When you have a team, no matter its size, one of the trickiest challenges to overcome is keeping everyone happy and motivated. The smallest change could throw your whole operation off balance, and the effects of this could be devastating for your business.

Once you have an unhappy, unmotivated team working for you, it can be very difficult – and expensive – to turn things around. Not only that but even one employee who isn’t enjoying their role could impact everyone.

For you, this can mean loss of productivity, spending lots of time on conflict resolution and a far higher turnover of staff than is necessary and we all know the headache that can come with recruitment.

With this in mind, it is a great idea to make some time to start looking at how you can increase happiness levels in your business and develop a strong, motivated, productive team of individuals who are committed to your business and their growth within it.

Depending on your company, this can either sound like a mammoth task, or it might simply mean a few little tweaks. Whatever your position, there’s usually room for improvement. Putting in some work now could mean your business sees a real surge in motivation and inspiration over the weeks and months to come.

The big question you’re probably asking is where do you even start? The good news is that we are here to help. Not only have we used our expertise based on real-world issues that we have been helping our clients with during recent months, but we have also conducted a survey amongst our professional network to ask them what makes them happy at work (full results can be seen in the graph at the bottom of this blog).

From this wealth of information, we have detailed 7 key areas that you could look at to help you to make some positive changes in your team.

1. Share your vision and goals

The only way your whole business can truly cohesively work towards the same goal is if you have one… and everyone knows what it is!

The right way to do this will differ from business to business, but I would advise taking the time to hold regular meetings with the whole business to talk about where you want the business to be, by when, and how you’re going to get there. At each meeting, you can update everyone on your progress towards your goals, both big and small, and help everyone to see how what they’re doing is helping you to get there.

These meetings don’t have to be dull – be creative and make them fun! For example, here at Gateway, we use our team meetings as an opportunity to announce the winner of our monthly Prosecco award, and we ask all our team members to tell us something great that’s happened to them both personally and professionally over the past month. We appreciate this couldn’t necessarily be done at a large company else you would be there all day, but these are just some of the easy things we have implemented to inject some fun into our meetings. We always leave the meeting buzzing with ideas and clear on the direction we are moving in as a team.

Keeping everyone involved with the progress will mean you also need to regularly set clear, measurable goals for your people, too. It’s really important that your employees know why these goals are being set, how these goals are helping the business and how they are helping the employee to develop and progress. The best way to do this is with regular 121 meetings. This helps to ensure the individual is aligned with the organisational goals and gives them a chance to get constructive feedback and feel involved in their own development.

It might sound like a lot of additional meetings, but it saves you time in the long-term as this is your number one way of making sure your employees feel included and valued. It will also go a long way to keeping motivation high as everyone has a purpose.

2. Communicate

Sounds obvious, right? But you’d be surprised how easily it is for communication to break down in a business, and the impact of this can be huge.

Effective communication is absolutely vital for any business that wants success. And that means two-way communication, not simply you communicating with your people. If they don’t feel they can approach you or their manager, that’s not effective communication.

It is your job to ensure that there’s a constant flow of communication across your company. Keep everyone up to date on your progress (see point #1) and what needs to be done, but also welcome their suggestions, feedback, and opinions on, not only their roles, but how they see the bigger picture. Everyone looks at things differently, and often, when someone isn’t as close to a project, or any other aspect of the business, they will be able to look at things more objectively. Not only will this boost morale, but it could also be a real benefit for the business as a whole. And again, your team will feel involved and motivated to succeed.

As the business owner, you should make yourself available to everyone in the company. Of course, there are certain things your managers should be dealing with, but – especially in a small business – making it easy for your people to contact you can go a long way to making them feel a valuable and valued part of the company.

Keeping open lines of communication also helps you to really get to know your employees and understand how they work. A third of our survey respondents said that having a great boss who really knows them as a person is the key to their happiness at work. This might seem surprising, but it actually makes perfect sense as culture is led from the top.  Employees are more engaged and productive when the company has a brilliant culture. We’ve all heard the saying “people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad managers” and whilst it’s not always as black and white as that, there’s certainly a grain of truth in it.

