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5 strategies leaders can use to keep their teams happy

This article has been developed in collaboration with Heads Up an initiative of beyondblue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance.

Good teamwork will give you an advantage. Getty Images

Creating a happy workplace brings wins on multiple fronts. Not only will there be more smiles around the office, research shows a happy and healthy workplace can help the bottom line of a business. Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows a $2.30 average return for every $1 spent on supporting mental health.

Happy and mentally healthy employees take less time off, and are more likely to be self-motivated, ensure work is done correctly, persist when faced with challenges and help their colleagues in the process. An emphasis on mental health can also aid staff retention as well — Australian workers rank positive workplaces as one of the most important factors when choosing a job.

In other words, happy colleagues become a competitive advantage.

Here are five strategies business leaders can use to create an environment where workers are happy and productive.

1. Foster feelings of belonging and support

Jobs should be designed with happiness in mind. Sometimes this falls to management, to ensure roles are clearly articulated, realistically assigned and workloads aren’t too great. Often, however, it means allowing employees to make a role their own.

Occupations can form a large part of a person’s identity, and so the perceived significance and contribution of their role is important. No matter the role performed, everyone should be made to feel part of the team and contributing to the same broader mission. Companies like Automattic create this bond and shared purpose by requiring every new employee – no matter the position – do a stint in customer service first before they take on their roles.

2. Let your employees mould the position to them

Employees often have the greatest vantage point to judge the effectiveness of processes and their part within them. Invite opinions on the status quo, and how things could be improved. Empower staff to put in place their own processes, to achieve goals in the manner that makes the most sense to them.

Similarly, all of us have different needs and expectations from our time at work. Employees will enter different phases of life, requiring different needs, such as flexibility for children and other commitments. Allowing this flexibility is a simple way of retaining committed employees and corporate memory.

3. Offer lots of feedback and recognition

Managers should create opportunities to check in and provide objective and honest feedback. Even negative feedback should be delivered in a positive way, such as providing suggestions for acceptable alternate behaviour, or describing the consequences of certain actions.

Even more, every opportunity to provide feedback for a job well done should be taken, and coworkers encouraged to do the same. This could vary with context – based on role, experience and time with the organisation. Newer employees may need to be supported on a more regular basis, to enforce the right values and norms. More experienced workers encouraged to share their know-how and perspective.

4. Emphasise employee development through coaching, events and meaningful goals

Increasingly, employees rate personal growth as an important aspect of their tenure at work. Employers that invest in their staff, that encourage goal setting, provide mentoring and feedback, are seen as places more amenable to work for. Millennials, especially, say they want to be challenged. PricewaterhouseCoopers recommends exposing millennials to a variety of experiences and different assignments, to foster feelings of personal and professional growth.

Managers should organise regular meetings with employees, asking them to set goals for themselves in their workplace. These can be followed by events for skills sharing, which can double as networking events for particularly big companies. Tap internal expertise as much as possible, then branch out, ask experts to come in and share their knowledge with employees.

5. Inject humour and fun where you can

When used appropriately, humour can be a powerful tool in creating a positive workplace. Research from Wharton, MIT and the London Business School shows that laughter releases stress and boredom, but can also boost engagement, well-being, analytical precision and collaboration. But the key is using the right humour. Poke fun at yourself or things you’re all worried about — a deadline or competitor. Organise a tipping competition and parties.

A great example of this approach is Hulu, which prides itself on its taco-eating and Airzooka competitions, and giving new employees nicknames. The goal is to foster an environment of acceptance and collegiality. Co-workers become a team through shared laughter and fun.

More information and resources on creating mentally healthy workplaces are available at

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