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Employee satisfaction is a difficult thing to understand even if you’re spending every minute with your co-workers. The reality of the matter is, if you’re a team leader or even higher up the management ladder, you probably aren’t. But nothing is more important to overall success than morale. Job satisfaction improves productivity, it inspires better collaboration between co-workers, and it’s the best way to motivate. So how do you figure out if people are happy? Here’s a few ways to answer that all-important question.



The easiest and most uniform way to ask questions about employee satisfaction is a survey. Anonymously have people fill out a short form with several questions, such as “Do you feel fulfilled by your position?” “Do you feel there is room to grow?” and “Do you see yourself staying with the company?” Depending on the size of the group being polled, you may prefer multiple choice answers (such as a scale from extremely unsatisfied to extremely satisfied) to a simple text box. If your group is smaller, individual answers may work; you can also mix the two, with a bubble survey and room for personal comments at the end.


A More Formal Survey

If you don’t want to narrow down which questions to ask, polling company Gallup has the answer for you. The Q12 Survey, a product of years of study and testing, has employees answer 12 questions on a 1 to 5 scale, perfectly calibrated to figure out their engagement. Questions include: Do you know what is expected of you at work? Do you have appropriate materials and equipment? Do you receive praise and recognition? Does your supervisor seem to care about you? Do your opinions seem to count?


Put Things On the Record

Anonymous surveys are a good way for people to blow off steam, but if you’re looking for more specific feedback about employee morale, you need to talk to them one-on-one. A good sign of a healthy work environment is one where an employee feels comfortable talking about what they like—and what they don’t like—to their manager. That’s what individual reviews are for, of course, and they should happen more than once a year. They don’t have to be tied to anything, just used as a check-in, and a way to solicit helpful suggestions on changes to make in the workplace.


Efficiency Audits: Short and Sweet

Big company-wide surveys and one-on-one check-ins are time-consuming. Something smaller can work too. One approach is an “efficiency audit,” in which employees check weekly boxes about very specific workplace problems. Just ask if things are positive, negative, or neutral on these fronts: Email management, scheduling, happiness, sleep, health, and camaraderie. If those numbers change week to week, you can pinpoint what people aren’t happy about.


Mini-Reviews Work Too

If box-checking isn’t your speed, you can also have employees fill out a form at the end of every work week, where they assess how things have gone and how they’re feeling. Only a few sentences required—a place to blow off steam, shout out the good stuff, and note some area that needs improvement. It’s a little weekly reading assignment, but one that keeps managers in touch with what’s happening on the ground.


Check the Data

Are people getting things done on time? Is anyone lagging behind in their reports, quieter in meetings, or absent more frequently? These can be markers of low morale, and don’t necessarily have to be dealt with in a disciplinary way. If things seem bad, check in with someone and make sure everything’s going well. If the data simply reflects a slight slowdown from someone, pay a little more attention to them—be more forthcoming with positive feedback, for example, and you might see productivity shoot back up very quickly.


Note Turnover and Absence

If your team’s absence rate, or the overall staff turnover, is high, you might have a problem. People tend to stick around where they feel safe and happy, and if everyone keeps jumping ship, then you should re-evaluate how motivation works at your company, and how to keep people happier.


Why It Matters

A Gallup poll of more than 150,000 American workers made it clear just how important morale is. Only 30% reported being “actively engaged” at work, while 52% said they were “not engaged” (another 18% were “actively disengaged”). Those kinds of surveys are crucial to figuring out what’s working and what isn’t, and if you can move those numbers within your own workplace, you’ll quickly see the benefits.


Successful Companies Measure Morale All the Time

Employee engagement is a rising concern at some of America’s biggest companies, since it’s such an easy way to improve efficiency. John Deere takes stock of morale every two weeks; an entire division of the company is devoted to it. By doing so, you can note problems and ward them off before they become too serious; regular check-ins, rather than annual ones, can prevent institutional rot.


Motivation Is Key

More than anything, it’s crucial for people to feel loved and supported at their job, not just by their managers but by their co-workers. We’ve written about optimism breakfasts designed shout everyone out and keep people happy, sometimes by focusing on one’s home life or outside hobbies (work isn’t everything, after all). Finding your team’s strengths and pointing out their superpowers is a great way to encourage good work, but don’t just assume the occasional piece of praise will be enough to keep morale high. Consistent check-ins, backed up by some data, are the best way to make sure things are still going well for everyone, and if they aren’t, you’ll have plenty of chances to correct the problem.


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