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Happy Employees Create Happy Customers

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  • | 6:00 p.m. April 2, 2004
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Happy Employees Create Happy Customers

Have you ever seen a company with unhappy employees who had happy customers? I haven't!

Employees need managers who can empathize with their stress and pain and who honestly try to create an environment in which they feel valued and respected despite all the changes going on around them. Then they can be their best for their customers.

According to an article by Kenneth Kovach in Employment Relations Today, when employees were asked what they valued most about their jobs in 1946, 1981 and again in 1995, the top three things employees reported were: interesting work; full appreciation for the work they've done; and a feeling of being in on things.

Each of these motivators relates to an element of the type of caring, spirited workplace managers can create for their employees.

1. COMMUNICATE with employees in regular and creative ways.

× Hold informal "grapevine sessions" to control rumor mill flow. These open discussions can be held either on a regular basis or can be called by any employee. Managers must be prepared to listen and to be completely truthful and open. Even when they can't share specific information, they can honestly explain why and when it will be available.

× Spend time out in the field with employees. Ask them how you can help make their jobs easier. Work alongside them. Even let them teach you what they do. For example, Southwest Airlines has a mandate that every manager must spend one-third of his or her time in direct touch with employees and customers to create a stronger feeling of teamwork.

× Take at least one employee to breakfast and another to lunch each week. Ask them for their ideas to improve the organization and thank them for being on your team.

× Hold a voluntary "Good News Hour" once a week for 30 minutes before the workday starts. Everyone can share good things that have happened at work or home during the last week.

2. Create an ATMOSPHERE that makes employees enjoy being at work.

× Celebrate everything you can - meeting of short-term goals, the end of the budget process, winning grants or new customers, extraordinary work, safety successes. We know that happy employees are more productive employees!

× Create some special places for employees. A group of employees at one organization stayed late one night and decorated an empty space all in black. When the rest of the staff returned the next day, a large banner over the entrance read "THE WHINE CELLAR!" They brought in stress toys, cartoon books, treats, and stuffed animals, and this became everyone's favorite place to go. You might also consider creating a "time out" place for employees who are over stressed. Because of a lack of space for this, one organization purchased a Porta-Potty!

× Encourage daily affirmations throughout the organization. Land's End and IBM have created small cards to thank one another internally. Other organizations use "Pass It On"² cards with sayings such as "The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little EXTRA!" to give to both employees and customers. A pat on the back, a short note of thanks, or a voice mail message from a manager can refill employees' emotional bank accounts for weeks! A spirit of gratitude throughout an organization will raise the level of all interactions. Create a "Just Because" committee or an Attitude Support Team with volunteers who have a passion for the positive.

3. Treat employees with RESPECT.

× Sponsor a Family Day at work. The American Hospital Association holds an annual "Day for Play at Work" celebration at which families of employees can enjoy games, display, prizes, and a tour of mom's or dad's workspace. It is designed to teach family members what it is like to go to work and how important they are in supporting the employee.

× Establish a Code of Conduct listing the specific behaviors you will use in interacting with one another. Gain employee input and ask them to personally sign the code if they agree to uphold it. Include in it such behaviors as "If I have a concern with someone in the organization, I will go directly to that person." Then, when one employee begins to gripe about someone to another, all the person has to say is, "Remember the code!" This will do wonders to uplift your workplace.

× Pass out paychecks personally so you get to know all their names.

× Create a Human Level database. Collect information such as employees' hobbies; do they play an instrument, sing, draw, or speak a foreign language; special interests such as golf, bridge, tennis; favorite sports; books and movies they like; places they have traveled; organizations and support groups to which they belong. This becomes a terrific way to network internally. Informal classes, support groups, travel groups, and perhaps even a company choir or band will spring up. People can find others to help them with problems both at work and at home, and the company will discover resources it never knew it had. Best of all, employees are seen as whole persons, not just as workers!

4. Be ENTHUSIASTIC about your work.

× Francis Likert said: "If a high level of performance is to be achieved, it appears to be necessary for a supervisor or manager to have high performance goals and a contagious enthusiasm as to the importance of these goals." Are you a contagiously enthusiastic manager? Are you helping your employees focus not on only a job description but also on their very important work? How is what they do each day making someone's life better? That new sense of purpose will boost self-esteem and add a depth of meaning for which they are desperate.

× Enjoy your employees. Help them to "lighten up" and not take themselves too seriously. Find ways to poke a little fun at yourself. Research shows that the most productive workplaces have at least 10 minutes of laughter every hour. At Artex International the three owners of the company surprised employees at an all-company function by creating a skit. Since they were in the middle of a quality initiative, the owners demonstrated various quality tools to illustrate their varying degrees of hairlessness! It is something the employees will never forget. Have you ever worn a Halloween costume to work when it wasn't Halloween? How about a dartboard with your picture on it in the break room?

× Work on a community project. Care about the world outside your lobby. Martin Buber said that the fastest way to overcome depression is to do something for someone else. In organizations we often become so in-focused that we forget there is a needy world outside our doors. Workgroups have helped rehab community playgrounds, built houses for Habitat for Humanity, cleaned up highway areas, and even cooked meals for the homeless. Not only is this a teambuilding activity, but it also helps change perceptions about one's own situation.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich said, "For six months now, I've been visiting the workplaces of America, administering a simple test. I call it the 'pronoun test.' I ask frontline workers a few general questions about the company. If the answers I get back describe the company in terms like 'they' and 'them,' then I know it's one kind of company. If the answers are put in terms like 'we' or 'us,' then I know it's a different kind of company."

For more ideas, read "CARE Packages for the Workplace - Dozens of Little Things You Can Do to Regenerate Spirit at Work," and "Handle with Care - Motivating and Retaining Employees."

As managers, you can have a direct impact on the kind of company yours is. Listening to employees, caring about them and their families, creating an atmosphere that promotes joy and presenting yourself as a human being will result in a workplace that can survive the changes, stress, and fear of the unknown. It will also result in delighted customers!

Barbara Glanz, an author and motivational speaker who resides in Siesta Key, works with organizations that want to improve morale, retention, and service. Her personal motto: Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm. She can be reached at [email protected], and her Web site is


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