Special Feature
Creating a Happy Workplace
Creating a Happy Workplace

Staff engagement and well-being are key concerns of many forward-thinking companies in Hong Kong, and indeed around the world. Companies with a culture that emphasises work-life balance invariably attract and retain quality employees, reducing the high cost of turnover.

Why is it important to have better staff engagement?
Hong Kong workers are renowned as being among Asia’s hardest working, but that comes with huge expectations, high levels of stress and the need to be “constantly connected.” Companies understand that they need to look after their employees’ work-life balance and well-being to avoid burn out and disengagement. 

Towers Watson’s “2012 Global Workplace Study” found that Hong Kong employees make up one of the least engaged workforces in the world, with only one in five workers feeling highly engaged. Disengaged employees tend to feel that their workload is unreasonable, they do not have the energy levels needed to sustain highly productive output, and are more likely to suffer health issues. One in three workers in Hong Kong was considering looking for another job, according to the report. 

A more recent survey, the 2017 “It’s Time We All Work Happy” global study by Robert Half, showed strongly that remuneration is not necessarily the key driver in the workplace, with the top three issues being:

  • Pride in their organisation
  • Being treated with fairness and respect
  • Feeling appreciated for the work they do

Just paying a good wage is not enough nowadays to get the most out of employees, especially the millennial generation. Below are seven staff engagement ideas to help create a more positive and productive workforce.  

Ideas for a happy workplace

1)    Make a good first impression – welcome your employees
When someone leaves a company, typically their colleagues will arrange a card, a farewell gift, perhaps some afternoon tea or a lunch. Why not do the same for when a new staff member joins? Imagine turning up on your first day to find a welcome card on the desk, signed by your colleagues welcoming you as the new team member. 

These small gestures by colleagues are likely to make your new hire feel welcome and immediately engaged with the company. An additional action is to ask a different employee to take the new staff member out to lunch each day for the first week. The new colleague gets some good one-on-one time with different staff, and they get a good feel of the company culture. This helps start them off from the right place to be a loyal employee.

2) Review your staff benefits
What do you offer your staff in terms of corporate discounts? Are you using your brand strength to help source discounts for your employees? If you do, are these discounts regularly updated, and consolidated in an easy-to-locate place for staff to access? 

Providing a comprehensive staff discount programme is a simple way to create an added sense of value for employees. It should be more than the odd gym membership or local takeaway. A well-defined staff discount programme that is regularly updated with current and relevant offers is a key piece in the staff engagement puzzle.

3) Allow your employees to socialise – during office hours!
It is important to provide regular events for staff to participate in to allow them to socialise and engage with their colleagues. Rather than arranging out-of-hours events, consider doing the activities in the workplace, during office hours. This allows staff to easily participate, and such activities will not be seen as added chores or a work requirement. A popular choice is to have an office bazaar or marketplace where you can invite different vendors to offer special sales and sampling to staff. Everyone loves a bargain, and it can help create a happy atmosphere in the office. 

Such events can be run on themes like Green Week, Family Open Day or Volunteer Day, with different topics to engage with your broad workplace demographic. 

4) Ensure your programs are regular and sustainable
It is vital that whatever projects you do initiate are year-round, ongoing programmes, not just one-off initiatives. They need to become part of the culture of the workplace, something that staff can talk about as a “perk” of working at the company. It helps differentiate you from your competitors in the battle for talent.

5)    Develop a clear brand for your engagement programme and communicate clearly and consistently to your employees
Your engagement programme should have a strong brand and name. It should be something your staff can associate with, and they should be able to see that the various initiatives offered under this brand are all about making the workplace a happy environment. It is important to communicate with staff about the programme and update its contents regularly, to ensure all the efforts you put in to organizing it do not go to waste. Keep it fresh and engaging, and your staff will also be better engaged. 

6)    Top down support; grassroots involvement
It goes without saying that the support of your most senior management is paramount to the success of any staff engagement program. Your CEO or Managing Director should be involved on a regular basis, and should mention and support the programme and activities. This will help to achieve positive cultural changes in the office. 

It is also important to get grassroots involvement among staff members. The most successful programs are the ones that have the support of  the “social leaders” in an organization. They help to promote the programme and involve their colleagues. Such employees can act as “brand ambassadors” for the staff engagement programme and help to get broad grassroots support. They are also likely to contribute new ideas and communicate suggestions from other employees. 

7)    Develop your well-being programmes to be more than physical
Happy and engaged workplaces revolve around healthy employees. However, well-being is not just about physical health. It is important that your staff engagement strategy also includes other areas that affect well-being – for example, dealing with mental and emotional health. Very often, it is not just work pressure that employees experience, but also financial, family and other stresses that affect their ability to perform at their optimal capabilities. Providing support – such as workshops, expert talks and other tools – in these areas will help employees to find solutions to their problems, and also help them to focus on their work. 

A final observation
Hong Kong companies need to deliver better engagement solutions for their staff, as many surveys show that employees are stressed, disengaged and looking at opportunities to move. 

Engagement programmes are one solution, but they do not bring instant success. Commitment to the cause and perseverance are important, and the key is to get started. Companies can identify some easy-to-tackle initiatives to start with, and gradually roll out more plans. Within two to three years, a workplace cultural shift will be there to be seen. 

Business owners and company executives should ask themselves – when employees go out at the weekend with their friends and families, how do they describe their workplace? Are they proud to tell their friends about the company’s unique initiatives such as fun workshops or the latest staff discounts? Or will they just be grumbling about being overworked? The answer to how engaged your staff are lies right there. 

Sam Lau is the founder of Total Loyalty Company (TLC), a specialist provider helping Hong Kong businesses create engaged workplaces through a programme of online and offline services.