How to (Actually) Increase Employee Satisfaction

At many companies, employee satisfaction is measured – if at all – through yearly surveys. Once a year, employees fill out a checklist, which, if they’re especially motivated, will provide them extra text boxes in which they can heartily explain why they gave “managers communicate their ideas clearly” a rate of only 6 out of 10.

employee engagement cartoon by Dilbert

Is that really a good way to collect your employee’s ideas? Imagine if other important relationships in your life were measured in yearly surveys. “Kids, would you mind filling out the yearly parenting survey? Oh, and don’t forget page four – it’s about the quality of school lunches!” “Dear _INSERT FRIEND’S NAME_, I’d really like to assess the impact of some recent personal initiatives on our on-going friendship. Here’s a Google Form to measure your response; please have it completed by December 15.”

There are a billion reasons to want to make sure you’re listening to your employees. Doing so makes employees feel more engaged. It increases creativity. It improves effectiveness. It aides employee retention. If that’s not enough, it gives you access to a rich well of ideas.

So how can you make listening to your employees a built-in part of your business? Here are some ideas.

1. Start With Questions, Not Answers

The number-one piece of advice, for business and personal life: start conversations with questions, not answers. Instead of running meetings as a one-directional firehose of information, start with some basics. “What are you all thinking about?” “What do you all think is our biggest problem right now?” “What’s going well?”

As the meeting continues, make sure you take active breaks from talking, and use them to assess your employees. “Am I missing anything?” “Can you explain that to the group?”

Be careful: if you leave too much time for open-ended questioning, meetings can easily lose focus. Nobody likes those. The point, rather, is to set up meetings as dialogues, interactions where people know their voices matter.

2. Don’t Make Information Need-to-Know

Managers are usually privy to important information that affects everyone on their team. But for lots of reasons, those same managers are often reticent about sharing it. Maybe they think knowing too much will unnecessarily distract employees. Maybe they’re worried about communicating problems that don’t yet have solutions. Maybe they just get a thrill out of knowing something other people don’t.

But let’s notice what happens when you pursue transparency. Employees know they can trust you. Employees know that you trust them. Employees feel like their work contributes to the company and its overall mission, which is an essential component of employee satisfaction.

If employees feel like information only goes up the ladder but never comes back down, they’ll stop sharing. If they know they’ll be in the know, they’ll lose their fear of communicating.

3. Use the Right Software to Gauge Employee Satisfaction

It’s easier than ever to use software to take regular pulses of your employees, and to make those surveys non-intrusive.

6Q sends out quick, 6-question surveys at whatever frequency you’d like. TinyPulse sends out one question a week, giving you ongoing feedback. Polly builds surveys into Slack and Microsoft Teams. Impraise calls itself a “360 degree feedback tool.”

There are plenty of others, each of which has its benefits, but any of which can make it easy to gather employee satisfaction scores and act on the feedback quickly.

4. Give Credit to Employees

We all like doing a good job. Even more, we all like being appreciated for doing a good job. As a manager, one of the best things you can do to make employees feel comfortable is to spread credit around.

Yes, you do a great job organizing the team, directing traffic, and making the hard decisions. But you know who’s letting you do all those things? Your team. The more you recognize this, publically, the more your team gets to feel like they’re working for a reason.

When an employee has a good idea, make sure the rest of the company knows about it. That kind of reinforcement keeps the good ideas flowing.

5. Make Clear What’s on the Table and What Isn’t

This is a great one for making sure you get the kind of employee feedback and engagement you’re looking for. One way to focus your employees’ suggestions is to tell them what has been decided already and what hasn’t. When getting feedback about a certain project, for example, let employees know what the budget is, what your client absolutely requires, and what else in the project is non-negotiable.

Then tell employees what parts of the project depend on their feedback.

This is all part of being a good manager: when you clearly communicate to your team what the given constraints are, you avoid wasting their time, and empower them to generate ideas about the things they have some power over.

6. Give Bonuses for Good Ideas

Here’s a super-simple idea for raising employee satisfaction and inspiring ideas: pay people for them! If you believe (as you should) that your employees’ brains contain a wealth of ideas for improving your business and raising profits, then extracting those ideas becomes a matter of simple finance.

Set up a system that rewards the best ideas from employees – the ideas that change your company for the better. And by “reward” we don’t just mean a nice card, or a company-wide email; we mean cash. Want to incentivize feedback? There’s no more direct way to do so.