How the size of an organisation impacts employee happiness

In the months since my piece on the curve of resilience, many businesses have started to bounce back. Now is the time to envision what your recovery will look like. My challenge to you is not just to rebuild, but to make your organisation structure something better than it was before.

August 13, 2020 4 mins read

In the months since my piece on the curve of resilience, I’ve seen many businesses emerge from the setback of Covid-19 and resiliently bounce back. Hopefully, you’ve done the same. If you’re not there yet, keep working at it and hang in there. Better days are ahead, and the bounce back will come. 

Now is the time to envision what your road to recovery will look like. Organisations were forced to throw out their structures in favour of working from home. It’s only now that they’re starting to pick up the pieces again. The question on many people’s minds is, “How do we put our organisation back together again?”

My challenge to you is to tear down the walls and make your organization better than it was before. Redefine the way you work. 

Surviving any upcoming uncertainty requires creativity and flexibility from all levels of our organizations. Creativity comes from happy people. But happiness also comes from organizations that are smaller too. 

Here’s what my data had to say about the impact of organisation size on happiness:

My data confirms something you may have already suspected. Larger organisations have less happy people. The chart above shows happiness scores free from the influence of income and job roles. It shows that the happiest organisations are small ones, with people that are inspired by a cause. 

You see, large organisations can make people unhappy for several reasons. The size of the company can be dehumanising. It may make people feel unrecognised or unappreciated. It’s difficult to get to know everyone in an organisation when it’s large. 

Friday Pulse’s The Five Ways to Happiness at Work are the drivers of positive culture and happiness within a work environment. They are: Connect, Be Fair, Empower, Challenge, and Inspire. Interestingly enough, The Five Ways show a similar downward trend as size increases. 

What is interesting, however, is the dramatic drop in Empower — the idea that sharing responsibility can unleash innovation and collaboration. Empower starts as the second-highest and falls to the second-lowest. This drop does make some sense though — autonomy is lost in large companies. Employees have much power to shape large companies. 

How to improve your organisational structure for more happiness

While it’s easy for a small organisation to be aware of its size and its impact on happiness, what’s a larger organisation to do? You can’t cut up a large organisation without serious problems. 

The task then is to create a village in a city — a group with close connections — to mitigate the size problem. People’s work experience is proximal. The appreciation from your teammates and how well you get on with your boss affects you more than your opinion of the CEO. 

Here are my recommendations on how you can improve your organisation’s structure.

Power to the people

While all of The Five Ways to Happiness at Work have an impact on happiness in organisations, empowerment is the one that large organisations struggle with the most. Large organisations have tightly defined roles and outputs and, as a result, people don’t get to shape, impact or influence their roles that much. 

Give your people more control over their roles and the work they do. As a team leader, it’s your job to make roles more interesting for your people. The easiest way to do this is to play to your people’s strengths. Let them do the things they’re good at and match them to tasks where they can add the most value. 

Silos are stupid

One of the biggest threats to remote organisations is that teams will get siloed. Typically, innovation in hierarchical organizations goes up and down the structure, leading to siloed teams. 

In teams made up of members across functions, teams can work on problems not only in their function but gain insights from other departments as well. Hierarchies should make way for a structure that functions as a network of teams rather than the traditional organizational chart. 

With fewer middle managers, there are more people to do the work and make the critical decisions. The added space means that teams are not only more creative in coming up with solutions, but they’re happier as well. 

Learn from other organizations

Many companies have completely redefined the way they do business. Some aren’t returning to traditional office settings in the near future, while some are implementing four-day work weeks to mitigate burnout. What works for your organization is something only you can determine, but here are a few that stood out to me: 

  • McKinsey shared a great piece on different organizations that had to pivot with speed during the pandemic. 
  • If there is a place that is synonymous with hierarchy, it’s the military. That’s what makes AFWERX unique. A community of US Air Force innovators, they pride themselves as a catalyst for agile engagement, using academic, and non-traditional contributors to bring innovation to the Air Force. Full disclosure, I was their keynote speaker at the AFWERX Fusion virtual event.  
  • Zappos has adopted a system that’s a hybrid between their munch praised holocracy and self-organization — a marketplace system where teams operate like small business and manage their own profit and loss statements. It’s a fascinating way to drive success. 

How Friday Pulse can help

The strength of my Friday Pulse people platform is that it can penetrate at a team level and help teams and senior leaders understand what’s taking place across their organizations, on both a micro and macro level. By tracking positive and negative emotions, and systematically collecting feedback, it provides real-time insights on individuals, teams and organizations as we continue to adapt to a new reality.

During this ongoing pandemic period, me and my team at Friday Pulse are committed to helping businesses bounce back. That’s why we are continuing to offer companies and teams (50 – 1,000 employees) free access to our people platform for 12 weeks. To find out more, please contact my colleague Clive Steer at [email protected]