Two Microsoft executives have released the results of their research into what makes employees happy, and the results are surprising.
Companies large and small have been trying to determine what contributes to happy, productive employees. Microsoft’s Dawn Klinghoffer and Elizabeth McCune set out to answer using an entirely different methodology than in past years and published their findings in the Harvard Business Review.
Klinghoffer serves as Microsoft’s Head of People Analytics, while McCune serves as Director of Employee Listening Systems. Together, the two women believed there had to be a better way of gauging employee satisfaction than the lengthy, in-depth surveys normally used. Even when employee engagement appeared to be high in the surveys, a deeper dive into the results showed that many employees were still struggling.
Klinghoffer and McCune opted for more focused and shorter surveys spaced six months apart. The pair also relied on numerous other data points rather than relying on the surveys alone. The results shed light on some of the biggest factors that contributed to employee happiness.
Company culture appeared to play a big role:
Thriving employees talked about a collaborative environment and teamwork with colleagues, an inclusive culture with autonomy and flexibility, and well-being support. These comments reference examples such as being able to have honest, non-judgmental conversations on difficult topics, with a focus on finding solutions.
Interestingly, unhappy employees talked about company culture too, but in a completely different way:
Employees who weren’t thriving talked about experiencing siloes, bureaucracy, and a lack of collaboration. In these comments we hear a lack of agency and a sense for being a cog in a machine. In other words, the opposite of being empowered and energized to do meaningful work.
One of the biggest surprises came when analyzing work-life balance:
By combining sentiment data with de-identified calendar and email metadata, we found that those with the best of both worlds had five fewer hours in their workweek span, five fewer collaboration hours, three more focus hours, and 17 fewer employees in their internal network size. This reinforces what we know from earlier work-life balance research and network size analysis, which showed us that increased collaboration does have a negative impact on employees’ perception of work-life balance. It also confirms that collaboration is not inherently bad — for many employees, those times of close teamwork and striving toward a common goal can fuel thriving. However, it is important to be mindful of how intense collaboration can impact work-life balance, and leaders and employees alike should guard against that intensity becoming 24/7.
Klinghoffer and McCune’s full analysis is well worth a read and upends what many companies would consider established facts. Microsoft has been earning a reputation for putting its employees first, and the effort that went into this study is another testament to the company’s efforts.