The Conditions for Happiness: Increased Retention Comes from Managing People Well

June 15, 2022

One of the biggest challenges companies face today is talent retention – and it’s only been heightened by the pandemic. Employees are leaving companies in droves – 45 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2022, alone. And it’s driving some very unique responses, like the rise of the Chief Happiness Officer.

Tasked with enhancing peoples’ sense of engagement and belonging at work, CHOs entice employees with splashy group events, ping pong tables in the office, and chef prepared meals. It’s coming from the right place, but it’s missing one key point. While we can create the conditions for happiness, we can’t make other people happy. No one can.

Autonomy, mastery, and purpose drive motivation

Happiness is incredibly subjective and personal. If people are inherently unhappy in their work, no one-size-fits-all solution will change that. Instead, we need to think about creating an environment where employees feel motivated, as Daniel Pink describes in his book, Drive. To do that, Pink says, we need to help people attain autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy – support people in doing their best work: provide tools and resources, remove obstacles or barriers, and encourage their efforts, while giving them the freedom to direct their own lives.

Mastery – employees want to learn and develop their skills. They also need the space to take risks and make mistakes – and be supported by their leaders as they look to get better and better at their work.

Purpose – all of us want to feel that what we’re doing is useful. That our work helps others and contributes to the business. Ensuring employees tap into that sense of purpose is vital to their motivation and productivity at work.

Find out what’s important to each employee

Having one-on-one coaching conversations, deep dialogues with someone about what they care about, is one of the best ways to encourage and nurture motivation. It means asking lots of questions and being prepared to design a customized job for each individual.

Start with the big motivators: What conditions are important to you? What do you value most? What do you want to learn in your role? Are you clear on your purpose? Do you understand how you and your contributions fit in to the organization? What do you need from me?

Then you can look at the more operational concerns: Where do you want to work? How often do you want to come into the office? Who do you want to work with? What technology/tools/resources do you need to be effective?

Improving employee retention is less about making sure everyone is happy and more about managing and coaching your people well. It’s about connecting with employees and ensuring they feel rewarded and valued, their jobs are interesting, and they’re contributing to something greater than themselves.

It’s going to take a shift for many companies from looking at employees as a group to looking at each employee as an individual. If we can do that, chances are more people will stay, be motivated in their work, and contribute more to their organizations, too.

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