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Making Employees Happy: The Search for Meaning and Balance

In an earlier blog, we discussed the importance—and limitations—of money in making people happy. Clearly, money is needed for a comfortable life, but people have needs that cash alone can’t fulfill. 

As post-pandemic workers are re-evaluating work and its place in their lives, what are they looking for? How can employers respond appropriately? And one more question…

Why are some workers staying home?

Many US employers began reporting a serious labor shortage in 2021. Where did the workforce go? Some feared that extended unemployment benefits, designed to lift the economy out of the pandemic slump, were keeping people from re-entering the workforce. But a Forbes article titled What Does A Worker Want? What The Labor Shortage Really Tells Us, cites research by US financial firm BTIG which found that “only 3% of individuals were earning enough from unemployment such that they had no financial need to return to work.” The report also found that:

  • Only 14% of those surveyed were getting more money from unemployment benefits than from their last job.
  • After higher pay and good benefits, work flexibility was the primary motivator to get someone to return to an hourly wage position.

If the increased unemployment benefits are not the primary reason for the worker shortage, what is?

In search of a life that works

CNN Business took a look at the situation faced by restaurants and their workers in a piece called, 

'People are just walking out in the middle of shifts': What it's like to work in a restaurant right now. Says author Danielle Wiener-Bronner, “Eventually, when restaurants started re-hiring, they found a smaller pool of potential employees. Some moved away, others found new jobs in other industries. Some are still staying home to care for children or other dependents. Some, fed up with what are often low wages for the arduous work, vowed never to return.”

Perhaps it is a reset in the job market, caused by workers getting a little perspective. As the Forbes article points out, real wages have been stagnant for decades, and workers want better working conditions. “Workers want a better work-life balance and scheduling flexibility. Thanks to the coronavirus forcing many businesses to offer telecommuting, remote workers are starting to realize that having greater work flexibility is possible.” Remote workers may be wondering why they should go back to work at an office when telecommuting was working just fine. And, the pandemic complicated child and family care responsibilities for many. Some may want to return to the workforce, but can’t because they have a child or family member to care for. All in all, the general labor shortage is giving employees a stronger bargaining position.

But as long as we are re-evaluating work and rewards, let’s consider what is perhaps the most powerful motivator in the world of work: meaning.

Compensating in a meaningful way

Le Temps newspaper of Lausanne, Switzerland recently published an article titled (translated from the French) “Have conventional compensation criteria become obsolete?” by Silna Borter, professor in the Human Resources and Organizational Development institute of the School of Management and Engineering (HEIG) of the canton of Vaud. Borter argues that the way in which money is distributed and work is rewarded in organizations sometimes bears no connection to what the organizations would like to achieve in terms of activity, values, meaning, and above all, performance.

Conventional compensation criteria do not take into account the meaning or values of organizations and warrant a profound rethinking of the principles and the very definition of remuneration, according to Borter. It is not simply a matter of distributing a wage bill, i.e. allocating salaries and bonuses. It is a question of returning to the meaning of work, including fundamental needs for autonomy, competence, and belonging.

This also implies a different way of approaching performance assessment, rather than leaving it in the hands of hierarchical superiors who can see only their own silo of activity. Whether it is by valuing contribution over status, by recognizing the value of versatility as much as specialization, by making compensation more transparent, or by rewarding collective performance, there are many ways to give meaning to the strategic rewards process, suggests Borter.

Happiness is the best driver for success

Meaning can come from the nature of what a company does, its mission and values. But companies can also strive to infuse any work with meaning in the way they value individuals, foster community, and give opportunities for contribution. As we say at beqom, employee happiness is the best driver for success. But happiness doesn’t come from paying your employees more money. It comes from making sure they understand:

  • The company direction
  • The link between their individual goals and the overall company strategy
  • How they are rewarded and recognized for achieving these goals and if it is fair

Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and perhaps the 20th century’s most authoritative voice on the importance of meaning in human life, said that success, like happiness, is “the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”

To make employees happy and fulfilled, offer them meaningful work and nurture their humanity. To keep them, support their needs for income, flexibility, and a balanced life.

Contact the total rewards experts at beqom to start the journey towards implementing rewards that work.

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