likely to perform better (though there is little consensus on whether more hours = better results).

The atmosphere of the office plays perhaps the most obvious role in determining employee satisfaction. This starts with the design of the office itself. Apple is not spending an expected $5bn on its beautiful new Apple Campus just for the sake of publicity- but research has proven repeatedly that a more scenic environment helps to improve wellbeing, and thus productivity at work.
Apple's new 'Spaceship' head office in Palo Alto, California

Psychology is key here- features of an office like an abundance of natural light, tall ceilings and even sufficient distance between workers and screens can impact the productivity of a worker. Evidently, this is not a discovery that works in favour of cubicle offices.

The mental wellbeing of an employee also has to be cared for- gone are the days when a worker was just counted as a number. Businesses now have to realise the full human aspect of their employees, and this is where the support system in an office is crucial. A good HR department, and sufficient pastoral support for employees can generate substantial improvements in productivity.

The employer-employee relationship must be a positive one. Bosses can no longer rely on fear, and their position of authority to bring sustainable results- they must be a lot smarter than that. They must take an active interest in their employees, and develop relationships that engender trust and loyalty from those who work for them. Different bosses will naturally have different styles that bring their results, but generally it is crucial that a boss is honest, considerate and open to their employees. Hating one's boss is such a common phenomenon that Hollywood got 2 films out of it- but in the real office, the boss-employee relationship is perhaps the most important of them all.

Maintenance of a good work-life balance is also very important. Schemes such as paid maternity and paternity leave are in vogue, and for good reason. Offering employees a 'sabbatical', time off to pursue other positive interests, also has a positive impact.

A positive community atmosphere helps massively. Whether it is through creation of communal lunch spaces, office events and competitions, or perhaps most importantly a strong bond between employer and employee, a business must invest both time and money into the office community. Not only does it improve the team harmony, which can lead to more positive results in work, but it gives employees another reason to want to work. Of course, the time dedicated to such activities must be balanced with the actual time spent working. Anyone who has watched 'The Office' will know that practically nothing actually gets done when employees are too chummy with each other. But there is a school of thought that believes once employees are taken care of and in a positive state of mind, the employees themselves will be motivated, and feel a duty, to self-regulate and ensure they get their work complete.

A positive workplace can have drastic impact on employee tenure- how long an employee stays with the business. As we mentioned earlier, the average tenure of an employee is decreasing these days- and there are both benefits and losses associated with these, that largely depend upon the firm. On the one hand, a high employee turnover rate can lead to a dynamic, fresh firm that does not get so entrenched in any old, perhaps flawed ways. On the other hand, such a high turnover requires significant investment by way of recruitment and induction, and perhaps has the adverse effect of reducing employees' loyalty to the firm.

For example, a law firm is likely to desire greater employee tenure. It will want barristers who have experience in the court of law and the kind of clients the firm serves. On the other hand a management consultancy firm (for example McKinsey & Co., which has a notoriously low average tenure) may have an interest to refresh its workforce with new blood to keep up with the changing landscape of the business world. Of course, that's not to say firms with lower average tenure will deliberately create negative workplaces- they have 'other ways' to ensure a lower tenure.

In today's world, businesses have to focus on their employees' satisfaction more than ever, and to do so, many businesses will go to extraordinary lengths: whether it's Google's free gourmet meals for all employees (which we'll discuss more next week), or Uber's super-cool office, happier employees will generally perform better.

The challenge that exists for the majority of businesses who are not Google or Uber is having the capacity to invest in such things. For these businesses, the cost of building a trendy office, or giving free food to all employees may not be financially viable (at least in the short run). This is where the less material aspects come into play. Small businesses can still offer career development opportunities to employees. Most small businesses can still create an open office atmosphere. Small businesses are suaully better, in fact, at fostering team spirit.

So whether a company is a giant or a dwarf, it is key that it recognises the importance of employee satisfaction, and invest for long run productivity gains, one way or another.

Mohammad Lone Editor