How many times have you heard a manager or executive say this:
“It’s called work for a reason.”
For too long, this was the standard response when business leaders were forced to confront the subject of employee satisfaction.
This statement carries a troubling implication. The subtext here is that work shouldn’t be enjoyable. Work, by this definition, is arduous, punishing, and drains us of our joy and energy.
Until recently, we’ve lived in a society that accepted job dissatisfaction as a fact of life. The prevailing norm is that work is just the thing we suffer through in order to make the good things in life possible.
There’s an obvious problem here: we spend the vast majority of our lives working.
If work is the thing we must suffer through, this means we also spend the vast majority of our lives suffering. (Thoreau’s quote about the masses leading “lives of quiet desperation” seems appropriate here.)
Fortunately, things are changing.
Ushered by a new era of progressive leaders and companies, and a workforce increasingly made up of Millennial workers, expectations have shifted.
These days, the importance of employee satisfaction is undeniable and it impacts your organization in critical ways – everything from your ability to attract and retain talent to the quality of your product and customer service – and is now a major determining factor in the overall success of your business.
How to properly measure and improve employee satisfaction can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve put together this cheat sheet with the 17 best ways to improve employee satisfaction at your company.
Let’s get started!
#1 – Start By Listening
It seems simple, but so many companies overlook this first, critical step.
Before you can begin to address the problem of employee satisfaction, you have to measure the extent of the problem, and the only way to do this is by listening.
Survey your employees. Have them rate their general satisfaction on a scale of 1-10. Ask if they’re learning and growing, if their work is fulfilling, if they feel like they’re contributing and that their work has a sense of purpose.
Here are just a few sample survey questions to help gauge employee satisfaction:
Do you feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things?
Does your work give you a feeling of personal accomplishment?
Do you have the tools and resources to do your job well?
Fortunately, there are plenty of great tools to make this process a snap.
15five was developed by David Hassell around a simple idea (first pioneered by ESPRIT founder Doug Tompkins and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard) that a simple report that takes just 15 minutes for an employee to fill out and five minutes for a manager to read will have a dramatic impact on the overall satisfaction of your workforce. Their software makes it super simple to integrate this practice into your company’s weekly routine.
Both TINYpulse and 15Five provide crucial insights into the state of employee satisfaction, and can help lead you to solutions that will help boost satisfaction and elevate your company.
#2 – Communicate Frequently and Authentically
Your duty to communicate doesn’t stop after your employee satisfaction survey. Frequent, consistent, and above all, authentic communication is a necessary ingredient for employee satisfaction.
Communication doesn’t have to be a big production. A thoughtful, well written weekly email from your CEO can have an outsized impact on morale.
Ask yourself this – when was the last time your entire organization was in the same place at the same time? For large companies, or companies with satellite offices or remote employees, the answer might be never (and that’s a problem).
Hold monthly (or better yet, weekly) all-hands meetings, where the entire company has the opportunity to come together, receive company updates, and ask questions of senior leadership.
Remember that communication is a two-way street, it is as much about listening as it is disseminating.
Most importantly, communicate authentically. This means acknowledging failures as well as successes. Don’t underestimate your employees. They’re smart, and can smell dishonesty a mile away.
Be true to your personality and your mission as a leader in the tone and tenor of your communication, and don’t shy away from the truth, even when times are tough. Your employees will respect you for it.
#3 – Prioritize Employee Health & Wellness
What are you doing right now? Are you sitting or standing?
If you’re reading this at work, odds are… you’re sitting.
Think about how much you sit during the day – in your car on the way to work, at your desk for hours at a time, on your couch as you unwind after a stressful day in front of The Bachelor. (Don’t lie, you love that show too.)
The sedentary nature of office life is having a deleterious effect on our health, and contributing to depressed moods and employee dissatisfaction.
Luckily, there are countless cost-effective solutions. Encourage employees to get up and stretch or go for a noontime stroll. Come up with “deskercises” – simple exercises you can do at your desk or in common areas.
Here’s a simple tactic from leading skincare brand Murad – with a little paint, the company created a “walking track” in their new Los Angeles HQ to encourage employees to take walking meetings throughout the workday.
On the same token, access to nutritious meals and snacks is essential to boosting employee satisfaction by paying attention to their health. Let’s face it, the typical snacks found in vending machine break rooms are loaded with sugar and empty calories.
