The Happiness Compact: How to Start Fostering Employee Happiness

I love my employees, all sixty-three of them.

They are great talented people that put a huge amount of passion into everything they do at our organization.

They care deeply about our customers, our product and our culture — and I want them to be happy.

Helping my employees be happy and feel valued is part of my job as CEO of SurveyGizmo. Maybe that’s not a “normal” role for a CEO, but I have no desire to be a normal CEO (it sounds awful).

I serve my customers, my employees and my managers with equal passion and I want all of them to be happy.

That’s the way a business should be run.

Happiness as Part of Sustainable Business

One of my goals as CEO is to build a sustainable business.

I have no interest in venture capital (please stop calling me), I’m not planning my exit strategy, and we have no intention of ever going public or selling the company.

In my opinion, a sustainable business pays attention to four things and that list above distracts from what matters.

A sustainable business pays attention to:

  1. Its financial well being (that means real profit and sustainable growth)
  2. Building value for our customers and ourselves
  3. Our impact on the environment (which includes the local community as much as the world at large)
  4. Maintaining a healthy culture and good values

That’s where happiness comes in.

Part of our values and culture is our belief that the human experience is best when we are all happy. This is common sense. Being happy should be a goal for everyone, every day in our personal lives and at work.

When we are doing it well we provide an experience that fosters happiness and meaning to our customers and each other.

I can tell you from personal experience that nothing makes a difference to the growth of your company like an engaged, happy and inspired staff.

There are tons of articles that describe the “tangible” benefits of happiness.

Employees are more likely to stay with the company, are absent fewer days, complete their work more quickly, produce higher-quality work, and find ways to improve their effectiveness.

True, these are all effects of happy employees, but they are not the reasons you should strive for a happy workplace.

It’s the right thing to do — that’s the real reason we should work toward it. If you believe in this wholeheartedly then you will slowly and continually see success, and you’ll be able to survive the bumps along the way.

We believe in it at SurveyGizmo and we are dedicated to happiness — here’s how we got started with our own initiatives.

The First Step: The Happiness Compact

You’ll notice above that I do not say, “we make our employees happy”. That’s on purpose.

You can’t *make* someone happy. The first step in building happiness is creating a culture of responsibility in your organization.

That’s why we have the Happiness Compact. It’s an agreement about responsibility for happiness and creating a happy environment.

I wrote this last year when we started measuring happiness and trying to improve it. I spent a lot of time reading and thinking of ways to make our employees happy but kept coming to the same sticking point.

Short of putting large amounts of illicit drugs into the water (I considered it only briefly), I can’t make anyone be happy through direct action.

People choose to be happy — either unconsciously or consciously depending on their own self awareness. As good leaders the best we can do is create an environment where there is more opportunity to be happy for ourselves and our employees.

With that in mind, I drafted a compact between the organization and the individual employees based on similar compacts I learned from Ari Weinzweig, the CEO of Zingermans in Ann Arbor, MI. (They have great training programs if you are interested: ZingTrain. It will change you for life. In a good way.)

What I came up with is our Happiness Compact. Feel free to steal it if you think it will be useful. You can modify it for your organization if something doesn’t seem to fit.

SurveyGizmo’s Happiness Compact

As an employee of SurveyGizmo, I agree to take responsibility for my own happiness at the workplace and agree that I am in control of, and responsible for, my feelings and actions.

As a leader of SurveyGizmo, I agree to provide a healthy, safe and fair work environment. I take responsibility for creating opportunities to be happy for everyone that works here.

You can see that the compact is between two people, the leader (or manager) of the organization and a staff member. Two people can make a compact, but I don’t think it has the same effect if it’s between a “company entity” and the employee.

We now teach this to all our employees and new hires. It’s one of the agreements between each other that make SurveyGizmo work as an employer (the other big one is the energy compact — but that’s a blog to come).

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Tip on Presenting the Compact

I really suggest you use a happiness compact as the first step towards developing sustainable happiness. However, you might want to be careful when you roll it out (I speak from experience). Remember, this is an agreement, for it work it has to be understood by both parties.

Here are some misunderstandings you may hear when you first present this idea:

“Wait, so you are saying that it’s my fault I’m unhappy?”
“You mean you’re not going to try to make us happy?”
“I don’t believe in this. Other people make me unhappy or make me happy. I don’t have control over that.”

It’s really important that you reassure everyone that you as a leader are taking responsibility for creating an environment where they can be happy. It’s also important that you discuss with your staff that the decision to be happy ultimately does not lie with you.

Ease your staff into this. Involve them from the beginning, have them read this article, and ask them to help you draft the compact.

Heck, have them email me if they have questions (my email is my first name at surveygizmo dotcom — I’m a little slow to reply, but I do reply).

This is Not the End

The compact is a great place to begin, but it’s only a beginning.

“Be Happy” is one of our bottom lines at SurveyGizmo. We measure it, we talk about it — the directors and myself spend most of our time on it (sometimes at the detriment to our other bottom lines). We recognize that it’s only the foundation of our programs and value.

We have a lot of happiness initiates at SurveyGizmo. This has been fun to blog about so I’m happy to share them all if folks are interested.

Be Happy!

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