What is the ultimate role of HR? Is it all about benefits, processes, perks, hiring and firing? I say NO – the ultimate role of HR is to create a happy workplace.
And while this may seem like a Pollyanna daydream, it makes a ton of business sense. Happy employees are not simply in a better mood, they also do a much better job. Studies from psychology and neurology have shown that people who experience positive emotions exhibit a number of benefits at work, including these.
- They are more productive and work faster and more efficiently
- They get sick less often and have much lower absenteeism rates
- They are more creative and have more and better ideas
- They stay at the company longer saving huge efforts in recruiting new people
- They sell more when in sales roles
- They make the customers happy and more loyal to the company
All of this means that happy companies make more money and have higher growth rates and stock prices than the market average.
And HR is ideally placed to be the champion of workplace happiness. This puts two requirements on HR professionals. First, it requires a mental shift from merely focusing on processes to realizing that these processes are essential to employees' well being. Simply put, the reason all of these HR processes must be in place is not so that the company won't get sued – it's to make sure that employees feel valued, cared for and are happy at work.
Secondly, it requires an intense focus on what really makes employees happy – and it's not what most people think. It's not about raises, bonuses, promotions and perks. According to the research, the two things that make employees happy at work are results and relationships. Results is about making a difference at work, knowing that your job is important, getting appreciation and doing work that you can be proud of. Relationships are about liking the people you work with, having a good manager and feeling like you belong. In short, we are happy at work when we do great work together with great people.
This focus on happiness should infuse every aspect of HR. You can hire for happiness, where you make sure to hire not just the best qualified employee, but the one who will be truly happy in that position. You can train for happiness, where you teach employees what they can do themselves to be happy at work. You can select and train managers for happiness, so that you don't just promote the most highly-skilled employee to management, but instead select managers based on their ability to create results AND relationships. You can even fire for happiness – when employees absolutely don't fit in and let their misery infect everyone around them.
Creating a happy workplace obviously requires top-level support. It's a hallmark of all the best workplaces that executives have made happiness a top strategic priority. If your CEO is not on board with this, it's going to be an uphill struggle all the way.
The HR department of the US online retailer Zappos has made this their priority for a long time. To them, the most important thing is to make sure that Zapponians (as Zappos employees are known) are happy at work. Of course they fulfill all the traditional HR functions but they also focus on innovative ways to create results and relationships on a daily basis. Among their brilliant ideas are:
- Zappos Wishez – an online platform where Zapponians can help each other out with different challenges and wishes.
- An internal recognition system where any employee can give anyone else a $50 bonus.
- Hiring, training and promoting for culture fit rather than just professional experience.
So my challenge to HR is three-fold:
- Make happiness the core of what you do. Redefine yourself as your organization's happiness champions rather than just the keepers of the employee handbook.
- Focus on results and relationships. This are what truly makes us happy. Perks? Not so much.
- Be bold. Instead of doing what everyone else does, don't be afraid to try new approaches.