Managing Motivation & Wellbeing For Your Staff During A Crisis


Happy Ltd are a successful IT training organisation based in London, utilising accessplanit’s training management software to automate processes. Henry Stewart is the Chief Happiness Officer - a man on a mission to create happier, more productive workplaces.

On Wednesday 20th May 2020, Henry delivered a  thought provoking 30-minute webinar focusing on how to manage motivation and wellbeing for your staff at this uncertain time.

Henry was refreshingly honest from the get-go, providing insight into how COVID-19 has directly affected Happy’s staffing and operations. He mentioned 9 of his staff were currently furloughed, on a 3-week rotation. He also mentioned that Happy lost 80% of their revenue at the start of COVID, but have bounced back well through resourcefulness, efficiency and happiness!

From the wellbeing of staff to the role of a manager, and from HIPPO's to  bottom line profit, here's a run through of everything we talked about!

It’s all about freedom

Using the poll function within Zoom, Henry opened with a number of questions to the audience. One of these related to how people feel working from home. Of the people that are enjoying it, there seems to be a common theme which centres around freedom. It’s simply not possible to micro-manage or have constant oversight over your colleagues like in the office. A reference Henry cited was an NHS trust that Happy has ties with, where they have created the slogan #NOGOINGBACK, because the newfound freedom had been a revelation for staff morale.

Henry also referenced a circumstance where a young employee of Happy, had ideas on how to improve a café. What they didn’t do is say ‘show us a plan and we’ll approve it’ or ‘let’s form a committee and decide

“Skip the approval, approve the solution before they’ve thought of the solution.”

How did that 19-year-old feel 3 months into the job feel walking into their café? It’s all about a sense of ownership. You motivate people by giving them this freedom. This is so important. Freedom within guidelines.

So when it doesn't go to plan - Do you have a no blame culture where you celebrate mistakes?

When people work at their best

People work best when they feel good about themselves.

Ellen, an implementation manager at accessplanit, gave a great account of how supportive accessplanit are as an employer for recognising individuals contributions, looking out for one another and introducing schemes such as confidential support initiatives.

Another example is the department chain John Lewis. At it’s inception in the 1920’s, at the core of the constitution is the clause ‘that every decision should be based on how happy it makes the staff’. 

Do you get to do what you are best at everyday?

Only 17% of people do. However, those that do are far more productive. At Happy they recruit for a job position then throw it away, and get the new employee to do what they’re best at.

Whilst considering what you’re good at, it’s worth delving deeper and to find out:

  • What brings you joy?
  • What gives you fulfilment?

Are happy workplaces more profitable?

The simple answer is: yes!

Henry cites a study from Alex Edmans from Wharton Business School, who found investment in the stock market generally produced £100,000, whereas investing in the great workplaces would have produced £236,000.

Another study from the NHS found a direct link between patient and staff satisfaction. Furthermore, less people die when staff are happier. In fact, this is estimated to equate to 5,000 deaths due to poor workplace culture.

Henry asked the audience to think of a specific time when they have worked at their best. Following this it’s worth considering…

  • Was it a time you were really well paid?
    About 10% said yes
  • Was it a time when communication from your manager was particularly good?
    About 50% said yes
  • Was it a time you were challenged?
    About 75% said yes
  • Was it a time when you were trusted and given freedom to make your own decisions?
    About 80% said yes

What is a managers role in this?

Have you heard of Buurtzorg?

Buurtzorg, based in the Netherlands are a home-care company. They were founded in 2006 with 4 staff – they now employ over 14,000.

So…what’s the secret to the hyper-growth?

The organisation has 0 managers. The business is composed of teams of 10-12 people that decide for themselves. They have no levels of approval. Learn more about this bizarre setup that works!

So what is the role of the manager? Does it have a place in modern business?

In 2008, Google ran a study called Project Oxygen, where they assessed what the most important qualities were as a manager from the following:

  • Good communicator
  • Express interest
  • Be productive and results-orientated
  • Empower, don’t micromanage
  • Help with career development
  • Key technical skills
  • Be a good coach
  • Clear vision

The results from the study found that the most important traits for a manager are:

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower, don’t micromanage
  3. Express interest

Being a good coach

It’s important that a coach helps to build confidence, asks questions but most importantly, allows you to make your own decisions.

“Your job as a leader is not to be the smartest person in the room. It is to maximise the potential of your team” - Liz Wiseman

It’s also good practice to be on the lookout for HIPPOS! (The Highest Paid Persons Opinion)

These are usually people who are nowhere near the front line. Henry recognises the importance of this in his own business. As a founder of a large IT training organisation, he accepts that he has staff that know far more about IT training than he does, having not stepped in an IT training classroom for over 20 years.

Do you have an organisation that plays to their strengths?

Here’s six things to consider to aid wellbeing and motivate your workforce at a senior level:

  • Show you have their best interests at heart – At Happy they provided reassurance of 6 months employment when COVID-19 hit. After all, people don’t work well when they’re scared.
  • Complete transparency – This involves publishing the financial figures you have behind lock and key. Your staff need to know the situation.
  • Check in on them, don’t check on them - A subtle but key difference. Make it not work related, see if they need support.
  • Involve your people – Collaboration is so powerful. At Happy, the people decide who goes on furlough.
  • Trust your people – You hired them, after all!
  • It’s all about coaching

All of the above information can be surmised into 3 important takeaways:

  • Get people to do what they’re great at
  • Give them the freedom to do it well
  • Coach them to be their best

There's a lot to think about!  As a next step, why not watch the recording from this insightful wellbeing webinar.

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