I Am Not Responsible for My Employees’ Happiness!

Employee Happiness

A cumulative body of research has clearly established that happy employees equal successful business outcomes.  What role do you play in your employees’ happiness at work?  Are you responsible for your employees’ happiness?

The goal is not to create happiness, but to create the conditions for happiness to occur.” ~ Chip Conley quoting the Prime Minister of Bhutan

Who’s Responsible For Happiness?

I sat across from the desk listening to a well-respected leader in middle management of a major corporation as we talked about my last blog, Labor Day: Loving One’s Job.  “I am not responsible for my employees’ happiness!” she emphatically declared.  She was playing the devil’s advocate for me.

I couldn’t agree more.  No one is “responsible” for someone else’s happiness.  She said that to help test my response because there are lots of leaders, managers, and supervisors who say things like that – but it’s not the truth of the statement that they are trying to convey.

What they are really saying is this:

“Not only am I not responsible for my employees’ happiness; I don’t want to have to do anything about my employees’ happiness so I don’t have something else added to my ‘To-Do List’ (I’m already too busy!) and I don’t need some touchy-feely, immeasurable, subjective, intangible, metric added to how I’m evaluated as a leader!”

Rank does not confer privilege or give power.  It imposes responsibility.” ~Peter Drucker

Running the Numbers

Employee Happiness and Business Outcomes

A 2002 review of the Gallup Studies clearly established that the presence of positive workplace perceptions and positive emotions are in fact associated with four really big tangibles:

  • Higher customer loyalty
  • Higher productivity
  • Lower rates of turnover
  • Higher profits

The review was nothing to thumb your nose at.  It included nearly 8,000 business units, almost 200,000 respondents, and culminated over 30-years of research.  The bottom line is that happy employees equal successful business outcomes.  That should catch the attention of the strongest skeptic!

…it seems joy, interest, and love (or caring) come closest to describing employees’ emotions in high-performing business units.”  –study authors

What’s the Leader’s Role?

As leaders, we do have a responsibility to foster positive emotions in ourselves and our employees; not just because it feels good, but because it leads to our individual success, the success of our employees, our work groups, and ultimately, our business.  As Peter Drucker, the inventor of the term Management by Objectives (MBOs), famously said this;

“Rank does not confer privilege or give power.  It imposes responsibility.”

Of course leaders are not responsible for creating someone else’s happiness – no one is – but leaders are responsible for creating the conditions for happiness to occur.

Today’s families, churches, educational institutes, businesses, and political structures will fail unless we do.  The most effective leaders of the new millennium make the connection between the seemingly intangible love of one’s job and happiness of those they lead with the tangible metrics of productivity and financial profit – we must make both tangible.

Maslow’s Maxim: “”When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.” ~ Abraham Maslow

A New Metric

Chip Conley, Founder and Executive Chairman of Joie de Vivre Hospitality (America’s second largest boutique hotel company), challenged leaders in a February 2010 TED Talks, especially leaders of business and politics, to incorporate a new metric into their strategic plans:  a measure of what makes life worthwhile.

When the only measurement tools leaders have are measures of productivity, net margin, political polls, campaign contributions, and profit, then that’s pretty much all they see.  They lose sight of what really matters to people.

Chip says, “As leaders what we need to learn is that we can actually influence the quality of that unit of production by actually creating the conditions for our employees to live their calling.”  Connecting to and living one’s mission, vision, guiding principles – or calling – is inherently fulfilling and joyful.

These are tangible and measurable.

New Research

Modern positive psychology and research-based organizations, like the Gallup Organization, have answered Chip’s call.  For example, Gallup has a simple and focused survey consisting of 12 items that correlate to the most successful business units:

  • Employees know what is expected.
  • They have the basic materials and equipment to do their jobs.
  • Employees have opportunities to do what they do best.
  • They have received recognition and praise for doing good work in the last seven days.
  • A supervisor or someone else at work cares about the employee as a person.
  • Someone at work encourages their development.
  • The employee knows that their opinions seem to count.
  • Employees have a connection between the mission and purpose of the company that makes their work seem important.
  • Their work team is committed to quality work.
  • Employees have a best friend at work.
  • In the past six months, someone has talked to the employee about their progress.
  • In the past year, the employee has had opportunities to learn and grow.

Employee Expectations 

When employees know what is expected and have the basic tools to do their work, feel recognized, cared for, respected, fulfilled, and have opportunities for growth, then they are more likely to enjoy what they do and stick around.

Engaged, happy employees apply themselves more effectively, increasing productivity.

They serve customers better, increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.  When both employees and customers are happy and loyal, employee turnover goes down, and productivity goes up.  Profits increase.

Since happy employees equal successful business outcomes, what role do you play as their leader?  How do you create the conditions for happiness to occur in your team/organization?  What metrics do you use to evaluate ‘what makes life and work worthwhile’ in those you lead?  How do you make the ‘intangible,’ tangible?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Alan Mikolaj is Author and Lecturer at A Travel Guide to Leadership Training

He helps clients become happier, more successful, and to become the better leaders
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11 responses to “I Am Not Responsible for My Employees’ Happiness!

  1. Alan — I like your post very much; what I hear you saying is real leaders (effective leaders) need to be paying more attention to the INPUTS than the outputs. Results are a by-product of effective inputs. In fact, we’ll have to worry LESS about the outputs, if we more intentionally monitor, plan, influence and motivate the inputs.


  2. You’re welcome Poul! It’s reassuring to know others have made the connection.


  3. Well put, Scott! Can I borrow the way you word it?


  4. This stuff works! Happy, satisfied employees are productive employees and any leader that can improve the “HP” (happiness quotient) of his or her employees will put himself or herself above the croud. Good post, Alan!


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