Secret to having happy employees: fire the unhappy ones
There was an insightful blog post on The New York Times by business owner Jay Goltz entitled "The Secret to Having Happy Employees". Thankfully, he provides the answer without forcing to buy a book or read a long-winded essay. Put simply, "I fired the unhappy people." And he's not joking. He offers impeccable reasoning for this harsh approach and I have to agree with him.
Personally, I have not spent much time as a manager and thankfully never had to fire anybody, but I have had plenty of experience as an unhappy worker. Nobody ever fired me, but I can't say they did me any great favor by keeping me on as unhappy as I was. Maybe I have just always had the good sense to move on before my unhappiness interfered with my work. Managers may not like having unhappy workers, but managers really love people who get the job done. Still, I partially feel that managers would have done me a big favor by either outright firing me or at least "counseling" me that if I couldn't find a way to get over my unhappiness then I should move on of my own volition.
I have always remembered from years ago reading about the founder of Marriott encountering a waitress in one of his Hot Shoppes restaurants who was unhappy or providing bad service to a customer and he basically told her that if she could not be happy working there then she shouldn't be working there. That made perfect sense to me. I wish I could have personally taken that advice on many occasions or at least if people could have reminded me of that philosophy, but somehow performance and my desire for income have always trumped happiness, for me.
In any case, I heartily endorse Mr. Goltz' and Marriott's philosophy. Specific implementation details can and should vary from organization to organization and even person to person, but ultimately unhappy employees have to go.
Mr. Goltz has a follow-up post entitled "More on Happy Employees" to clarify that when he refers to unhappy employees he is not simply referring to their level of cheerfulness: "Perhaps I could have been clearer when I said that I fire unhappy people. Instead of unhappy, I probably should have said disrespectful (to others, not me), incompetent, unreasonable, undependable, irresponsible, unproductive, dysfunctional (I did say that one), angry, whiny or mean -- and beyond a manager's ability to repair (actually, I said that, too)."
The real point is that employees need to do their jobs without having a significantly negative emotional impact on those around them, whether they are other workers or customers.