How to build a happy workplace culture

Capricorn Members talking and smiling

If someone told you how to get 13% more productivity out of your existing workforce, you’d listen, right? What if they told you all it took was making sure your employees felt happy?

That’s what a team of researchers from Oxford University found in 2019. Their results back up the findings of a 2015 study from Warwick University, also in the UK, which put the productivity dividend of happiness around 12%. These may even be conservative figures. In his internationally bestselling book The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor claims a decade of research proves, “happiness raises sales by 37%, productivity by 31% and accuracy on tasks by 19%”. He also points out there are myriad health and quality of life improvements.

Shawn’s TED Talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work”, has had more than 25 million views, so a lot of people want to learn from his insights. But even if the reality is closer to Oxford University’s results, it’s a brave business owner who ignores the potential positive impacts of happiness on the workplace—particularly when the industry is struggling with an ongoing labour shortage and employees always have the option to move on.

So, how do you make sure your workshop is a happy workplace? It starts with creating a positive culture. In State of the Nation in 2021, we took a deep dive into what Members were doing to create a positive workplace culture. Here’s what you told us.

Ways of promoting a positive culture

54% - Shout the team lunch or dinner

49% - Pay for staff training and development

43% - Provide lunch onsite

33% - Offer bonuses

32% - A stocked pantry/fridge

30% - Organise social events or other team-building activities

26% - Time off in lieu

22% - Give gift vouchers

As per the graphic: Ways of promoting a positive culture from the State of the Nation 2021 report.

These are all excellent ways to create a positive workplace culture and a great starting point to build your happiness dividend. Now, let’s dive a little deeper—because there’s a lot more to happiness than free pizza on Fridays.

It starts with values

Providing leadership on your values, setting and clearly communicating expectations and boundaries, and being a role model for the behaviour, standards and values you want to see in your staff are always the place to start if you need to turn around a negative culture. Communicate this positively. Get the team onboard.

Hire for the culture you want to create

When bringing anyone new into the business, make sure they share the values of the business and the culture you’re creating. Onboard them properly, ensuring they are clear on your values and making sure they feel welcome. Do not leave someone to “sink or swim” and expect them to be a happy and positive influence on everyone around them.

Foster workplace friendships

Research from the pollster Gallup, reported in Harvard Business Review, found that employees who work with people they consider friends are 50% more satisfied with their jobs. Those who work with their best friend are, “seven times more likely to engage fully in their work”. If you have the right workplace culture in place, that’s a winning formula. If you’re recruiting new staff, ask your team if they have a good mate they can recommend. Arrange activities and events for the team to do together.

Aim for excellence

There’s an old saying that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Demanding health and safety regulations are followed, insisting on a clean and tidy workshop, providing clean uniforms for staff, encouraging employees to report hazards, investing in the right tools and equipment and clamping down on unacceptable behaviour all demonstrate you’re serious about being a great place to work and you care about your team.

Have open communication channels

Open communication between staff and management is vital, lest grumbles fester and problems go unsolved. Unresolved issues can be a massive productivity killer. Encourage your team to come to you with ideas and questions, be patient, listen carefully, and make improvements. Similarly, trust them with information about how the business is going, what your goals are for the month, the quarter, the year. Incentivise them to help you meet your targets.

A little praise goes a long way

Recognise good work. Let employees see that you’ve noticed a job well done. Thank them, encourage them and praise them in front of the rest of the team. While grand gestures are good, like an “employee of the month” award, don’t underestimate the value of regular, consistent, small words of praise or thanks in the moment. “You did a great job on that Hilux today,” might be enough to send your apprentice home with a spring in their step, and have them bounce into the workshop the next morning.

Build your team’s skills

Providing training to your team is an absolute win-win. When you invest in training for an employee, you might think you’re investing in your business and future productivity, but your employee sees that you’re investing in their skills and education, and that tells them that you value them and want them to stick around. Pro-tip: Ask your team members what training they’d like to do. This can generate a lot of enthusiasm. Talk openly with staff about their career goals and offer them pathways towards them.

Don’t micromanage

Riding an employee hard can be very demotivating for them and it’s a massive productivity suck for both you and them. Encouraging them by giving them more responsibility shows you trust them and value their skills and judgement, which can improve their general happiness. Encourage them to ask questions where they’re unsure and be patient in your replies. Offer more training where an employee is really struggling.

Give them a stake in the outcome

Consider whether you’re in a position to give your employees a bit of “skin in the game”, perhaps through bonuses if certain performance levels for the whole business are met. If you’re nearing retirement, perhaps you have a team member who you could bring into a management or leadership role, with a view to them buying you out in five or ten years’ time.

Provide flexible working arrangements

Employees are increasingly demanding flexible working arrangements. That’s all well and good for office workers, but technicians can’t log in from home, which can make flexibility harder to accommodate. Look for ways to be creative. Can an employee open up in the morning in order to knock off in time to do the school run? Can they hang back one day a week to close so they can take Friday mornings off for their kids’ assembly? You want a good work-life balance, and so do your employees. In a very competitive labour market, being flexible is a real winner.

This article was published 18/04/2023 and the content is current as at the date of publication.