Happiness at work is hot. People and organizations all across the world are eagerly trying to improve the way we work. Not just to improve the lives of the large number of disengaged employees, but also to make companies, NGOs, hospitals and schools more successful, effective, and productive. And there’s a good reason for it: there is a huge amount of untapped potential within organizations since only a tiny part of the workforce is truly engaged with their work. The fact that happiness at work is trending seems to be a good thing, but the way most companies are trying to “implement it” is fundamentally flawed.
In an effort to create a better workplace, lots of companies believe that there is a fixed model available that will solve their problems instantly: implement this magic model and a “happy company” is guaranteed. Unfortunately, this ain’t true for a bit. Because, if such a model did actually exist, a lot more than the current 13% of the world’s workforce would be engaged.
While the intention of increasing happiness at work is a good thing, the way it’s executed is often doomed to fail. Let’s summarize some of the lessons we’ve learned during our research.
One of the most commonly made mistakes we encounter is simply copy-pasting a model that proved to be successful in another organization. The assumption often seems to be: “if it works somewhere else, it will work here too”. However, this assumption has proven to be wrong time and time again.
We see it happening all around us. The successful organizational model of Buurtzorg is being “adopted” by other health care organizations. A quickly growing number of companies are using the Agile Scrum methodology to run their projects. And Holacracy is being implemented as an off-the-shelf solution leaving companies like Zappos heavily struggling with it.
An interesting example is ING Bank, which has adopted “the Spotify model“ in parts of their organization. They copied it so well, that they actually use the Spotify model more strictly than the people at Spotify do themselves. While Spotify emphasizes that their organizational model is “way fuzzier in practice than in theory”, companies such as ING copy-paste the model and forget the most important things: the underlying principles.
By copy-pasting models from other organizations, the most important thing for successful organizational change is often overlooked: the specific needs of employees and their environment. Even more painfully, the input from employees is very often not even taken into account in the first place.
Listen to your employees
The simplest and (unfortunately) least practiced technique for happiness at work is simply listening to employees. We witness time and time again that the best companies to work for are the ones that actively listen to what their employees want and care about. Whether it’s in terms of how to do business or how to organize their work. Not only does this make them feel valued, it also leverages the combined intelligence of all those who are involved.The simplest and (unfortunately) least practiced technique is simply listening to employees. Click To Tweet
The idea that the CEO knows everything better than his employees is outdated (if it ever was applicable) and painfully arrogant. Better start by listening to the people that are doing the actual work; production workers who are handling the manufacturing equipment, teachers who are in front of their students all day, and nurses who are taking care of patients day in, day out.
Apparently copy-pasting specific models isn’t a good idea when you desire to successfully create a happier workplace. But it is very powerful to gather inspiration from a plenitude of success stories readily available. Most of the successful companies we visit(ed) have their own specific sources of where they draw their inspiration from.
Ari Weinzweig is inspired by various anarchists, Rene van Loon drew inspiration from Simon Sinek, and Nearsoft’s Matt Perez was influenced by the unusual combination of pirate ships and Ricardo Semler.
Or as Jean Francois Zobrist puts it: “I strongly believe that there are no universal models, as there are no models that can give a soul to a collective. What can be done is to listen to testimonies and get inspiration from them.”
Find your own way
So if you’re looking for ways to further grow the engagement and happiness within your own team or organization, please take the above described lessons into account. And definitely don’t just blindly copy-paste what others are doing.
Instead, listen to your employees and team members, gather inspiration from various sources, and find your own unique path towards happiness. It might sound a lot harder than just copy-pasting an existing model, but if you truly want to make a positive change, it’s well worth the effort.
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