This blog was written by Elizabeth Burt, Senior Leadership Consultant and member of the People Strategy team at Helpside.

Recently, I spoke at my children’s elementary school career day. As I waited for my turn, I listened to parent after parent stand-up and share what he or she found important and stimulating about their professional careers. I began to worry about how exciting a day in the life of a leadership consultant would sound compared to the firefighter, nurse, and highway patrolman who spoke before me. After all, helping leaders with organizational effectiveness and improving employee experience is exciting to me, but come on, how would does that compare to riding in a fire engine in the mind of a 10-year-old? I thought my career speech would not generate the same level of questions, but to my surprise, the kids had plenty of questions for me. The one that stood out the most and has kept me thinking is, “what job would you do, if you didn’t do this job?”.

My consultant mind kicked in and with this awesome, thought-provoking question in tow, I decided this was going to be a question I would ask others. I asked this question while getting a pedicure, in line at Disney World, at the grocery store, at my favorite coffee joint. All told, I have asked at least 15 people, and I must say the best part has been watching faces of my responders as story after story emerged of either favorite past jobs or future dream jobs were told or hoped for, and a noticeable theme of what creates happy employees emerged:

Meaningful Work

Employees want work to have meaning and purpose. I work with small business leaders and the idea of employees doing more than the specific work tasks they were hired to do may sound unrealistic. However, there is no harm is asking your team members that same question,“what job would you do, if you didn’t do this job?”  You may be pleasantly surprised at how similarly matched your business needs and your employee’s meaningful work needs align. Pay attention to your employee’s responses. Through their responses. you will uncover strengths you may not have recognized, and you can start the process of naming and claiming:

  • Naming – Identify and label those strengths
  • Claiming – Match employees strengths to your business needs

Remember, your team members want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best. Without asking what your employees consider meaningful work, you may be missing out on the all the awesome perks that come with happy engaged employees. And happy employees make happier customers.   

Empowered

Employees want to work with leaders who delegate more than just work. Every response I collected from my “happy employee question journey” included some form of an answer that began with “I was trusted to….” “I was allowed to…” “I was given the responsibility to…” As a leader, your employees hope you are making decisions that will positively impact them. However, when employees are included in the decision-making process or feel empowered to make decisions on their own, the happy employee factor kicks in. It seems like in a small business it would be easy to include employees in the daily happenings of the business because you are a tight-knit team. Generally, empowerment is a big perk of working in a small business. However, I have found most owner-leaders who keep ownership of all decision-making efforts are not necessarily doing this because they don’t trust their employees. More often than not, small business owners are in execution mode. If they start small, step back and carefully consider how to share the responsibilities of their business with their employees, they will create a more empowered work force.

  • Start Small – The best way to create employee empowerment is step back and purposely consider your daily decisions. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate process. Create a contact on your phone of Daily Decisions and send yourself texts as they happen. Through this effort, you will see decisions you could easily delegate to make an employee happy and feel empowered while also eliminating something from your to-do list.
  • Demonstrate Trust – Sometimes this is easier said than done, but keep in mind the old adage, “consider the means to the end.” Focus on the end and allow your employees to consider the means. Don’t be the obstacle that gets in the way of the happy. Allow your employees to go about meeting business needs in their own way. They might not complete tasks exactly as you would, but delegation allowed you to focus on other tasks and once again empowered an employee.

The goal of this exercise is to take advantage of the happy factor and seek out daily business decisions that have the potential to empower your employees. Allowing employees to get the job done with their own flair is when the happy factor kicks in.

Appreciated

The daily interaction between leaders and employees is key to building a happy employee relationship. Take time to focus on appreciating employees in a manner that they understand and that is personal. Feedback and praise are critical to employees feeling like they are making a difference. The simple act of taking time to express your appreciation to your employees in the specific way each employee wants to be recognized will be the happy cushion you can fall back on if/when you make those leadership mistakes that can happen as part of running a business.

  • Ask – Make it a point to find out from each employee what makes recognition meaningful for them.
  • Do – Provide meaningful, personalized recognition to highlight how specific employee contributions positively impact your business.

Your mission is to create a culture of gratitude from the top-down. What’s happening on the inside of your business is felt on the outside by your customers. Happy people mean business and they will in turn make your customers happy.

“What job would you do, if you didn’t have to do this job?”  Initially this question made me laugh. I was certain that the fourth-grader who asked me was expecting me to say I would be a firefighter! I am happy to report that my job may not stack up to what the elementary kid in me imagined for myself. However, I am happy to share that when I declared to the classroom that I love my job! I get to meet all kinds of workers and help them be the best at whatever job they do, (meaningful work). I get to be creative (empowered) everyday making all kinds of cool things like webinars and handouts with pictures that help them learn and grow in their roles. Last but not least I work with really cool people (appreciated) who build me up when I need a little encouragement. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my job, and I hope you do too!

And I meant it every word of it!!!