They make employees sluggish, irritable, and contribute to metabolic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and even high blood pressure and heart disease.
SnackNation’s healthy snack delivery service for offices makes it easy to provide delicious snacks your employees will love. The snacks are always healthy and always tasty.
#4 Define Your Mission
In his pivotal book Drive, author and speaker Daniel Pink outlines three main drivers that motivate human behavior – autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Pink lays out why human beings have an inherent need to know that their work matters, that their work isn’t all for naught. Without a strong sense of purpose, your employees will be left feeling empty and dissatisfied.
Unlock the motivating potential of purpose by defining your company’s mission, and codifying them in core values.
Remember, your mission isn’t your revenue target, your sales numbers, or other KPIs, it’s much bigger than that. It’s the thing you do that makes a difference.
As a leader, think about what inspires you most, the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.
That’s your mission.
Now take that mission and make it a part of your company’s culture. Make sure every employee knows the answer to the question, “Why do we do what we do?”
#5 Set Goals
Now that you have your mission, help your employees map their work back to it by setting motivating stretch goals.
Goals help ensure that your employees’ efforts are constantly aligned with company missions, and everyone employee knows how he or she is contributing.
When people think their efforts don’t matter or don’t move the needle, dissatisfaction is inevitable. Avoid this trap by defining your mission and helping employees set goals that move your company closer to achieving that mission with every small win.
#6 – Focus on Growth and Development
Let’s go back to Mr. Pink and the three motivating factors from Drive.
Mastery is our hidden desire to become experts in our field. We receive satisfaction, Pink argues, from tackling challenges, mastering difficult tasks, and elevating our skill sets and proficiencies.
In order to do this, you have to provide opportunities for your employees to grow. This means both educational opportunities
In addition to expensive (but worthy) programs like subsidized education, there are a number of affordable ways to promote growth and development. You can start an office book club (something we just launched at SnackNation), or set aside time for employees to attend webinars or conferences. Start a mentorship program, in which junior team members shadow
We believe so much in growth and development, that SnackNation has a weekly personal development program called the Sensei Session, where company leaders present educational materials to the entire company. It’s a way to give employees additional tools to their jobs, and to grow as individuals and professionals.
By failing to provide opportunities for growth and development, you risk employees feeling like they aren’t making progress as professionals, which leads to dissatisfaction and burnout.
#7 Break Up Routines
The benefits of routines are well documented. When you do the same things every day or every week, you don’t need to waste time thinking about them.
A set routine allows us to limit the number of choices we make each day, and save our precious decision-making mental energy for the most important choices. (This is why Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein famously wore the same outfit everyday, a tactic recently adopted by President Obama.)
But routines have a downside as well. As much as they help alleviate decision fatigue, they can also create a feeling of boredom or malaise that leads to employee dissatisfaction.
The remedy is simple – break up the routine!
Break your team members out of their rut by surprising with a random half day, or plan a team building offsite.
If the weather is nice and your wifi signal is strong, invite your team to work outside for the day. Simple (and free) things like changing up the environment can do wonders to break up stultifying routines.
Or kill two birds with one stone by scheduling group fitness activities – like bootcamp or yoga – at the end of the workday.
One of our amazing Snack Ambassadors, Kelsey Cook, is a certified yoga instructor, and holds classes at the end of the day every other week. Ending the day with a few chaturangas or warrior poses is a great way to break out of the daily grind.
#8 Play Music
If you’ve ever doubted the power of music to set a mood or provide atmosphere, try watching your favorite movie without the music.
This clip of Pirates of the Caribbean with different scores illustrates the point perfectly:
Music has an uncanny ability to prime our emotions. Playing music is an easy way to set the tone for your office, and to put your workforce in the right mood and mindset to get things done.
Bonus benefit – studies have shown that the elevated mood that music gives us also makes us more productive. Play music without lyrics (like classical or ambient music) to allow for greater focus.
The Vitamin String Quartet has literally hundreds of instrumental renditions of popular songs available for streaming on Spotify and Pandora.
#9 – Give All Employees the Opportunity to Shine
Each month at SnackNation, we open up our Sensei Session program to all employees. This means that anyone in the company can present on a topic of their choice to the entire organization, usually related to business or personal development.
Since teaching is one of the best forms of learning, the benefit is twofold – the organization learns something valuable and new, and the presenter has the opportunity to become a better public speaker and an expert on that particular topic.