3. Encourage teamwork

Cohesion makes for a great business. 18% of our survey respondents ranked being part of a supportive and fun team as the number one thing that keeps them feeling happy at work.

Encourage and promote teamwork to boost productivity in your company. A great side effect of this will be creating stronger relationships between employees, and creating a strong, engaged team.

Right now, where you may have more people working remotely than you have before, promoting teamwork can be even more beneficial. As you may have seen, some people thrive working from home, but others may struggle. And while an element of hybrid work can mean that people gain a better work/life balance, it can also leave them feeling isolated or disengaged.

It’s important to make sure that the flow of communication doesn’t stop for someone working away from the office.

If you do have a hybrid team now, it’s even more important to arrange times where everyone gets together, whether that’s by planning team building exercises, or by scheduling company meetings in one location (where possible).

By keeping your teams close, it creates a special culture in the business where there’s a genuine bond between employees. This also means that when it comes time to hire new people, you have to consider how well they will integrate into the team. Look for the right character traits and attitudes over skills that can be taught, so that your carefully developed business culture isn’t impacted by a misjudged hire.

4. Create a healthy office environment

If there’s anything the last couple of years have taught us, it’s just how important our physical working environment is.

When working from home, we quickly learned that getting dressed and sitting in a work-dedicated area made us more productive and switched our mindset from home to work. Lounging on the sofa in pyjamas simply didn’t cut it.

It’s just as important to create the right environment in your office.

Consider things like noise, temperature, privacy, lighting, and ambience. Get the balance right and people will work at their optimum. Get even one element wrong and it can be really distracting. Glare from the window. Air-con blasting. A too-loud radio. These can all stop productivity in their tracks and make for miserable employees. Of course, everyone is different and it’s not possible to create the perfect environment for everyone.  Some employees will always battle over the thermostat, but you can take reasonable steps to ensure that everyone is as comfortable as possible, that desks are big enough, chairs comfy, and all those environmental factors are considered too.

You can take this a step further and look at things like lunches and snacking in the office. Perhaps suggest or offer healthier alternatives, replacing crisps and chocolate with fruit and nuts, for example. Save the treats for birthdays and other special occasions.

You may also want to encourage better physical health amongst your team, too. Perhaps taking a walk to have a chat or informal meeting rather than sitting; or even a company challenge to get people moving. If you can arrange it, perhaps offering a discounted gym membership would be a good perk for your people, to encourage good health. You could even consider arranging a regular class for your team, like a weekly yoga session, or martial art lessons.

All of this will make for more relaxed, happier employees, but it’s important to remember that physical activity with colleagues isn’t for everyone. Don’t force it upon anyone or pressure anyone into taking part in anything they feel uncomfortable with.

Don’t forget your team’s mental health. Keep an eye out for signs of stress, anxiety, or depression, and make sure that all of your managers know the signs to look out for, too. If you do spot any of the warning signs, take immediate action by having a confidential chat with your employee and offering the right support to help them cope.

And, as with all the other points in this guide, don’t forget your remote workers. Make sure their working environment is comfortable, and that they have everything they need to be able to do their job. Include them in any fitness initiatives, and schedule regular catchups so that you can spot any signs of declining mental health.

Surprisingly, only 2% of those we surveyed rated serious commitment to wellbeing as their top priority. We know from real-life experience that employee happiness levels take a swift nosedive if companies do not support wellbeing.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could help to explain this one, perhaps most employees simply see wellbeing as a very basic requirement!

5. Offer regular feedback and reward

Are your people doing an amazing job? Tell them!

While you might be beaming on the inside because of something an employee has done, it might not always be obvious that you’re thrilled. Praise is often overlooked in the workplace, but recognition – private or public – can go a long way towards inspiring your team and encouraging real progress.

And, if someone has done a good job, don’t just say “good job”. Tell them WHY it was a good job and the impact it has had (has it moved you closer towards hitting a goal? Has it won new clients? Has it added new skills to the business?).

