Edge chats to author and Thought Leader Vlatka Hlupic on keeping staff happy and engaged in smaller businesses

In smaller businesses, often senior managers are so consumed by the day-to-day running of the business and dealing with urgent tasks, how can you make sure that you're not neglecting the needs of your staff?

In any business it is important to ensure two way communication, rather than top down communication. Employees need to feel that their voice and concerns are heard and if needed an action is taken. Technology can facilitate this communication formally, and opportunities for formal and informal meetings with senior managers and even an open door policy will facilitate this communication. In addition to communication, taking care of the needs of staff should be embedded in an organisational DNA that should be based on trust, transparency, meritocracy, purpose, collaboration and taking care of interests of all stakeholders including employees, customers and the society.

In a start-up when it's all hands-on-deck and the main focus is on getting the business off the ground, how important is employee wellbeing? Would you say it's less important, or even more important at this point?

Employee's well being is very important at any stage of an organisational cycle, in start-ups and in mature organisations. Neglecting people and focusing on numbers can only bring short term monetary gains, but it will lead to long-term attrition of people and bottom line profit. Focusing on people and purpose (individual and organisational) will ensure a long-term, sustainable financial health of an organisation as well as having happy, engaged and innovative employees.

For a business that's struggling financially, what ways can you motivate your staff if you're unable to offer them a pay rise or a bonus?

A pay rise or a bonus represent extrinsic motivation that works for some people to a certain extent. Intrinsic motivation can be even more powerful, especially for knowledge workers, where employees are involved in purposeful work , have autonomy to pursue their ideas and opportunities to grow and develop. Providing these opportunities for autonomy, purposeful work and growth can be more motivating than extrinsic rewards. Helping employees to find meaning in their work, align their individual purpose with organisational purpose and understand a global impact that the organisation is making will all be powerful motivators.

How important is a happy workforce and is it a realistic expectation?

A happy workforce is more engaged, more productive and more innovative. Happy workforce provides better customer service which ultimately increases the bottom line profit. So happiness of employees can be linked directly to the financial performance. Given that the productivity of the UK organisations is about 21% lower than the average for G7 countries, working on improving the happiness of the workforce is not an altruistic, utopian idea, it is a common business sense. It may be less realistic in some circumstance, but it should never be taken for granted or ignored.

Do you agree that even though employees may enjoy and be good at their jobs, without fair rewards and incentives, they will eventually leave?

It depends on the nature of the organisation,  its purpose, the mindset of leaders and employees. One might argue that some public sector employees are not rewarded appropriately (e.g. nurses) but many of them stay in their post for various reasons, largely because of the intrinsic motivation to help people. Knowledge workers would leave not only because of an inadequate extrinsic award but also because of the lack of intrinsic motivators.

If you notice that your team is overworked and disengaged, however, you need to get a big project off the ground in little time, what can you do to inspire and motivate them?

Sometimes small changes lead to big impact and difference. Understanding why they are disengaged and overworked and trying to address the underlying issues on a short-term and long-term basis is important. Acknowledging that you understand the underlying problems and assuring the team that these will be addressed sustainably might inject that extra energy and enthusiasm needed to get this big project of the ground. This is all about helping the team to shift to Level 4 mindset, as described in my book "The Management Shift".

Ultimately how can you find the balance between staff being happy and staff being productive?

This is not  matter of balance, it is  a matter of causality. It is not they are either happy  or productive. Happy staff are more productive.