Aegon, Qualtrics And Lego Leverage The Smile To Rock Employee Engagement And Productivity
Forrest Gump didn’t create the smiley face. Harvey Ross Ball gets credit for that moment of genius.
An artist and ad guy, Ball was commissioned in 1963 to create a graphic to help raise morale for employees of an insurance company that had been through a few tough mergers and acquisitions. The goal? Get the employees to cheer up and smile more. Just 10 minutes of brilliance and $45 later, the iconic black-and-yellow smiley face was born, and was soon minted into posters, buttons and signs around the office.
I can’t tell you the strategy succeeded in effectively boosting morale. That detail is, unfortunately, lost to history. But employees loved the buttons. I mean they LOVED them. As it turns out, so did just about everyone else. The image itself? Its success was off the charts! Just look at your emojis, the smiley face is still going strong today.
Why the wild success? Because we love to smile. It makes us feel good.
Guess what? Your employees like smiling at work, too. And when they do, they work harder, they’re more creative and they have significantly higher employee engagement and employee satisfaction. All because of a simple smile—fueled by employee experiences like appreciation, acknowledgment, gratitude, celebration, recognition and reward.
The Science Behind The Smile
Ball’s art has science on its side. Smiling and laughing release endorphins, “feel-good” chemicals that boost happiness and relieve stress and pain. Bonus: When you smile, you activate the joy region of the brain in a cool feedback loop—you either smile and are joyful, or are joyful and then smile. It’s win-win!
Mood also drives performance. Simply put: Good moods fuel positive experiences and better performance, while negative ones drag down performance, productivity and, ultimately, even profitability.
In fact, happiness at work is the new competitive advantage. As research shows, happy employees have the highest return on investment because they:
• are more productive, creative and innovative
• have lower sickness, absenteeism and turnover rates
• have higher rates of employee satisfaction and employee engagement
• advocate for and praise the company to friends and family
• have an increased sense of community and cohesiveness with team members
• deliver the best service to customers
• drive healthy growth, even in times of crisis
As a leader, is there anything on that list that doesn’t make you smile?
Keep Smiling: Keeping Employees Happy At Work
The answer to keeping employees happy lies in the H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S. formula that I and co-author Rosaria Cirillo Loumann detail in Yellow Goldfish, our guide to the nine ways to find and create H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S. in the workplace. In the book, we look at how more than 300 companies provide little extras to contribute to the happiness of their customers, employees and society.
So why happiness? Happiness is the ultimate WHY, the most sustainable competitive advantage and the ultimate currency in business. Today’s most successful companies prioritize happiness to boost employee engagement, customer experiences and loyalty.
“Smile” is the ninth and final factor of the H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S. equation. It’s the last in a nine blog series taking a closer look at all nine factors that help businesses increase happiness to drive growth, productivity, success and bottom-line results. You can read the first eight blogs in the series here:
Health – Google, Ben & Jerry’s, Cisco And Zappos Show How Napping Is One Way To Health And Happiness At Work
Autonomy – If You Love Your Employees, Set Them Free: Autonomy Is Key To Employee Engagement
Purpose – How Do Ben & Jerry’s, Google And Facebook Boost Employee Engagement And Happiness? They Know Why
Play – To Win The Customer Loyalty Game, Southwest Airlines And Epic Games Play For Keeps
Integrity – How Amazon, New Belgium Brewing Company And Tony Chocolonely Put Social Impact Front And Center To Lift The Curtain On Integrity
Nature – L.L. Bean, Microsoft, And Amazon Tell Happy Employees To ‘Take A Hike!’
Empathy – Soft Skills Deliver Hard Bottom-Line Results For Companies Like Lexus, UPIC Health And Google
Simplicity – How The Less-Is-More Approach Boosts Employee Productivity And Bottom-Line Results At Companies Like T-Mobile, Apple And Netflix
How do we create happiness—and more smiles? Through exceptional experiences.
In Yellow Goldfish, we looked at several companies creating happy moments that make employees smile, through employee experiences like perks and benefits, awards and recognitions, special celebrations and acts of kindness and compassion. Here are a few highlights from the book, with a couple more tossed in for good measure—luckily there’s no shortage of companies who understand the value of the smile!
• A building can make you smile! Lego billionaire Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen just opened a quirky new Denmark campus inspired by the very bricks that made the toy company a household name. In an interview, Lego Group CEO Niels B. Christiansen said the space reflects the company’s value and instills a sense of fun.
• Iconic ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s has some workplace fun celebrating “killed projects.” The company’s Flavor Graveyard pays tribute to the “dearly de-pinted” flavors they no longer manufacture. Each flavor gets its own gravestone and clever epitaph. How Wavy Gravy bit the dust I’ll never understand.
• Aegon ups the ante on smiles by combining appreciation, awards and perks. The worldwide life insurance and pension company’s Global Aegon Awards event recognizes employees making a difference across the company. All finalists in eight categories are invited to Aegon HQ to join in an international celebration. Winners then get a hand-crafted piece of artwork and 5,000€ to spend on an experience of a lifetime. Plus, the business unit that gets the nod as the One Aegon Award winner gets 50,000€ earmarked for a project in their own unit.
• How about boosting happiness by helping employees cross items off their bucket lists? Utah-based experience management software provider Qualtrics gives its employees the chance to fufill a person dream. Rolled out in 2018, its annual $1,500 “experience bonus” is mandated to be used to fund a dream—something employees otherwise wouldn’t do on their own. Go to Disney? Build an orphanage in the Philippines? It’s wide open.
• Similarly, marketing and advertising firm SteelHouse makes employees smile with a better way to take time off. Every employee gets a yearly $2,000 bonus. But there’s a catch: It can only be used for vacation. When interviewed about the initiative, CEO Mark Douglas said it was one thing for companies to provide time off, but adding cash to make trips possible takes it to a whole new level. Over three years he reported he had only three of 250 employees leave the company—and those were for reasons unrelated to the job.
• Compassion is the way to turn the inevitable frown upside-down. Bernie Reifkind, CEO of recruiting company Premier Search, recently lit up the internet with a LinkedIn post that went viral. In it he shared the story of finding a female employee in tears at her desk, clearly burned out. She had been up all night with a sick child, but didn’t have the sick time to use. What did he do? He sent her home with the promise she would get paid—and stroked her a check on the spot to help out with her immediate financial concerns. The result? Reifkind was quoted as saying: “To this day, she is my best employee, not just because of her talent but her loyalty.”
• Gratitude is another sure-fire way to make people smile. BELFOUR Holdings, Inc. CEO Sheldon Yellen takes this to heart. Every year he hand-writes birthday cards to each of his 9,200 employees as a way to say thank you. Nine thousand two hundred! Plus he pens even more notes for anniversaries, thank-yous and other occasions, like pick-me-ups when his employees’ kids are sick. This next-level smile generator deserves a standing O.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, there’s no better time to harness the power of appreciation and gratitude and let your employees know they’re valued. What else can you do to make them smile—and make sure they keep smiling all year round?