Discover Performance

HP Software's community for IT leaders // September 2013

Increase success: Manage for happiness

Employers and workers alike need to figure out how to be happy, in a meaningful way—because that, says HP consultant Joshua Brusse, is the key to a new era of work.

Joshua Brusse, HP’s Singapore-based management and IT consultant, recently wrote an article for Discover Performance about the rise of flex work, and how managers and employees can get the most out of a trend enabled and fueled by mobile technology, globally distributed work teams, and more.

To follow up, we asked him about the new skills and perspectives a manager or executive needs to have in the face of the changing nature of workers and the workplace. While he went into a good number of specifics, his high-level message might be summed up as “manage for happiness.”

For the bottom-line oriented, he notes that unhappy employees cost a lot of money (Gallup quantifies this as $450 billion to $550 billion annually in lost productivity). In the workplace, we often speak of “engagement,” Brusse noted. “That’s a good word,” he said, “because in my experience, connection is the top prerequisite for happiness, but it isn’t the whole picture.”

The whole picture, he said, includes the way that a lack of happiness in work affects our off-hours, and how off-hours unhappiness affects us at work. While no boss can manage an employee’s 24/7 emotional state, helping with work–life integration and with satisfaction and connectedness on the job goes a long way toward creating employees who make ever-better contributions to the bottom line. That gave us the starting point for this Discover Performance interview.

Q: Are you saying it’s the employer’s task to shift the employee’s perspective on happiness, or to react to an organic understanding that is evolving?

Joshua Brusse: I believe it’s something between the two. The employer should drive the individuals out of the “paycheck” mode by making them aware that there are many different ways to be rewarded. The employee must slowly evolve to that concept. Some will never learn (or at least not quickly) because their life objective is not connected to where they work now.

Also, it’s important to understand that people can’t be happy at home and unhappy at work, or the other way around. It’s interrelated and integrated, and technology and globally dispersed work teams are driving deeper integration. Everyone wants to make a good salary, but there’s more than that to being happy—at work and in life.

And often it’s not the employee but the employer who needs to evolve.  I have seen many managers who don’t understand that their direct reports want to be rewarded differently, because the managers feel like the remuneration is okay, so “no problem.”

Q: So we’d start with some of the Silicon Valley startup amenities: well-stocked kitchen, flexible hours, a freedom of work style, and ability to offer ideas in a flatter organization. Is that it?

JB: Well, take a look at my adaptation of the Maslow pyramid of needs. Much of what you just mentioned falls into the lower segments. I’m not saying a given startup culture isn’t satisfying the higher needs, but those workplace comforts are far from the whole story.

Also, how to satisfy all these needs varies from worker to worker. Some people don’t really want a lot of autonomy, because they’re happier with collaboration or firm guidance. A company needs to look at how it generally works to satisfy all these needs, while letting managers fine-tune for individuals.

Q: If leaders decide to look into managing for happiness, how do they start? What should a company do now to become a naturally happier workplace?

JB: It’s important that employees become aware of what roadblocks there are to being happy. That’s where an organization should start: working on awareness. This can be general awareness of a few basic concepts, but also working with individuals who you know are, in general, more unhappy. Companies should train their managers to handle those conversations.

Secondly, they should actively and visibly show employees that the company has a purpose, and that people can be proud working for them. Make sure that they experience the company as fair and honest—that working for the company’s goals also furthers their own goals. People can’t feel exploited: they should feel like valued assets, and should see some investment back into the workforce. Leaders have to walk the talk.

Thirdly, enablement: make sure people are trained to do their role in the company well, and have opportunities to develop. Also: look into job rotations that keep people interested and engaged, broaden their skills, and connect them more deeply to the company and its goals and with other people. And by job rotation, I actually mean “program rotation,” because people are increasingly working on particular company programs rather than “doing a job.” The more you rotate a person from program to program, the better the results.

Another part of enablement is to create policies for flex work that improve work–life balance and productivity. Increase autonomy for those who want it and can work better with it.

Q: How do you measure workplace happiness, both in general and in terms of which policies cause how much happiness—the ROI on individual initiatives?

JB: You have to train leaders/managers to measure and observe. It’s difficult to measure exactly which policies are effective. Obviously this has a subjective and an objective aspect. You can train leaders to observe, and you see productivity, you see attrition rates, use of sick days (which are sometimes used as “mental health days”), and you collect anecdotal evidence. You can do surveys—HP does its “Voice of the Workforce” survey each year. The results are subjective, but then so is happiness.

Also, I see companies that focus a lot on social awareness as a purpose, offering programs that make it easier for employees to do volunteer work. Others focus on health by subsidizing gym memberships or sponsoring recreational sports teams. You can look at objective participation levels and other measures, plus get an anecdotal sense to see how these are embraced.

Q: Your most recent article focused on flex work. How does that contribute to “managing for happiness”?

JB: It can contribute a lot. For the company, it helps attract and retain talent, because it increases workers’ happiness and loyalty. It also brings you talent that perhaps can’t work a strict 9–5, in-the-office schedule, such as working parents. Flex work helps workers beat traffic congestion and wasted travel time, makes work–life integration better, and increases their productivity and sense of control, or agency, over their lives.

And people who are not confined in their little office box can literally think outside of it. All the flex workers and managers I’ve interviewed agree that changing where and when you work increases creativity and focus by breaking monotony. It also helps people look at work as something not separated from—and less important than—“real life.”

Joshua Brusse has more than 20 years’ experience in all aspects of running IT as a business. He consults with HP enterprise customers  regarding strategy, governance, service lifecycle management, and organizational design and transformation. See his previous article, on flex work, and come back next week for a third article on the future of work.

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