You can also tie your feedback to the company values. For example, we use the kudos function on our HR system to allow our team to give each other kudos for things they have done that embody our values. This determines who wins our Prosecco award, this works really well for us, and our team love it!

Not only does this approach motivate your people, but it also helps them to understand what you want and need from them going forward.

It’s equally important to let your people know if they’ve done something detrimental. It doesn’t have to mean a telling off or a warning, but helping people understand their mistakes means they’re far less likely to repeat them in future.

If someone has done an exceptionally good job with something, you may want to consider a reward. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but simply something to say well done. This could range from an ice cream for the team on a hot day, to a bottle of something or a gift card for an individual achievement, or even more responsibility for someone working towards a professional goal. It is important to be consistent with your approach to rewards though; it wouldn’t be good for motivation if you were to reward one person for hitting a particular goal but did not reward another for the same thing.

6. Offer the opportunity for development

The majority of your team will feel more valuable – and valued – when they’re learning and enhancing their skills. Provide everyone who wants it the opportunity for development and growth within the business. 6% of those we surveyed rated professional development opportunities the highest.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. You will need to tailor learning and development opportunities for each and every member of your team but it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

You should know from your regular 121 meetings that each person on your team has individual personal and professional goals. They will have ambition to move into a certain role, or to gain particular skills. Look at what they’ll need to develop and achieve each goal and identify the training or responsibility they’ll require to accomplish this growth.

Your solution may come from training courses, but it could also come from shadowing another employee, or from coaching or mentoring from someone within the business. Work with your employees to decide on the most appropriate course of action for each goal and set a timeframe for each target to be hit.

While you can facilitate growth and guide your people on the right path, make sure this is ultimately being driven by your employees. They need to create their own goals for development and identify the areas that they would like to work on for their learning and progress.

7. Offer more than a good salary

In today’s job market, candidates have the upper hand. They can afford to be a little choosier with the jobs they accept, because there are more jobs than candidates. It also means that it’s a great time for employees to jump ship if they’re not really happy where they are.

For you, that means you really need to sell your business to any prospective employees, and to offer the right things to attract and retain the very best people. And that means more than a good salary.

2% of our respondents rated salary and perks as the most important thing to make them happy at work, with a further 3% rating benefits with real value (not just financial benefit but the difference they make.)

Of course, people want to be paid well for the job they do, but they are looking at the company, culture, and package as a whole.

Offering things like flexible working, a fantastic culture, and perks like subsidised gym memberships, wellness programmes, opportunities for growth or even help with childcare can really make your business stand out – and make your employees happier.

The second priority for our respondents was flexibility on how, when and where they work. That’s certainly no surprise! Over the past couple of years, we’ve realised that our work/life balance is really important, and lots of companies have done more to support their employees to regain theirs. Flexibility has been one of the biggest things to come out of the pandemic. We’ve realised that we don’t need to have a workforce in the same place at the same time in order to be productive. In fact, doing the opposite of that has helped many of us to get more done and to be happier while we’re doing it. If you can give your people a better work/life balance, shout about it! Make sure the people are aware of their options when it comes to working hours and where they work from, and you should be rewarded with a team that is happy, motivated, and productive.

You may need to think outside of the box and really consider which benefits will add the most value to your people. If you’re one of those stand-out managers who really knows your team as individuals, then perhaps this won’t even be too difficult! If you don’t know what benefits will make a real difference to your people, refer back to point #2! The best way to find out is to ask, and whilst you may not be able to implement every idea that they put forward, they will really appreciate that they have had an input and their answers may surprise you.


Graph showing results of survey

Results from our poll shared with the 21,000 strong HR Ninjas community, Summer 2022


Of course, you need to work on all these things to create a truly happy and engaged team. No one thing will work on its own. It may seem like big task, but it really doesn’t have to be.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you think you could use a hand with implementing the above. From cultural audits to management training, there’s plenty of ways we can help you to improve your offering in order to build a strong, motivated, and happy team!