7 Cheap or Free Ways to Make Your Employees Happy

Use these strategies to keep your employees engaged, increase their productivity and enhance your bottom line.
pizza party
Throwing a pizza party can help encourage employees to spend time together outside of work, as well as celebrate a team success without breaking the bank. (Photo: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock)

Happy workers take 10 times fewer sick days than their disgruntled counterparts. They spend more time working and less time worrying or stressing over personal problems while on the clock. Sharper focus and less fear of failure make them better leaders because they are more willing to take calculated risks.

So what makes employees happy? It’s not (just) money.

According to a report from Society for Human Resource Management, “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” was the top contributor to employee satisfaction, followed by “trust between employees and senior management.”

The next six happiness factors were:

  • Benefits
  • Compensation
  • Job security
  • Relationship with immediate supervisor
  • Opportunities to use your skills and abilities in your work
  • Immediate supervisor’s respect for my ideas

Happiness and engagement go hand in hand. Unfortunately, according to a Gallup poll, only 32 percent of U.S. employees were engaged in 2015. Gallup categorizes workers as “engaged” based on their ratings of factors that predict organizational performance, such as having a chance to do what they do best each day, having someone at work who encourages their development and believing their opinions count.

Want a happy, engaged staff? Try these free or dirt-cheap strategies.

Help them identify and exercise their strengths

“People who know and use their strengths are happier, more motivated and more successful in the workplace,” said Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. He is an author and a Harvard University professor who teaches Positive Psychology, the largest course at Harvard.

To uncover hidden strengths, talents and interests that could be key to your employee’s happiness, he recommended trying one of these assessments: the VIA Character Strength survey (free), Gallup’s Strengthsfinder (not free) and Realise2 (not free).

The positive emotions that come from feeling like you excel at your job influence a person’s creativity and spur out-of-the-box thinking.

encourage exercise

As an employer, encouraging exercise outside of work promotes work-life balance and makes employees happier and healthier. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Encourage exercise

Encourage employees to exercise regularly by starting a lunchtime walking club or organizing a fitness contest. “Regular physical exercise — as little as three weekly sessions of 30 minutes each — has the same effect as our most powerful psychiatric medication,” said Ben-Shahar.

Physically active employees make for a happier, more creative and less stressful workplace.

Insist on downtime

Counterintuitive as it might seem, employers should demand that employees take breaks. “Being ‘on’ all the time is not helpful for the individual employee, nor for the organization. More is not necessarily better,” said Ben-Shahar. Creativity and productivity diminish when there is no time for recovery during the day, he noted.

His rule of thumb is 15 minutes of downtime for every 1 to 2 hours worked, at least one day off per week to refresh, and a real vacation once every 6 to 12 months.

Support work-life balance

Flexible scheduling and working remotely allow employees to work productive hours around family commitments, doctor appointments and even car repairs. Happy employees have employers who recognize that their lives outside of work are just as important as their lives inside the office.

Ask for ideas

Employees should feel they can share ideas without fear of embarrassment (and ask for help without fear of punishment).

In academic terms, this kind of environment offers “psychological safety,” which encourages deeper engagement, according to Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School.

Team leaders create a climate of psychological safety, Donaldson added, “by modeling the behavior of candor and engagement…being proactive in seeking out people’s ideas and input.” When managers ask employees for their opinions and proposed solutions, they send a powerful message that their ideas matter.

Praise in public

“One of the easiest and most effective ways to reward your employees for no cost is to recognize them publicly for their efforts,” writes TG & Associates, a consulting group.

You can announce their accomplishments in staff meetings or by email (copy the whole staff), for example.

Throw cake or pizza parties

These are an easy, cheap way to congratulate the team on a win or acknowledge an employee’s work anniversary or significant life event.

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