A Foolish Perspective: 5 Ways to Improve Employee Satisfaction


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Employee happiness can be credited with improving team productivity, boosting morale, and decreasing turnover. It has a huge impact on a company’s bottom line.

According to a Right Management poll, nearly 60% of employees are suffering from negativity, which can surely seep into the culture and diminish the engagement of a workforce.

So The Ascent turned to The Motley Fool’s Kara Chambers, VP of People Insights, to learn what you can do to improve employee satisfaction and to improve your company’s bottom line.

Why is employee satisfaction so important?

One thing leaders don’t always realize is that having high employee satisfaction can help pull a company through hard times. When times are good and when a company is performing at a high level, typically, leadership and employees are happy.

The balance sheet is flush, people can get raises, and generally speaking, morale is high. But when times are tough, that’s when you’ll really see the resilience and the collaboration in a company, and having high satisfaction is necessary to get through those times unscathed.

For instance, in 2008 during the Great Recession, The Motley Fool was experiencing financial challenges similar to most of the business world.

We ended up having to freeze some key benefits (which we later brought back in full), and instead of employees being angry or turning on each other, everyone rallied around a common goal.

We united together. And that’s because going into that period, our satisfaction was high -- so people didn’t get frustrated or angry -- instead, they channeled more cooperative emotions and banded together.

What do you think are the top 5 ways to improve employee satisfaction?

I’d say the top five ways to improve and maintain employee satisfaction are:

1. Ask for feedback from employees

Too often, leaders forget to do the simple things, for instance, ask employees for feedback. If morale or engagement is low, there’s usually a reason. Don’t sit in an ivory tower and make guesses -- talk directly with your employees and show that you’re not only listening, but that you’re going to do something.

Even if you think an employee-driven solution isn’t good, try at least one thing they suggest. At one point, a team was providing a lot of feedback that they weren’t as productive in the office as they were at home, so the team lead implemented “Work from home Wednesdays”.

It was less important how successful this new change was or what effect it had on productivity. More importantly, it showed folks that their team leader was listening to them.

2. Personalize employee recognition

Giving recognition is a great way to improve employee satisfaction; the problem is that most managers and leaders don’t do it enough. I usually tell people -- whatever it is you’re doing, make it more frequent.

There’s a really practical formula that I tend to share with people for how to give great recognition, created by Laura Delizonna: I saw what you did + here’s how it helped + and here’s what it says about you.

Use that formula, and use recognition as often as you can -- it just might be the cheapest way a company can improve employee satisfaction.

3. Commit to fair employee compensation

I have a colleague who has always said about compensation, “If you left everyone’s salary on the printer, would you feel good about it?”

It doesn’t mean people will be paid similarly but it does mean that the company tries to be transparent about pay expectations and that you should try to compensate people fairly based on what the market dictates.

Similarly, I’ve always thought that the number of counter-offers made at your company is a great sign of employee dissatisfaction.

For example, if an employee comes to you and says they got an offer from Company X for some dollar amount more, then it shows you two things: first, your employees are actively job searching, and second, most likely, you should have been paying them more in the first place.

Now you have to scramble to find more money, and trying to “save” an employee is always more costly and time intensive than just treating them fairly in the first place.

4. Focus on employee wellness

Mental and physical health contribute to your performance no matter what it is you do, so you need to invest in people’s health. People think wellness has to be expensive or you have to have a big budget, but it can be really simple.

We’ve done push-up challenges with a Google Sheet. We’ve done a steps-challenge, a healthy cooking challenge, and more. Remember, most of your workers are knowledge workers -- and a healthier body is a healthier brain.

Focus on stress management, mental health, and the things that matter the most to people, like their financial well-being and their families. Happy and healthy employees are always going to be a business driver whether you have four or 400 employees.

5. Be flexible with rules and guidelines

Oftentimes I hear people who manage HR talk about all the rules that are in place at their companies. Don’t assume people need guardrails. Instead, assume that people want to do good work.

Don’t begin with an antagonistic relationship with your employees -- give them the autonomy to do a good job. Give as much flexibility as possible, help people design their jobs, and while you’ll define the desired output, let them figure out the best way to achieve that output.

Parting thoughts on employee satisfaction

Inclusion and diversity is a powerful combination of tools that companies can use to improve satisfaction. This doesn’t just mean hiring a diverse range of employees, but also making sure that every employee is set up for success.

How does an HR team do that? By thinking about questions from the employee's point of view. Are there people at the company that look like you, people that think like you?

Can you point to a path someone else has taken and envision yourself taking a similar path? An inclusive work environment is one in which employers think about questions like these.

When your workers feel included, they deliver better work, and the same is true of employee satisfaction. Improving satisfaction doesn’t only increase retention, reduce recruiting costs, improve productivity and grow the bottom line -- it’s also just the right thing to do.

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