Five keys to keeping your start-up staff happy

Employee happiness and satisfaction is a vital part of the success of any business, from the largest multinational to the smallest start-up. Your employees are your main asset, both while you are building your IP as a growing start-up and in the future as an established company.


The very essence of start-up companies goes a long way to keeping your staff happy; the excitement and enthusiasm that comes from being part of a growing company doing something new and different is usually contagious. But you can’t rely on enthusiasm alone. It’s important to look at the culture you want to cultivate for your company and its staff, now and into the future.


I believe that the two overarching themes to happy staff are 1) work has to be fun, and 2) work has to be challenging but not too challenging! As a manager of people you need to create an environment and work culture where these two things are possible.


1. Create a start-up culture


Start-ups are renowned for their fun culture and this can be easily achieved without spending money on fancy offices.


In fact, I would highly recommend that you keep your office a little grubby and cheap. Make sure your staff regularly take time out to be social together, and choose one thing, no matter how small, that your company offers its staff that is completely different.


2. Recognise staff success and hard work


Employees require recognition both as a group or team, but also as individual people.


It’s important to regularly recognise team or individual successes and periods of hard work and smart innovative work.


Most of the time, you should make the recognition publicly, in front of all staff, but there are also times when a smaller private recognition should be made. Remember your employees are individuals and where some people like a fanfare, others prefer a quiet word of encouragement.


Most sales staff work best under competitive pressure, while engineers normally need a calmer environment.


Whether it’s a ceremonial award at a staff meeting or a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘pat on the back’ over coffee, use your discretion as to the situation and the size or scale of the recognition, but make sure it is genuine.


It’s also important to remember and recognise those sometimes invisible performers and departments like finance and support.


3. Team work


Even the most independent workers want to be part of something bigger. Being part of a team offers a sense of security, camaraderie and competition. Foster a culture of teams and healthy, fun competition between those teams, being careful not to cause division.


Monitor your teams intermittently carefully and closely (this doesn’t mean micro managing!) to make sure you always know if any employees are underperforming. But for the most let them get on with their jobs. It is best to create a work culture of self management. Staff can often become frustrated with an underperforming team member so be aware of your employees and take swift remedial measures if necessary.


Part of fostering team work is enabling a supportive culture amongst your staff. Encouragement and support from peers and colleagues is equally as important as recognition from management. An altruistic environment is healthy and works in everyone’s favour.


4. Set clear goals


A good way of both fostering team work and creating reasons for recognition is by setting goals, both long term and short term. Set goals for the start-up as a whole, as well as the teams and individuals that are a part of it.


It’s important that goals are clear, concise, make sense and are achievable, but not easy. Communicate the goals with your staff and make it known among the team what it means to go the extra mile.


As your start-up grows, expands and changes, it’s important to set regular intervals where those goals are monitored, analysed and re-evaluated. This will ensure both the company and your staff are on the right path and working toward personal and company-wide successes.


5. Celebrate victories and milestones


Always celebrate victories and milestones but try to be selective and different. Vary who and what you celebrate and how you celebrate it. Institutionalised rewards lose their power; when rewards become too much a part of the everyday we stop striving for them.


Changing the celebrations will also offer new and fun experiences for your staff and avoid the trap of falling into what is routine.


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