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By , June 7, 2010 11:25 am

Do you want your employees to be happy or satisfied?

Inc. Magazine posted an article by the founder of Zappos on why he sold to Amazon. The article bears reading for many reasons, but I was struck especially by its emphasis on ‘happy.’ I think that is an error in focus.

The whole idea of an employer making employees happy is presumptuous, in my view. There are too many variables not in the employer’s control. And an individual’s view of their happiness quotient changes, constantly.

As mentioned by both Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and Tony Hsieh, Zappos founder, rarely do people know what will make them ‘happy.’ Happy may be an allusive goal, some folks have it, others don’t.  Happy isn’t an achievable outcome.

Control what you can control. Perhaps instead of happy, consider satisfied. (Some research indicates ‘happy’ is something one is born with.) Employee satisfaction can be ascertained, measured and even controlled. Beyond the formal testing/metrics, there is much you can learn just by being observant.

A few indicators to track employee satisfaction:

  • Is there employee-traced vandalism?
  • Is turnover high?
  • Are people working productively?
  • Do they volunteer for extra hours?
  • Do they volunteer new ideas?
  • Do they attend company sponsored events?
  • Do they pick up after themselves?
  • Do they refer their friends?
  • Is there excessive absenteeism?
  • What do employees say on exit interviews? Are they angry?

A coach’s view. I can share what is absolutely true and measurable. The reason most people leave their employer/job is they don’t feel appreciated. The corollary is also true. Many people accept jobs or stay in jobs where they are underpaid or perks missing because they know they can make a noticeable contribution will be appreciated, acknowledged and celebrated.

Change is simple. One client noticed the Friday pizza meetings attendance was down. He instituted an informal certificate of performance tradition wherein he awarded the certificate and told the story of the accomplishment. Attendance doubled within two months. Telling, that.

Appreciation comes in many forms, be it money, great perks, acknowledgement, awards or a pat on the back. But constantly cancelled projects, ideas not being heard, lack of due credit for ideas or project and lack of avenue for input, head the list for unhappy employees; employees who leave.

Rarely is leaving a job about money; though it is given as the reason. Managers who consider the needs and ambitions of their employees tend to have lower turnover, a sure sign of employee satisfaction. Those managers who systematically acknowledge contributions by team members tend to have more support during crisis times. Happy? Nope. But truly a part of the team? Yes. And that is satisfying to most individuals and passed on to customers and between teams.

Perfect, profitable example. One only has to look at how Costco employees treat their in-store visitors to know they are treated well by their management. The company experiences the lowest turnover in retail. They do anything to make visitors feel welcome and important. And year to year, visitors encounter the same Costco employees. They stay because they feel appreciated. I asked.

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3 Responses to “Employee retention – Why employees stay”

  1. libdave says:

    Possible typo:

    Happy may be an allusive goal,

    should be elusive, no?

  2. Karla Porter says:

    I think it is important to aim for happy employees. My comment would have been really long so I posted it here http://is.gd/dfw5j. ~Karla

  3. Rita Ashley says:

    The reason I submitted my ideas is it is not the employers job to make certain each of us is happy. That is a personal responsibility and for truly healthy people, work is only one aspect of it. The one thing over which the employer may affect, is employee satisfaction. Do they have the tools to be successful, do they understand their job, do they get proper feed back for course correction and do they get recognition. All these go a very long time towards guaranteeing employee satisfaction. Happiness by contrast, is allusive, transitory and different for each of us.

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