It’s the question that keeps many a HR professional awake at night, how to keep the best employees loyal, motivated and happy, growing the business and growing within it. One tried and tested route is staff incentives which come in many guises, from performance related rises to annual bonuses. Fair pay for an honest day’s work lies at the bare heart of the employer to employee transaction and although money undoubtedly talks, it’s probably fair to say that its language lacks nuance. Nor does it have the kind of staying power we’d all like; a bonus or a rise is quickly absorbed, and its lustre soon fades. If we want to keep our best people happy, then we need to think beyond the payroll and the purse. We need to think about hearts and minds.

1) A future

As a veteran trainer, employer and business owner, I know more than most that training is the gift that keeps on giving. It points to a future within the business, opening up possibilities for new roles, greater responsibility, and more autonomy. It speaks of a larger investment in the employee, and mutual benefit; the staff member acquires more skills, whilst the organisation gains a more motivated, happy and highly trained individual who is more likely to contribute to the success of the business, and to want to contribute to it. Ensure managers are developing long term training plans collaboratively with their teams; finding out their aspirations, interests, and the direction they want their career to take.

2) Recognition

Recognition puts a spring in the step, lifts the chin, raises self-esteem and makes for happier employees. Recognition inspires, motivates and energises. We can’t help it, we’re human after all, and acknowledgement that our contribution has been noticed and that it has made a difference is irresistible. Formalise recognition for managers to recognise employee efforts in whatever way suits your organisation’s culture. A wall of fame is one way, a letter of appreciation, copied to senior management, is another. Ask for as much detail as possible of the performance that warranted this attention, and make it a matter of formal, written appreciation that stays on file. If recognition is to be meaningful, don’t let too much time elapse between the reward and the effort.

3) New shoes

Your star employees are already shining brightly, more than capable of meeting the demands of their role and this is where dissatisfaction can creep in, they begin to consider, is it time I broadened my horizons? Look at how the organisation can offer employee experiences outside of their usual responsibilities by letting them fill other shoes if they want to. This is a good way to call forth hidden talents, discover unspoken ambitions, and revive flagging spirits with a varied, more satisfying career. This is best offered as part of a continuing development programme, and should offer staff more than a momentary glimpse into another part of the business. Ensure managers are talking to team members within their reviews to find out what other areas of the business they want to know more about, perhaps with a view to moving up or diversifying later in their career.

4) Say thank you

It’s surprising how little this is heard and it’s surprising how much it can contribute to an employees’ happiness at work. Thanks come in many shades, but the one most people experience is the casual, workday, half hearted thanks. For this to be meaningful to employees, we should be clear about what we mean when we say it, and to be sure that the recipient of our thanks remembers how it was said, and why, and also that it is actionable right through the organisation. Thanks can be a handwritten note, said in ceremony, with flowers or simply expressed in time set aside for that very purpose. A well crafted, sincerely expressed thank you has an excellent shelf life, quite possibly longer, we suspect, than the pay rise you’re planning to award this year.

5) Honesty

Honest feedback helps both businesses and managers understand what their employees want. It gives us scope for improvement and employees appreciate it when their voices are heard, and are happier when their concerns, opinions and ideas are listened to and acted upon. As HR leaders, encouraging a culture of honesty is paramount, this makes it possible for obstacles to be addressed rather than avoided which ensures better assessment and growth.

6) Communication

Many employees think that their bosses don’t communicate with them enough. Unfortunately, many managers fail when it comes to communicating instructions and sharing pertinent information which can lead to unhappy employees. Make sure you and team managers take some time to connect with employees in an informal way; eating with them at lunch occasionally and not always relying in electronic communication.  Having an informal coffee with the boss is usually very appreciated by team members. Maintaining constant and clear communication is critical to maintain pace and synchronicity in any business and effective communication makes sure that employees are working on the right projects with the right attitude.

7) Leadership 

Employees want managers who are good leaders, who lead from the front and show them how to handle tough situations with confidence and poise. Where there is not strong leadership, employees can lose faith in the company, leading to dissatisfaction within their working life. Recruiting managers who are strong enough to lead the troops in right direction is one aspect, but a continued commitment to nurturing and developing leadership qualities is essential. If managers have a vision of where the business is going, they not only manage goals and align them in the right direction, but motivate their teams for a collaborative effort which can have a significant impact upon employee happiness.

8) Relationships

No matter how strong and advanced business strategies are, success will remain uncertain without excellent relationships within staff teams at all levels in the hierarchy. Effective working relationships are based upon trust and respect, and much of how an employee perceives they are trusted and respected will depend upon the social skills of their managers and colleagues. We might consider that we mastered the talking in toddlerhood, but the art of communicating in a professional capacity goes beyond this. Training for staff in social skills such as perceptiveness, persuasion, empathy and negotiation will work wonders in creating more harmonious working relationships within the business and happier staff overall.