­­­More than likely, your company hates to lose money. One of the bigger losses companies can suffer occurs when an employee walks out the door for the last time. And with the improving economy providing more opportunities, employee retention is more important than ever.

“After years of too many people for too few jobs, the tide is beginning to turn,” writes Erika Morphy in CMSWire. “Suddenly companies are realizing they must be proactive in keeping their employees content, happy and engaged in their work.”

In fact, the recent SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey calls employee retention the new number one challenge facing HR leaders, with 40 percent of HR professionals citing employee retention/turnover as their top organizational challenge, writes Noreen Seebacher in CMSWire. And it was followed by employee engagement, or keeping employees happy and involved in their jobs.

Losing a salaried employee can cost a company up to six months’ pay in recruiting and training expenses, according to Christine Merhar in Small Business Employee Benefits and HR. And for executives, it can be even more: up to twice their annual salary, she writes.

Consequently, a number of companies are working hard to ensure that their employees are happy, with the goal of keeping them around longer. Some organizations are even going so far as to appoint a Chief Happiness Officer, in charge of employee well-being.

What makes employees happy? “It ties directly to decades-old conventional wisdom that has only recently been backed by the sciences: a desire for meaningful work, a sense of belonging or connection, ownership, creativity, and purpose,” writes Paul Jun in The Next Web.

Happy employees do more than just stick around longer—they do better work. Happy employees have a 10 percent decrease in absenteeism and a 5 percent increase in productivity, according to the Happiness at Work survey.

Mackensie Smith of the work social media site Somewhere offers a number of examples of what tech companies are doing to keep their employees happy:

  • Philanthropy
  • Providing a comfortable workplace
  • Support for employees’ families, such as flexible leave guidelines
  • Exercise facilities
  • Flexible scheduling, such as unlimited time off
  • Parties and other celebrations
  • Training, mentoring, and education
  • Salary and financial-based benefits

That said, there’s more involved than following a list. What matters is to get to know your employees and find out what’s important to them. “Don’t look for bullet strategies, or rather, a single program or single concept that you expect to magically solve your employee issues,” Morphy writes. “Companies that have successful employee engagement programs in place take more of a holistic-led approach. That entails not just one program but a number of initiatives all aligned to the same goal.”

So while people like to talk about Silicon Valley bennies, that’s not necessarily enough to keep employees happy, writes Jun. “Who doesn’t appreciate perks like free lunch and mid-day naps?” he writes. “But if this is the sole reason why you ‘love’ your work—sorry for the bad news—it won’t last. Meaningful work that engages employees and connects them to a greater purpose will outlast games of foosball during break.”

Indeed, happiness is often associated with getting into a “flow” state where a person is absorbed in what they’re doing and doesn’t notice the passing of time, notes psychology professor Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi. And that applies whether it’s programming, writing, or knitting.

As it happens, web developers report that they’re among the happiest of employees. “The survey—commissioned by education site SkilledUP and conducted by market research firm ProvokeInsights—indicated that 88 percent of the 303 developers surveyed were completely satisfied with their career, 11 percent were somewhat satisfied, and only 1 percent were not at all satisfied,” writes Samantha Cooney in Mashable, adding that the happiest developers specialized in mobile/responsive programming. Other surveys concur, she notes.

What makes web developers so happy? “Work-life balance, job flexibility, and job location, ranked among the top reasons for the high happiness ranking,” Cooney writes. “Some respondents said that they had the opportunity to work from home, could control the number of projects they accepted, worked on their own schedule, and clocked in reasonable hours.”

And the high salaries don’t hurt either, she adds.

That said, as we all learned from Inside Out this summer, not everyone has to be happy all the time and what are typically thought of as “negative” emotions such as sadness and anger have a role in our lives, too. “Are we finally seeing a backlash against happiness? Sort of,” writes Alison Beard in the Harvard Business Review, citing a series of recent books decrying the unrelenting focus on happiness. For example, negative emotions spur us to better our circumstances and ourselves, she writes.

“Where most of the happiness gurus go wrong is insisting that daily if not constant happiness is a means to long-term fulfillment,” Beard adds. “But for the rest of us, that much cheer feels forced, so it’s unlikely to help us mold meaningful relationships or craft the perfect career.”

“Your employees won’t always be happy, engaged, or stress-free,” agrees Molly Owens, CEO of Truity. “Instead of trying to force them to relax, calm down, or work harder, make them feel like their concerns are being heard and validate their feelings. By validating negative feelings and helping employees process them, you’re building stronger relationships that will result in a better office dynamic.”

Hopefully, that will make your boss happy, too.

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