Money & Business

How Far Would You Go To Ensure Your Employees Are Happy?

By / Apr 17, 2014 With a little work, who knows—maybe you can make your employees as happy as "Happy" songsmith Pharrell. (24hoursofhappy.com screenshot)

Would you pay them to quit? Promote from within? Take a look at how some companies are attempting to create positive company cultures that ultimately benefit their bottom lines.

More and more organizations are focusing on the impact their organizational cultures have on the products and services they deliver.

Part of creating a good company culture, though, relies on attracting and keeping employees who are engaged and generally happy in their work. “The quality of the people that you get, grow, and keep on your team directly determines the success of your organization,” management consultant John Spence said recently at ASAE’s 2014 Great Ideas Conference.

Here’s a look at how a few organizations are trying to create a culture that maintains and grows top talent:

Pay Unhappy Employees to Quit

E-commerce giant Amazon is the latest organization to adopt this approach.

In a letter to shareholders last week, the company’s CEO Jeff Bezos explained a new “Pay to Quit” program the company will offer its warehouse employees.

“Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit,” Bezos wrote. “The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up $1,000 dollars a year until it reaches $5,000.”

The headline on the offer to employees is “Please Don’t Take This Offer,” and it explains that: “The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”

The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.

It’s an interesting concept originally introduced by online clothing and shoe store Zappos several years ago as part of an attempt to create a positive company culture that delivers extraordinary customer experiences. And while it seems financially risky, it’s been reported only 2 to 3 percent of Zappos employees take the offer.

What this type of system does do is encourage unhappy, and most likely less-engaged employees, to leave, therefore boosting company morale. It also encourages organizations to exercise more diligence in the hiring process—making better assessments to ensure potential hires will fit the culture.

As Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine, recently wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog post, “Your strategy is your culture, your culture is your strategy.”

Taylor suggested organizations ask themselves these questions: “How engaged are people at every level of the organization in the company and their work—how personally do they take things? How much money would it take to persuade them to leave the organization? And, in the spirit of The Godfather, what are you doing to make sure Pay to Quit is an offer they can refuse?”

Promote and Develop From Within

Fast-casual, Mexican-food chain Chipotle was recently profiled by Quartz for its restaurateur program that allows hourly employees to advance to managerial positions earning more than six figures a year. The program has been so successful that, in 2013, “nearly 86 percent of salaried managers and 96 percent of hourly managers were the result of internal promotions,” Quartz reported.

The program also rewards top-performing store managers who are skilled at running not only their restaurants but also their staff. Once they are selected as restaurateurs, these employees receive a $10,000 bonus for each crew member they train to become a general manager. It’s a system that “ties pay and promotion to how well you mentor people, rather than store sales,” Max Nisen of Quartz wrote.

It also encourages employees to stay with Chipotle rather than moving on to another restaurant and pass on their institutional knowledge, and hopefully enthusiasm, to other workers.

“The foundation of our people culture, on which everything else stands, is the concept is that each person at Chipotle will be rewarded based on their ability to make the people around them better,” Co-CEO Monty Moran told Quartz.

Encourage Workers to Disconnect

While rumors of French employees being banned from checking email after 6 p.m. have been debunked, the idea spawned some conversation about the benefits of disconnecting from work after hours.

Turns out the “obligation to disconnect” that two French labor unions agreed upon actually applies to about a quarter of their independent workers, working a more flexible schedule, to ensure they have at least 11 hours a day to rest, according to Slate. But there are numerous studies illustrating the advantages of unplugging from work, including on vacation or during lunch.

With a plethora of mobile devices it’s easy to take work with you wherever you go, but encouraging staff to take advantage of their downtime can promote creativity, decrease stress, and improve general well-being.

Even taking a few minutes to unplug at lunch can be restorative. “Lunch breaks aren’t just for eating—they provide time to clear your head and recharge,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, which recently conducted a survey on America’s shrinking lunch “hour.” “Workers also can use their lunch breaks to get to know colleagues better and build their professional networks.”

How do you promote employee happiness at your organization? Let us know in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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