Manager Conversations That Keep Employees Happy

June 5, 2014 - 8 minute read - Posted by

If you’re a manager reading this, how do you tell if your employees are happy or not? One of the most important conversations a manager can have is centered around career development and planning. A study by Harris Interactive says that 74% of employees are currently unhappy in their jobs and would consider finding a new job. Typically, manager – employee conversations revolve around performance on current goals and objectives and what is going to happen in the near future. What about what is going to happen 1 year from now or 5 years from now? Great managers are having conversations laying out different paths for employees to grow into based on their interests. Whether you are a small startup or a large enterprise organization, these conversations are crucial for employee engagement and happiness. These are some of the top conversations managers have that really show how much they value their employees’ contribution at work, and their interests outside of work.

Get Them Talking About Their Passions

Employees in your organization may have their passion and talent be one in the same, but this is not always the case. Many employees contribute their talent to work projects but they may be developing other skills outside of work. Find out what they’re working on, get curious. Knowing more about what interests your employees have outside of work is key to building a great relationship with them.

What happens if you chat with them and find out they may someday leave to start their own company? It may happen, but if they know you care about building and developing them into who they aspire to be through the work they do at your company, chances are they will stay longer because their personal vision becomes aligned with your company vision. A great practice we exercise at 7Geese is asking you to rate your happiness level (1-10) and why you gave yourself that rating. This allows the manager to dig deeper in the one-on-one as to what aspects of work or life their employee is defining as their happiness level.

Focus on Intrinsic Motivation

Traditional management leans towards compliance and rewards. While those methods may work in some cases, we need more focus on self-direction. A study was conducted by Dan Ariely, Uri Gneezy, George Loewenstein, and Nina Mazar on if pay based on performance (extrinsic motivator) would enhance performance compared to non-pay methods. What the study found was very interesting. External rewards and bonuses can improve performance with activities that require a focus in a very narrow and simple area (direct sales for example). Studies also showed that incentivizing work for knowledge workers who require more cognitive skill for their roles lead to poorer performance as it inhibited their creativity and ability to think outside the box.

In his TED Talk, Daniel Pink mentions how there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. There needs to be a change in these traditional business models for extrinsic motivation, especially with the hungry millennials seeking more ownership in their roles. When you are having a 1:1 conversation with your employees, find out what drives them. What made them so interested about the things they are pursuing? This is going to help you coach and support them since you will learn how they are wired. As a manager, know your employees have different visions for themselves – the better you learn what forces drive their vision, the better manager you can be for them.

Growth through Continuous Learning

Stay foolish, stay hungry. Grow or die. Quotes from Steve Jobs and Anthony Robbins showing their shared quest for learning. Employees should be challenged in their learning. Whatever skill set they entered your company with should be added on within the first few months. If your employees are bored and under stimulated, they will leave somewhere else with more growth opportunities. Your top talent are the most eager to grow, make sure great resources are in place to support them.

At Atlassian, a SaaS company in Australia, all the employees have one day in the quarter where the company stops and they can go work on whatever they want but they have to release whatever they create the same day. They call it: ShipIt Day. Employees work on many projects which they normally don’t have time for. This gives them the autonomy to control what they want to learn and how they want the project to move forward – all in one day. Google introduced a similar concept called 20 Percent Time, where employees could use 20% of their time to work on side projects. This gave birth to many Google products such as Gmail, Adsense, Google Maps and many more.

We all crave continuous learning in the work place. At 7Geese, we have different members of the team present topics that are relevant to our industry every week to expand our learning. It opens up doors to learn about new things and potential new work to embark. Start having conversations with your employees about what they are curious to learn to grow their career. The learning opportunity could be your next big feature or product.

In the past, keeping talent happy and engaged was put on the back burner for organizations. Today, companies who have employees leaving left and right because they are not happy are focusing on having more conversations to ensure employees are happy and engaged. Managers need to be proactive to listen to their employees, find what drives them and help them create opportunities that will give them sense of ownership to expand their learning. it’s not enough for your employees to be satisfied, they must be happy. Continuously check in with your employees and create a culture where people always come first.

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