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The Science of Happiness: How to Build a Killer Culture in Your Company

Every company - whether it is trying to build one or not - has a culture. And culture matters.

A great culture can make the critical difference between organizational success and dismal failure. It impacts just about every business metric we have, from customer service to productivity to profitability. It is the key to retention because employees don’t want to leave a great culture. It is the key to recruitment because applicants are clamoring to get in. Intel, which is renowned for its iconic culture, has a turnover rate of only 2% and Google gets an estimated 7,000 unsolicited applications for jobs every day.

But let’s face it, the culture we have isn’t always the culture we want. What if your culture needs some help? Or a lot of help? How can companies that might lack the resources of a Google still create a magnetic culture?

The short answer is by concentrating on employee happiness. At this point, you might be thinking: “Wait… employee happiness?

Shouldn’t culture start with an all-hands meeting with the CEO or with free snacks in the break room?”

HR leaders encounter a lot of advice about how to manage culture—to increase engagement, decrease turnover, and drive recruitment. But when it comes to creating a culture employees love and don’t want to leave, employee happiness is the metric that really matters. Too often, we think about culture in one of two ways:

• Culture is the sum of your perks

• Culture is dictated from the top

A good culture may have some perks, and it certainly needs the involvement of execs, but neither alone will get you a great culture.

It is tempting for many to think of company culture in terms of fringe benefits— like funky offices, onsite massages and free soda. These outward trappings of companies with great culture are often what we think of when we think of great places to work. But perks grow from culture, not the other way around. Perks are just the manifestation of what makes a particular group of people (your employees) happy.

Likewise, leaders tend to see culture in terms of things they can do—like setting goals and core values. Their participation is an important part of the picture, and trust in leaders is one of the key drivers of engagement, but execs cannot dictate a great culture. They can only lay the groundwork for a great culture to take hold.

It is your employees who control your culture. When they are happy, it thrives. If they are stomping around complaining… well, your culture probably stinks—no matter how great your mission statement is or how free your dry cleaning.

Happy employees are what make a culture great.

How do we know this? An increasing body of research, for one thing. Consider this recent research posted by the Wall Street Journal and the iOpener Institute [i] . Happy employees:

• Are 85% more efficient at their work

• Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues

• Believe they are achieving their potential 2x as much

• Spend 65% more time feeling energized

• Are 10x less likely to take sick leave

• Have a 50% stronger sense of getting things done

• Are 58% more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues

• Identify 98% more strongly with the values of their organization

• Are 186% more likely to recommend their organization to a friend

Unlike culture itself, we have hard numbers on the science of employee happiness and how to directly increase it. It all leads to one conclusion:

Concentrating your efforts on making employees happy is the most direct and powerful way to impact your organizational culture.


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Inukshuk Change Management mountain (right)
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