Organizations worry about productivity and engagement. Employees care about fun and happiness. Make them happy and they will get engaged. Deprioritize or ignore their satisfaction and they will find an employer who will make it the number one focus.


When is the last time your employee said, “Oh I love that new social media policy we just announced — it just makes me so engaged!” Uhh, I’m guessing not so much. Think of employee satisfaction and engagement with employers in a similar context as personal relationships with spouses, domestic partners, significant others or the like. Before you put the engagement ring on the finger, I bet you first make sure he makes you wildly happy!

If you are not in the business of being OK with losing your best performers, then making your employees happy is your responsibility even if “it isn’t in my job description” as one senior leader told me last week. Our research finds a correlation between employee satisfaction and productivity. We are not alone. A recent study by the economists at the University of Warwick corroborated our results, finding that employee happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity and unhappy workers were 10% less productive. Neuroscience experts and psychologists confirm the same notion that our brains simply work better and we get more accomplished when feeling positive and satisfied.

So in looking at the evidence, I feel safe in subscribing to the “happiness first, engagement next” principle. Assuming you go with me for a moment on that one, let’s talk about that which makes employees happy at work.

Give Me Choices

Most folks – regardless of age, profession, or experience level – like choices. That includes our employees, particularly Millennials. The more choices you give them, the happier they are: Do you want to work at home? Or in the office?  … The customer feedback hints at quality and inventory issues. We need to fix both. Which one do you feel is more relevant to accelerating achievement of our business goals? The more choices you can reasonably offer, the happier your employees will be – and this principle relates to everything from work arrangements to benefits.

Choices motivate employees, empowering them to do their best work. I might even suggest that the business value of choices goes beyond prompting best work  — it encourages discretionary effort.

Make It Fun for Me to Work Here

Workforces are happy when their workplaces are fun. It’s that simple. In Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 State of Talent Management Study, “build a great place to work” made the top five 2016 business priorities, and was less than 10 points behind the number one priority of improving revenue.

Top 5 2016 Business Priorities

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          Source: Brandon Hall Group 2016 State of Talent Management Study

During our 2016 State of Talent Management Study, executives’ definitions of  “a great place to work” sounded like this:

  • “We have a great onboarding process; new hires know what to do on their first day.”

–CIO “Jack” at Silicon Valley technology startup

  • “I think we have a great compensation package.”

–HRBP “Evelyn” at a global manufacturer

  • “We just got this new performance management software and the managers said it is easy to use. I know the employees will love it—way more efficient for everyone than the paper-driven process we used previously.”

–CEO “Alicia” at an enterprise pharmaceutical


And, employees’ description of a “a great place to work” went like this:

  • “This place is just awesome. It’s funky and our managers respect us for who we are.”

–Software Analyst “Manish” from large technology firm

  • “We are allowed to be weird. No dress code, no expectations. Just get your work done. That’s all. We can play foosball in the lunchroom or throw the football outside and no one looks at you funny even though it’s 10 a.m. What could be better?”

–Marketing Coordinator “Ariel” from a global hospitality company

  • “It’s our ‘make it home by dinner time’ philosophy. We work hard, and play hard too. I’ve never worked anywhere else like this. I’ll stay here forever. Our leaders are cool … not arrogant. They are always stopping by to see how we are doing and how they can help. And, they even let me build my own merchandising display. I’m not taking orders from them – I’m learning from the insights they share with me. Working here is cool.”

 –Fashion Merchandiser “Angel” in a large clothing retailer

  • “This isn’t a cookie cutter corporate office. We work in a rave. We are all ravers!”

 –Call Center Rep “Skip” from a large Internet retailer


Do the descriptions look markedly different? I’ll let you decide. Would you rather work with Manish or Ariel, Angel or Skip OR work for Jack, Evelyn, or Alicia? Again, I’ll let you decide!

45% of organizations described their cultures as dysfunctional – specifically internally competitive to the demise of the overall organization and very controlling as well. I’m encouraged to know, however, that 30% of those organizations told us that they plan to focus on ‘enhancing corporate culture’ over the next 12 months.

Share Your Personal Attention with Me

Employees expect to work with great leaders because they provide the best opportunities for development and growth. Talent begets talent. And the happiest employees work in organizations where great leaders across the entire enterprise freely give personal, dedicated, one-on-one time, sharing private stories of success and failure and exposing the what and the why behind how meaningful work gets done.

In organizations where employees described leaders as genuinely caring about employees’ welfare and providing personal development as well as offering individualized work that leverages their strengths and makes a business difference, employees’ happiness scores were approximately eight times higher than in peer organizations with leaders who neglect to build authentic, personal relationships with employees.

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Source: Brandon Hall Group 2016 State of Talent Management Study


Cultures that infuse choice, fun, and personalized attention enable and nurture employee satisfaction, and satisfied employees are happy employees. Happy employees are motivated, inspired, passionate, delivering discretionary effort at rates that far supersede any disgruntled, unhappy co-worker. Sounds a bit like what a CEO might describe as employee engagement!

So where is your organization on the happy employee continuum? Do your leaders embrace flexibility and choice? Do they model an authentic sense of personal care and concern about employees? Do they foster a fun environment? Or is the tone at top inflexible, rigid and punitive, thus trading away productivity, high performance, happy employees…and business performance?

Until next time….


Laci Loew, VP and Principal Analyst, Talent Management

Brandon Hall Group


Laci Loew

A principal talent analyst and consultant with Brandon Hall Group, Laci is expert in all areas of human capital management particularly talent management, leadership, leadership development, and succession management. She has worked in the public and private sectors consulting global and matrix Fortune companies across all industries on integrated talent initiatives. Laci holds a bachelor of science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; earned her MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management; and is currently a PhD candidate in organizational psychology. Laci’s hometown is Chicago and she is based in Las Vegas.

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