An Employee Happiness Revival: 5 Ways Leaders Can Help Put the Spring Back into Their Workers’ Steps

Are your employees happy? Chances are good the answer is no. The most recent survey by the Conference Board research group suggests that only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work—an all-time low since the study was established in 1987. And unhappiness on the job has some very real consequences.

It is impossible to create a healthy company with unhealthy employees. And make no mistake: Unhappy employees are unhealthy employees—psychologically, emotionally, and sometimes even physically. Their misery infects everything they do. And it certainly prevents them from working at top capacity.

The good news is that great leaders can inspire and motivate their employees and help them find renewed passion for their work—even in a less-than-thriving economy. Read on for a handful of tips to help you do just that:

Redefine the vision for your company in 2010. Get clear about where you’re going and enroll others in the campaign. It’s time for leaders to pull those dreams out of the mothballs and create a new and bold vision for their organization. They should also redefine performance and behavioral expectations (core values) for their people. These aspects of business are often watered down or forgotten about completely during a downturn. But the fact is, it motivates people to know where they’re going and what is expected of them along the way—as well as what’s in it for them when they reach the destination.

Without clarity of vision, core values, and performance expectations, you have chaos in the cubicles as people run on their own agendas—and unwittingly work against one another—since the leader failed to create a common vision that unites the team. Great leaders don’t allow people to live in gray areas because they know that it is tough to be aggressive and confused at the same time. Get clear about where you’re going and what you want! There are plenty of things you can delegate as a leader, but vision and clarity for your organization isn’t one of them.

Stop micromanaging. The tendency during a downturn is to begin nitpicking and second-guessing your people, making every decision and coming up with every idea yourself. This sort of micromanagement saps the energy and morale from your team. You treat people like children and then wonder why they act like children! Increase the latitude and discretion of your best people and watch their motivation and creativity levels soar!

Celebrate singles. Business leaders love to celebrate the homeruns in their business. But in a downturn, there are fewer “big hits” to cheer, and much time can elapse between such occasions. This lack of positive reinforcement can lull a culture to sleep. Begin looking for the “little” things that people do right and that go right and celebrate those. Reinforce them publicly, quickly, and loudly! This attitude of “good finding” begins to shift the culture in a positive direction, as it builds up people and starts a positive chain reaction throughout your organization. Remember: Reinforced people tend to reinforce other people.

Lead from the front. Get out of your office and reengage with your people and customers. Become more visible, accessible, instructional, and motivational and eventually you’ll become unstoppable. Ask more questions and give fewer answers. Questions engage employees and show that you value them.

Some leaders have gotten so dazed by data and numbed by numbers that they’ve lost touch with their people. They’re sitting in their offices collecting calluses on their backsides trying to “turn the numbers around,” when they need to get out front, put some calluses on their feet and turn their people around—and then their people will turn the numbers around!

Quite frankly, the biggest morale problem in most businesses today is rooted in the fact that the leaders of the organization have stopped leading. Instead, they tweak, tinker, tamper, manage, massage, maintain, administer, and preside—but have no positive impact on their people or culture. This is why the old saw is true: “A fish rots at the head.” In other words, when you’re having problems in an organization, you don’t try to fix it in the middle or at the bottom. If you want the organization to “get right,” the leadership must “get right” first!

Set shorter-term goals. Long-term goals are less relevant during a downturn because of uncertainty. Besides, when things are tough, you need to see something happen now. Shorter-term goals—daily goals—narrow an employee’s focus and cause him or her to get into motion and take action today! These goals liven up a workplace, creating energy, urgency, and more teamwork as people rally together to meet them.

You can set a combination of activity and results goals, since if you manage the right activities, you will end up with the desired results. By putting the additional structure that daily goals bring into your workplace, you create positive motion and employee energy that evokes emotion and shakes out apathy.

About the Author:
Dave Anderson is president of Dave Anderson’s Learn to Lead and has given over 1,000 leadership presentations in thirteen countries. He is the author of How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business; If You Don’t Make Waves, You’ll Drown; Up Your Business!; How to Deal with Difficult Customers; and the TKO business series, all from Wiley. He and his wife, Rhonda, are co-founders of The Matthew 25.35 Foundation, which helps feed, educate, and house destitute people throughout the world. For more information, please visit

About the Book:
How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business (Wiley, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-4704964-2-8, $24.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797.