Some of our best presentations have been from our more introverted team members, people who had a lot to say but didn’t necessarily have the confidence or the forum to say it yet. Sensei gives all employees a platform to demonstrate their passion and expertise.
Plus, some of our Senseis have really gotten into character and given us some really fun moments:
#10 – Encourage Time for Passion Projects
This key factor comes from our friends at Digital Exits. Your workers don’t want to be doing business as usual. They want to innovate… so let them! One way to do this is give your employees time for passion projects.
Google’s famous “20% time” is a great example of this. The company permitted employees to spend up to 20% of their time – or one day a week – working on a project that wasn’t related to their goals, but about which they were passionate. The results – products like Gmail – speak for themselves.
Doing so gives your employees an outlet to be creative – and one that might benefit your business in the long run.
#11 – Reward Employees for Big Wins
Remember that quote from the beginning of this post? Well, the same people who believe that “it’s called work a reason” probably believe this lie as well –
“Why should I reward employees for doing their job? Isn’t that what their paycheck is for?”
Again, the implications here are cause for concern, and the effects are detrimental.
Motivating your employees for big wins – like hitting key milestones or goals – helps spread goodwill and creates a shared sense of accomplishment and accountability.
So when your team hits that sales number, decreases churn, or makes their projected revenue target, celebrate.
Give them an offsite, a beach or hiking day, or treat them to a party in the office. It’s a signal that leadership recognizes their efforts and will do wonders for satisfaction. Here’s a list of 121 creative ways to reward employees if you need some ideas.
#12 Challenge Your Team
Similar to growth, employees won’t feel satisfied unless they’re challenged. No employee wants to feel like their unique ability isn’t being utilized, or that they aren’t living up to their professional potential.
Think of your team like a muscle – without the stress and discomfort of working out, your muscles won’t grow.
Your employees are the same way. 15five CEO David Hassell made a similar point in a recent interview on the Awesome Office podcast.
On the show, David distinguished between two types of stress: eustress (the good, motivating kind) and distress (the bad, debilitating kind). While distress is harmful, eustress is actually necessary in order for employees to experience breakthroughs. And without those breakthroughs, your employees won’t be satisfied.
One of our core values at SnackNation is to crave and devour challenges, and it’s something we actually look for during the interview process.
Part of this is getting to know individual team members. Sit with them, take them to lunch and learn their personal goals and aspirations, their unique ability. You’ll be better equipped to give them the right tasks to challenge and motivate them.
When it comes to challenges, you don’t have to think long term. While challenges do help align employee efforts to the company’s mission, you can create daily or weekly challenge that focus employee energy and give them a satisfying, short-term push.
Create weekly team challenges, and make them fun.
If you lead a sales team, challenge them to hit a weekly total that’s 5% higher than their previous best week. Reward them with a half day if they hit it.
The point is, challenge them to go beyond what they thought they were capable of, keep them engaged and mindful. The results will speak for themselves.
#13 – Celebrate Milestones
In order to be satisfied at work, employees need to feel appreciated. One way to do that is by celebrating work anniversaries.
Again, there are plenty of ways to do this that won’t break the bank. After the first year, reward employees with movie tickets, gift cards, or a bottle of their favorite adult beverage.
For longer tenures, retire employees’ “jersey” in the rafters at year five, or create a wall of fame and hang their picture to recognize their commitment and achievements.
Game developer Scopely is famous for their off-the-wall anniversary gifts. Employees are presented with engraved Samurai swords and custom oil portraits to commemorate major anniversaries.
Online streaming platform Hulu gives things a more sentimental touch. The company celebrates 5 year “Huluversaries” by presenting employees (aka “Hulugans”) with an engraved wooden box filled with handwritten notes from colleagues, as well as a custom cake… with the employee’s face printed on it.
(Note: This option only works for companies whose employees don’t mind eating their own face.)
Need another reason to celebrate anniversaries? Studies show that employees are more likely to leave your company at the end of yearly internals. By communicating your appreciation during these anniversaries, they’ll be less likely to look for outside opportunities.
#14 – Set Employees Up for Success
While you want to challenge your employees, you also don’t want to set them up for failure. That’s a surefire recipe for a disgruntled staff.
Balancing these competing imperatives can be tough. To do this, set ambitious but achievable goals.
Give challenging but reasonable deadlines. And most importantly, give your employees the tools they need to succeed. Yes, you can and should demand excellence from your employees. But don’t expect super human results.
