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I recently watched a six-person panel made up of spa and hospitality leaders discuss how they are making a real difference in the overall happiness of their teams. One of the main points of concern was the lack of employee connection. In fact, industry-wide, it was observed that the deeper the connections were between staff, the less issues there were with daily operations like getting shifts covered.
The issue of employee happiness isn’t isolated to hospitality — in fact, a recent survey released by BambooHR showed travel and hospitality is one of the rare industries that is seeing steady improvement in employee net promoter scores since the pandemic (although looming staff shortages still threaten that stability).
Overall, employee happiness has steadily declined at the rate of 6% since 2020 and is trending in the wrong direction. This year, employee net promoter scores have decreased 9% since January — 10 times faster than the previous three years.
From tech to education to healthcare (which had the lowest happiness score amongst all eight industries surveyed) we’re experiencing a crisis of unhappiness in the workforce, which some have cleverly coined as “The Great Gloom.
As we head into the holidays, which for many only increases stress, here are three unconventional ways employers can cultivate employee happiness at work.
Related: 3 Proven Ways to Keep Employees Happy
Prioritize connection at work
When it comes to cultivating happiness at work, many professionals have focused on the importance of feeling connected to an organization’s purpose. While this is a valid point of view, we cannot forget the importance of also fostering connection amongst employees.
In 2024, it’s expected nearly 32.6 million Americans — approximately 22% of the workforce — will work remotely, and even a higher number will hold hybrid positions. While remote and hybrid work offer employees much-needed flexibility, if not implemented with intentional ways of cultivating team connection, working remotely can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Even in in-office environments, we’re increasingly relying on digital channels as our primary means of communication. While sending an email or text is efficient, it’s not effective at cultivating real, human relationships. While it may seem counterintuitive to achieving workplace productivity, initiating downtime at work is one of the most effective ways leaders can foster employee connection and happiness at work.
In fact, research has shown employees who take breaks from actively working have greater mental focus, broader perspective and are more productive. Initiating downtime at work can be as simple as organizing a group lunch where everyone watches an inspiring Ted Talk together or a snack break (virtual or in person) where the primary focus is to socialize and check in.
Downtime at work doesn’t have to be a big-budget initiative, but it does have to be prioritized so all leaders feel empowered to create opportunities for their teams to connect on a human level.
Related: 5 Easy Ways to Create Stronger Workplace Connection
Make flexibility a non-negotiable
Our company is proudly women-founded, women-led and employs predominantly women. As such, many of my colleagues take on the role of mothers or caregivers for aging parents or loved ones, in addition to their full-time job.
Expecting my team to show up for our company before they’ve shown up for themselves or the people they care for, sets us all up to fail. So, it’s crucial we have flexibility in our culture to allow for varying schedules and processes that still meet our shared company objectives.
Every company has a diverse DNA, and offering flexibility to meet shared company goals — whether it be through schedule, location or process — is a key factor for cultivating happiness in the workplace. A study published by the Harvard Business Review showed nearly 96% of U.S. professionals said they wanted flexibility, but less than 50% had it.
When employees have greater flexibility to balance their personal and professional lives, it creates less stress and also fosters a culture of trust where people are empowered to take ownership of managing their work and achieving targets.
As a leader, my primary concern is creating an environment where everyone on my team can work hard and feel valued, and there’s no better way to do this than by providing structured flexibility.
Related: Want Happy Employees? Make Sure Your Leaders Have These 4 Key Characteristics.
Offer economic transparency
Over the past few years, economic uncertainty and the rising cost of living have become a huge concern for employees and employers alike. It’s hard to cultivate a sense of happiness amongst employees if there are concerns around job security.
A 2023 work monitor report by Randstad showed 52% of respondents were worried about the impact economic uncertainty would have on their job security, and 37% were explicitly concerned about losing their job. While no company can fully predict how macroeconomic factors might affect their business, leaders can be as transparent as possible.
In our company, we review company performance numbers with our entire team on a daily basis. Goals, projections and sales revenue are all reported as part of a mandatory company huddle. We lead with the idea that every team member, regardless of their title, is a leader, and as such, everyone is invited to address concerns and put forward solutions without waiting for someone to ask them.
By being as transparent as possible about company performance, leaders can create a culture of empowerment over fear. Even when things aren’t going well, it offers employees an opportunity to be part of the solution and impact the outcome. If hard cuts do have to be made down the road, employees are also more likely to have an emotionally positive experience if they understand the full picture than if they are left in the dark about company hardships.
As leaders, the onus is on us to evaluate our company cultures and implement strategies to strengthen them. Not only do deeper workplace connections create happier employees, but they help build a sense of belonging, increase employee loyalty and support a culture everyone can be proud of.