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Lead Your Team Managing

Creating Workplace Harmony Makes for Happy Employees

David Wexler, Vice President of HR at FreshBooks, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Online retail giant Zappos is a leader in creating ways to build happier employees. Who hasn't heard about Zappos' reputation as one of the best places to work?

Does this mean that smaller companies without a Zappos-sized budget are doomed to less satisfied employees? Not exactly. Employee happiness isn't just about the stuff you can offer. A competitive salary and gym membership are important, but they are utterly meaningless if employees hate the person they work for or feel they're stuck on a dead-end path.

If you want to foster the conditions to increase employee happiness at work, here are five simple, and budget-friendly, ways to do it.

Focus on growth

Sometimes it seems like the average Starbucks barista gets more on-the-job training than a new startup employee. Great employees want to grow, develop and be challenged. That's why it's important to create a true learning environment for employees.

While this means that your organization may need to make funding available for training and development, there are other budget-friendly ways to build a stimulating environment. Support hack-offs and extra-curricular projects. Encourage committees that tackle issues that matter to employees. And provide developmental assignments that teach new skills and foster career growth and track changes.

Encourage social activities

While extracurricular activities like free breakfasts and staff parties cost money, there are countless things to do that won't cost your organization a penny. Be creative: poker games, karaoke nights and weekly employee-led yoga classes can cultivate a fun and healthy environment.

Given that we spend so much of our waking hours in the workplace, it is not enough that employees respect and trust one another, true employee engagement comes when colleagues seek out one another to spend time outside of office hours. Employers can support these by making matching funding available (e.g. for food and beverages), or by linking financial support to surpassing budgeted financial goals.

Be transparent

Employees value transparency; this is particularly true with the millennial generation raised on social networks, but applies to all generations in the workplace. For a healthy culture to form, you should be honest and open from the top down, even when it means sharing traditionally sensitive topics such as company financials and compensation details.

While only a small subset of organizations are willing to peel back the covers on such details, at FreshBooks we recently shared the mechanics of our yearly compensation and review process and intend to do so going forward. Offering transparency on compensation engages employees and empowers their decision-making, it's clear that there are no hidden agendas or 'backroom' deals.

Have your employees' backs

If you want your employees to make great decisions, you have to give them the freedom to make their own decisions. For example, our front-line customer service employees don't need permission to make a customer requested change to their account or to acknowledge employee successes with timely gifts. We do this because empowered employees better serve customers … there's no need to leave a customer hanging in order to get 'manager approval.' In addition, employees crave trust and responsibility. While letting go can be the most challenging part of being a manager, it's absolutely essential for happy employees, and as a direct result of this, happy customers.

Invest in leadership

There is an old adage that individuals do not quit a company; they quit a manager.

To help ensure that good leaders are hired at your organization, focus on the recruiting and hiring process. Create a clearly defined job spec that includes what the manager will do and the type of individual you're looking for. You want to hire someone who not only has the skills and experience you need, but also has the right character for your organization. Hold multiple interviews with multiple people to ensure the consistency of the candidate's answers and their cultural fit in your organization.

You can even source managerial candidates from your employee population via an employee referral bonus. When a candidate is referred from inside, there's a better chance they'll fit culturally. In addition, the referring employee is likely to be an important advocate for that manager during the critical early days on the job.

The market for top-notch talent is tough. As a small tech company, you may be competing for potential workers with Zappos and countless other startups. Therefore, expect that every employee departure will trigger a difficult, time-consuming recruiting process. Creating the workplace conditions that allow your employees to be engaged, driven, productive, and happy is the best way to give your business a competitive edge.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.