How to Create Happy, Healthy Employees

[“How to Create Happy, Healthy Employees” originally appeared on Thrive Global and is written by Heidi Dietrich.]

The modern work environment has changed a lot during these past few decades. With the advent of technology such as the internet and the rise of prominence of millennials in the workforce, businesses have been forced to change in a number of ways.

Progressive HR leaders are taking note, such as Debra Tenenbaum, Chief People Officer at YapStone, who says, “There’s no better time than now to ensure your company is developing an environment where millennials can thrive”.

Gone are the times when companies could just offer big salaries and comprehensive benefits and then call it a day. The isolated cubicle-based office structure is also fast disappearing, as many of the most innovative companies across all sectors have shown that office layout can have a big impact on employee creativity. Modern science helps to inform modern business, not just in the products that they are able to offer but also in how the corporations themselves should be set up.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology offers a number of intriguing findings, including the foundational principle that happy employees are productive employees. With the goal of expanding happiness in mind, the question is: how can companies create happy, healthy employees? Two easy strategies companies can incorporate to this end are the creation of an open office environment and the encouragement of employee flexibility.

Open Office Environment

One great way in which a company can adapt to encourage happiness among its employees is in the adoption of an open office environment, both literally and figuratively. Open spaces in an office create a sense of unity in contrast to the divisiveness brought about by separate cubicles or office rooms. Office setups that include series of tables facing each other, round tables, or even couches can increase employees’ sense of corporate community, in that everyone feels as though “we’re all in this together”. This arrangement also has benefits for creativity as open spaces help people to feel psychologically more open and encourages communication, which is great for a healthy flow of ideas.

An open office in the figurative sense is arguably even more important to boosting happiness. Open lines of communication between all employees allows people to quickly bounce ideas off of each other. It also serves to rid people of the rigid sense of hierarchy found in more traditional companies, which is useful since it makes employees comfortable in approaching their managers or even the company executives with fresh ideas or insights.

Company meetings, once a month or more, also can be invaluable in getting everyone on the same page in terms of the collective goals that the organization is working towards. People want to feel that their work is valuable and contributes to the whole.

Inclusive meetings can help employees to align with the overall direction of their company, which in turn helps them to see the value of their individual role within the organization. These are lessons that Yapstone has taken to heart. As Tenenbaum says, “Business information helps employees understand how their role can have [the] greatest impact to the business and employees want to know their job matters.”

Flexibility

The modern worker has grown accustomed to increased flexibility at work, and many millennials thrive on it. Employees appreciate both the ability to work from home and the freedom to set their own schedules. Employers appreciate the benefits that they reap from those happier, more productive employees.

Giving people latitude in their work environment helps them to feel a sense of freedom and empowerment that is not possible with mandatory daily office attendance. Additionally, the freedom to work flexible hours (such as 10–6 instead of 9–5) allows workers to set their own schedule and focus their work during the times of day in which they are most motivated, and therefore most productive.

Such flexibility also is important in scheduling employees’ time off. As Tenenbaum puts it, “A flexible time off policy (FTO) allows employees to be responsible for managing their own time off and for fostering effective teamwork through collaboration and open communication, which all impacts employee engagement”.

Naturally, certain industries such as software development lend themselves better to flexible work locations, work schedules, and time off. It may be more difficult to incorporate such flexibility in jobs that are in more traditional fields such as banking or insurance. However, a little bit of freedom here can go a long way, so it behooves companies to try to give their employees as much flexibility as they can afford.