In other words, if you want your employees to build a house, don’t give them lincoln logs.
Likewise, set clear, measurable targets, nothing vague. It should be black and white whether an employee achieved his or her goal. If you’re a marketer, for instance, your goal shouldn’t to “elevate the brand,” your goal should be to “increase the number of leads by X%.”
You have to set your employees up for success, or they won’t be successful. It’s as simple as that.
#15 – Facilitate Friendships
Undoubtedly there’s an emotional factor involved in employee satisfaction. Employees need to feel appreciated, cared for, supported, and like they’re progressing.
Friendships at work amplify the emotional element in the workplace, and boost satisfaction. When there’s a personal connection between colleagues, you’re more willing to sacrifice for your team, and work just becomes more enjoyable.
We’ve all had jobs where coming in to the office felt like a chore, but when you work with smart, hard working, dependable people who also happen to be your friends (Marketing Squad, aka “Silent Thunder,” I’m looking at you), you actually look forward to coming in every day.
Many companies have a “no a-hole” policy, meaning they won’t hire people who don’t work well with others.
Zappos is famous for integrating socializing into the interview process. Their rationale is that if they don’t jive well with a candidate in a social setting, that person won’t be a fit for the company’s relaxed, joy-driven culture, where friendship between co-workers is the norm.
Of course, you can’t force employees to become friends. But what you can do is facilitate the opportunity for employees to make personal connections with their colleagues by setting aside work time for socializing.
You’ll be surprised how a keg of beer and a tray of healthy snacks can bring people together and allow them to drop their professional guard long enough to find common ground on a personal level.
#16 – Cultivate Amazing Managers
Managers have more impact on employee satisfaction than anyone else – not even the CEO.
Think about it – in most companies (especially larger ones), your average employee makes daily contact with their direct manager, and may rarely interact with the CEO. The manager’s style and personality have a huge impact on employee mood. If style’s clash, this can rapidly lead to dissatisfaction.
Not unlike Ron Burgundy, good managers are kind of a big deal. So why do so many companies suffer from mediocre management?
Too often, decision makers at companies equate success in a role with managerial potential, and automatically promote top performers to management. But managing people is its own animal entirely, and the transition isn’t always a smooth one.
Managing people requires serious emotional intelligence, empathy, time management skills, and communication chops.
While there might be “natural born leaders,” managing people isn’t a gift that you’re either born with or you’re not. It’s a set of skills, and therefore can be taught, learned, and perfected.
So select your employees for management positions who demonstrate a knack for communication or empathy, and teach them the rest. Their direct reports will be more satisfied in the long run.
#17 – Give Back
Purpose has been major theme thus far. In order to feel satisfied at work, employees – especially younger ones – need to know that they are working for something more than a paycheck.
And as we pointed out in the beginning of this post, we spend a major portion of our waking hours at work. Over the course of our lives, that’s a lot of time, effort, and energy. Employees want to know that it’s time well spent.
And yes, your employees are compensated for their time, but the fact remains that for the most part, everyone has a choice about where they work.
By working at your company, your employees are choosing to spend their most precious resource – their time – with you to help your company achieve its goals. By creating opportunities to give back, you’re acknowledging this sacrifice, and connecting your mission to something greater.
So organize volunteer days, like beach cleanups or service in food kitchens or homeless shelters. Donate to a charity – or better yet, start a charity. By doing so, your employees will feel like the time they’ve invested in you is meaningful.
Ideally, you want to align your charitable activities with your mission.
At SnackNation, our mission is to help create Awesome Offices across the country, places that maximize productivity, engagement, and joy, where individuals can do the best work of their careers and where companies can solve the big problems that need our attention.
We firmly believe that nutrition is a key piece of this puzzle, and that by providing healthy snacks where people spend the majority of their time (at work), we can improve the health, wellness, and quality of life for potentially millions of people.
Beyond that, we know that many Americans suffer from food insecurity. So we work with an amazing non profit called Feeding America to provide meals for families suffering from hunger. It’s a cause close to our hearts, and one that gives our employees a sense of pride and accomplishment.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of simple, inexpensive, and effective ways to ensure that your employees are satisfied and productive. It all comes down to challenging your employees, creating a sense of purpose, giving them room to grow, and setting them up for success.
What do you do at your company to ensure employees are satisfied? Let us know in the comments below.