Summer 2004
Get Happy!

Happy retailer, cheerful staff: a great combination—not just for a pleasant workplace, but for profitability. Don’t believe it? The fact is, enthusiastic employees are energized, empowered, and productive. They just plain do more. They go out of their way to satisfy customers; they come up with new ideas; and they accomplish more in less time. And that adds up to selling more. In short, a happy workplace means a better bottom line.

If you’re contending with bored or squabbling co-workers, unpleasant managers and impatient customers, you should be doing something to turn it around. Why? Because unhappy employees erode your profit potential: customers don’t shop retailers who don’t care about them.

Unbridled enthusiasm!

A happy workplace peopled with enthusiastic staffers is not only desirable—it’s achievable. So where do you begin?

A large part of the answer lies with you. Your own attitude is “catching.” Your staff takes on the moods you express every day. Attitude can make the difference between mundane and meaningful. So if your attitude is less than sparkly, it may need retooling.

Take a look at the following five techniques. Putting them to work will help ensure that you’re putting a positive spin on life at your cart or store, and spreading those good vibes to your staff and ultimately to your customers. These techniques can help recharge your battery and put some fire under your team.

Emphasize the value of the job. Rather than viewing the job—yours and your staffers’—as a money-making activity, look at it as a mission to help people. After all, isn’t that what good selling is—solving a customer’s problem? “Sometimes we get so caught up in our work we forget its purpose,” says Kathie Hightower, president of the consulting firm Hightower Resources. “We need to acknowledge the huge impact we have on people’s lives.” That happens when you meet customer needs.

True, it’s hard to concentrate on work value when your day is crammed with uninspiring activities like tracking inventory and ordering supplies. The secret, though, is to consider the uninspiring tasks as small but necessary steps to reach your real goal: filling customer needs, which in turn makes money for your business. “Our work activities can be quite mundane, but it’s the value, the interpretation, we put on them that makes the difference,” says Beverly Potter, a trainer and motivational speaker. Happiness comes “from having a sense you’re doing something great,” she says, “doing more than processing orders and shuffling paper.”

Without a sense of mission, many of us fall back on money as the primary goal of working. That can lead to feeling trapped, feeling unable to improve the situation. But the fact is, many people who reach the money mountaintop aren’t happy. It goes back to the attitude you started with. If you’re in business just to make more than or “get ahead of” everyone else, then you’re glossing over what you’re doing and why you are doing it, says Michael Fogler, a career and job-fulfillment trainer. And there’s no joy in that.

To get back on track with your mission, recall why you created your retail enterprise and your own job. Try imagining what would happen if no one were doing your job. Then develop your personal work mission based on what you see yourself accomplishing with your team.

Help for your staff: Encourage them to focus on the value of their work by reminding them of the impact they have on customers.

Break down work into parts. The complexity of the job can overwhelm your sense of mission. Hightower suggests breaking down your job into components, then analyzing each one. Which parts raise your energy level? Which parts drain it? For each task that drains you, she suggests asking yourself if you can delegate it to a staffer, or perhaps hire it out, or somehow just change something about the task that will make it more fun.

Sometimes you can make a dull task more palatable by playing your favorite music in the background, or having a cup of your favorite coffee or tea while you do it (great for paperwork). Or if that kind of thing isn’t possible, schedule a walk or work break afterwards—and make it a regular thing, as if it’s part of the task. Or do something silly or unexpected with it (like the crossing guard Hightower mentions, who perked up her job by wearing outrageous outfits). Need ideas? Ask the kids, yours or anyone’s. “Kids are good at making things fun,” she says.

On the flip side, don’t focus on the job parts you absolutely can’t control. Instead, when you focus on what you can control, “the other things will seem less significant. Lighten up on the things you can’t,” says Kim Goad, a specialist in workplace issues.

Help for your staff: Encourage them to suggest—and to put into effect—improvements in the procedures they use to perform job tasks.

Deal creatively with people problems. When other people cause problems, the resulting stress can sap your happiness level. You need to engage in proactive problem-solving.

Hone your personal communication skills. When it comes to your staff, communicating effectively will reduce unpleasant surprises in your staffers’ job performance. That’s because they’ll understand what you need from them. “Set clear expectations for [what] you expect your staff to achieve,” says Goad. “Make sure you don’t assume a lot of things. This alone can make your life a lot less stressful.”

Conversely, beware of what he calls “the hero syndrome,” thinking you can be everything to everyone, solving all your staff’s problems. “If you fall into that trap, you end up being overwhelmed when you can’t meet everyone’s expectations”—which, of course, you can’t. Instead, “delegate and hold people accountable,” and say no to requests that would negatively impact your team’s performance.

Finally, always acknowledge good work. Especially effective is performance-based praise. (“I like the way you handled that unhappy customer.”) And find ways to reward measurable performance (such as sales) that your staffers will appreciate.

Got problem customers? Who doesn’t? They can sap your energy and happiness and productivity, too. Potter suggests turning each problem customer into a challenge to turn around or to help. Tell yourself, “I’ll ‘practice’ solving this customer’s problem so that the experience will help me deal with more customers.”

Help for your staff: Encourage them to use good communication skills with each other. Even if their message is negative, the communication should be constructive in order to resolve simmering conflicts before they get to a full boil.

Lighten up! A sense of humor on the job goes a long way toward reducing tensions that can otherwise draw energy from you and your staff. “It’s so important to maintain a sense of humor and play at work.” Goad reports that one woman started wearing Groucho glasses to meetings, to add some spark to a routine day. Staffers elsewhere dress up for Halloween and other holidays. The point is, the smallest out-of-the-ordinary thing can add some spirit to the person doing (or wearing) it… and remember the “attitude is contagious” thing? Humor is even more so.

Help for your staff: Goad recommends setting up a “joy box” so your staffers can contribute trinkets and treats to make everyone smile—funny toys, candies, jokes, positive affirmations, and anything else that will bring some fun to the workplace.

Find fulfillment outside. How do you spend your time away from work? Do you have an outside interest you find joyful? There’s usually something wrong if you just go home every night and do household chores or, worse, more work. “If you spend every waking hour working, you’re missing out on daily joys,” says Hightower. “Sometimes we expect work to do everything in our life, and then we wonder why it doesn’t.”

Your outside activities affect your work performance. “If you schedule time for an enjoyable activity, it will not only add happiness and joy to your life right then, but it will also carry over into your work,” Hightower says. “People often say they don’t have time. But we all make conscious choices on how we schedule our lives.”

Help for your staff: To encourage them to schedule their own outside interests, emphasize that finding joy in outside activity will help them be more creative and valuable to you and your business.

Happy decision

The theme so far has been the power of the individual to create happiness. Whether an owner, manager or sales staffer, “we all face the same challenges, encouragements and boredom,” says Glen Van Ekeren, a workplace-performance trainer. “Position doesn’t matter. What does is the realization that happiness in our work is a conscious choice. It’s not an automatic response.”

Neither is it a one-time commitment. You need to constantly redirect yourself onto the happiness track. “I give myself a mental reminder every hour with a statement such as, ‘I’m going to be excited about today, and I will make all go well,'” he says.

Customers will return to a helpful retail business where the staff is happy to serve. But everything starts with you. “If you want an environment that produces the best in people, you need to set the example,” says Van Ekeren. “You can’t light a fire without a match.”

Phillip M. Perry

Perry is a freelance writer based in New York, NY.
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