Its official! Four in five Aussies are unhappy at work;  This month the Australian Institute of Management National Salary Survey has uncovered the reasons employees are unhappy in their current roles, with more than four out of five (81.9 per cent) choosing to leave to look for new challenges, more than half (56.5 per cent) citing limited career advancement opportunities and 44.4% looking for better financial reward.

This is disturbing news when you think how closely linked employee happiness is  to customer service levels and profitability. With over a third of our lives being spent in the workplace this level of unhappiness also doesn’t bode well for the overall health of our working population. So why are people so unhappy? Is it really all about earning more and moving up the ladder or does it just become about the money when a person gets disillusioned with their workplace?

When it comes to employee happiness it helps to remember that every one of us is wired to have certain needs that have to be met to enable us to achieve higher levels of happiness. Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs  and the role it plays in human motivation but did you know that this simple model is ideal for building a strategic model of employee happiness?


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model

With the Maslow’s hierarchy model each need must be satisfied before the next can be achieved.  In the most basic of examples someone who lives in a war zone fearing for their safety has little regard or yearning for the latest Gucci fashion accessory. This also translates into the work environment where an employee who doesn’t feel safe about the future of their employment due to worries about redundancy will not be motivated by attending a team build. So how do you make sure your team feels safe and secure?

The most important need is Safety and Security

At the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy is the need to satisfy the most basic of human needs such as food, water and shelter. Assuming in today’s workplace these are mostly satisfied, there is then the need for safety and security. Its not unusual for people to feel unsafe at work and it is the quickest way to lead to  de-motivation.

People feel unsafe for a number of reasons like they are not sure if their job is secure, perhaps they are on a temporary contract or they have heard rumours of redundancies.  Maybe they are not sure what is expected of them in their role or they have had their goal posts moved by changing their KPIs. A bad boss also makes a team feel insecure, especially if they exhibits erratic  and inconsistent behaviours.

Everybody needs a level of certainty to be happy so make sure all of your team has what they need to feel secure. A good place to start is to check employment contracts are in place. People need to know they have a employment contract that is current and properly executed with signatures. Be mindful of when peoples contracts are due to expire as it is essential to communicate well in advance what you intend to do once the contract has finished. Most people can handle bad news and would prefer a level of certainty about what is going to happen to them.

A lot of anxiety can result in team members not understanding how they will get their pay, so make sure people understand when they will receive their money,  People are also often too afraid to ask their employer questions about their salary resulting in further anxiety. Be upfront and clear about all details relating to pay.

Another important part of removing team anxiety is being as clear as possible about what you expect from them. I have always made sure my team receive a detailed job description as well as clear expectations. As soon as a new team member starts I meet with them and take them through my long list of expectations. This is a list I have built over a number of years and holds every detail of what I expect, from the style of communication I prefer through to the behaviours I expect. I even specify what font I prefer reports to be written in! The reason for such detail is that it removes any anxiety a new starter may have about what I expect, it takes out all the guess work for them. The team member also has the opportunity to share with me what they expect from me. Its a great way to remove any grey areas around how we are going to work together and can really fast track our working relationship.

Once when I was working at Virgin Active I noticed that new employees working in the clubs wore black for their first week of employment whilst they were waiting for their uniform to arrive. Can you imagine how this made them feel when all their colleagues were wearing the Virgin red and there they were dressed head to toe in black, not part of the team that was for sure! It would have been like sending a New Zealand All-black rugby player onto the pitch dressed in red! We since made sure that every new team member received their uniform in time for them starting on their first day in the job so they felt more comfortable and secure.

It is easy to overlook the basic needs for employee safety and security but without these fundamentals in place it wont matter about anything else you  do to make your team happy.  Forget about your foosball tables and fun events, without their basic needs being met all your team motivational efforts will fall to dust.

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