Most people believe that happy employees are more productive, treat each other better and give better customer service. That’s not true. When human resource departments push employee satisfaction initiatives at work, too often they encourage the most selfish, negative and hostile employees to harass, bully and abuse coworkers and supervisors.
Of course, I’m not encouraging companies to mistreat their employees. But I am encouraging leaders to question the assumed correlation between happiness and productivity, between satisfaction and teamwork.
A recent report in the Harvard Business Review, “Employee Happiness isn’t Enough to Satisfy Customers,” also suggests that there is no correlation between employee satisfaction and customer service in the workplace.
Here’s why. Usually, mediocre and poor employees and managers are happiest when they work less and are held to lower standards. They want or feel entitled to whatever makes them happy, but they won’t pay for those rewards by increased productivity.
These people often want to rule the roost. When they’re empowered by being listened to, they become mean, vindictive and cruel. They use their power to increase bullying and abuse of the most productive employees and managers, and of people they simply don’t like.
Employee satisfaction programs encourage the most negative, bitter and hostile people to vent their anger and to continue venting forever. As long as they’re venting, someone will be catering, begging and bribing them.
I’ve seen that time and time again. So have you. Think of all the people you work with. Ask yourself questions about each one individually, “If that person was in charge, what would happen – who are their favorites; what corners would they cut; are they lazy, negative, hyper-critical slackers; are they gossiping, back stabbing rumor mongers; would they try to bring everyone into the team?”
Instead of focusing on employee satisfaction, survey your most productive, lowest maintenance employees and managers. By “most productive,” I don’t mean only “shooting stars.” I also mean steady, highly competent employees. Don’t ask the mediocre or “bottom feeder” employees and managers what would make them happier.
Don’t have HR departments do these surveys; they’ll get lied to. Use written surveys but don’t pay much attention to them; people expect them but you won’t get the critical people-information you need. Conduct skillful personal interviews with the right employees to identify the people or departments whose poor attitudes thwart or destroy productivity.
Ask the most productive employees, “What would make you more productive (effective, efficient)?” Focus on, for example, better operational systems, better technology and better coworkers.
Give your most productive employees and managers what they need to be more productive. The technology and systems are usually straightforward areas. Critical to your success is constant churning of your poorest employees and managers so the most productive ones can be even more productive.
Ask the most productive employees, “What rewards do you want for being even more productive?” Give them much of what they want. Remember, one highly productive employee is worth at least two poor ones.
Usually, you’ll find that the number one desire of highly productive staff is better coworkers, so they can accomplish more and look forward to working with people who also hold up their end of the table.
Don’t cater to poor attitudes. Stop negativity, entitlement, harassment and bullying at work.
HR usually distracts and detracts from efforts to increase customer service or productivity. HR tends to focus on surveying and catering to the happiness of all employees, which does not increase customer satisfaction. HR usually doesn’t survey customers and you don’t want them to.
Focus your own efforts on measuring productivity and customer service.
As a leader, if you say, “I don’t know who my most productive employees are,” or “I don’t want to hurt the feelings of employees or managers that I don’t interview” you’ve just shown that you aren’t doing your job.
Give your best employees what they need or you’ll stimulate turnover of the people you need to keep.