(Hint: Check Your Bottom Line)
Let’s face it, the financial services industry hasn’t gotten much positive press recently. Some critics have blasted banks for dispensing huge executive bonuses while laying off employees; many have questioned why Wall Street firms have gotten bailouts while struggling Main Street businesses and homeowners have not; still others have complained that financial firms have been hoarding cash, rather than lending to companies trying to grow out of this slow economy.
So imagine my surprise when I ran across a newspaper article the other day about Broadridge Financial Solutions, under the headline, “Building a company with happy employees.” The Long Island-based firm, which provides proxy services for a vast majority of U.S. companies, offers its employees an unusual array of perks, including career planning programs and a “leadership university,” in which managers are trained how to coax the best out of employees. And for the last five years, Broadridge has been named one of the state’s best companies to work for by the New York State Society for Human Resource Management.
What struck me most about this story is how Broadridge’s employees appear to feel about their firm. In the Newsday article, company president John Hogan described one instance when his employees, without being asked, worked through the night to complete an important job before the fiscal year deadline. “That was inspirational to me,” Hogan said.
Now contrast that scenario to many other companies, where workers feel stressed out, overworked and underappreciated. The underlying message employees are picking up is that their managers don’t really care how they feel about work. (“You’re lucky to have a job in this economy!”) In fact, there seems to be a general malaise in the American workplace. Last year, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has been polling more than 1,000 adults every day since 2008, found that U.S. workers now feel worse about the jobs and their workplaces than ever before. People across all age groups and income levels said they were unhappy with their supervisors, didn’t care about their organizations and detached from what they did. And nothing was likely to change anytime soon.
Still, why should we care whether our employees are happy with us? After all, I’m not trying to win a popularity contest, right?
Actually, we should care—but not because we want to be popular. The bottom line is, well..the bottom line. As Hogan of Broadridge explains, when you build an environment where people feel proud to be part of and feel like they can make a difference, “they’ll be committed to that place to work. And…those who are committed to their company create better service and products.”
Conversely, there are serious negative outcomes when people don’t care about their employers or their jobs. They don’t show up consistently, they produce less, or they produce work of lesser quality. Gallup estimates that this “disengagement crisis” costs employers $300 billion a year in lost productivity.
In a recent New York Times column, Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile described a study of employees in seven companies that she and researcher Steven Kramer conducted, linking the impact of the psychological states of employees to their productivity, creativity, commitment and congeniality. They found that employees are “far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier” and they perform better when they are happily engaged in their work—not under pressure. Amabile and Kramer conclude that “of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important—by far—is simply making progress in meaningful work.”
Ah yes, making progress in meaningful work. So it’s not so much what’s “out there” in the marketplace or the workplace that’s affecting the productivity of workers; it’s what’s inside their heads. What, then, can you do in your own company to foster the positive inner lives of our employees and support them in their quest for everyday progress?
For starters, you need to be willing to engage them in meaningful, authentic, and sometimes uncomfortable, discussions—what I call “courageous conversations.” The best way to know how your employees feel about you is to have a qualified consultant (yes, like CPC) conduct what we call a “360 Assessment.” In addition, we can do an employee survey to get feedback about how employees feel about the whole company. And we can assess how well the team is working together and how well team members like each other.
There are many other options we can offer, but the big question is: Are you willing to do something about the feedback you get? Don’t ask if you’re not willing to act on the answers. Then we can give you something to evaluate the problems and provide workable solutions.