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Joyful butterflies and feel-good frogs: Six steps to achieve the happy employee ripple effect


Can a butterfly flapping its wings in Melbourne cause an earthquake in Japan?

Honestly? We don’t know.

But, if a happy frog jumps into a pond, there are bound to be some cheerful ripples. Like a happy frog, happy employees spread good vibes and make the workplace fun, creative and productive.

So, what makes employees happy?

Well, a great work culture, for one. Of all the companies in Australia, online experience gift retailer RedBalloon has consistently ranked in the top 50 BRW Great Places to Work. It was second only to Google on the 2012 BRW Talent Magnet list. It stands to reason then, that CEO Kristie Buchanan knows a thing or two about keeping the workplace a happy and productive place.

According to Buchanan, with productivity growth having a taken a downturn in the last decade, employees and their workplaces need to be high on the agenda.

“There is a happy employee ripple effect – RedBalloon has found it, and the Australian business community needs to recognise it. We measure employee happiness with an Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). We’re proud of our score of 85,” Buchana said.

Having also been listed as a BRW Fast 100 and a Deloitte Technology Fast 50 for six consecutive years, the connection between RedBalloon’s recognised employee culture and its success is evident.

Buchanan continued, “Employee recognition and happiness are essential if businesses want to boost productivity, retention and, importantly, commercial results. That RedBalloon is recognised as the brand that delivers on good times is testament to the investment we’ve made internally. In the 2013 financial year alone, we achieved transactional growth of 40 per cent and received around 2000 job applications. Those numbers speak for themselves.”

So how do Buchanan and RedBalloon do it?

1. Induct new employees before day one

Engaged employees are more productive, so RedBalloon doesn’t wait to make them feel welcome, seeing that time as a chance to ensure new employees understand their brand and values.

“Being in the business of good times, we’ve designed an induction program that conveys fun and ensures new employees feel part of our team from the get go. Before they start, employees are given a full online induction program, a RedBalloon ‘buddy’ from a different part of the business, and invitations to fun events. We treat them to lunch in their first week and on day one gift them with an iPad for work and play, recommending apps that will help with their productivity at the same time.”

2. Empower employees with open, transparent communication

RedBalloon seeks to empower everyone with the same level of information. This ensures an open and transparent culture at all levels of the organisation. “Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves – so the least you can do is let your people into the vision, strategy and performance of the business. If the team really know what is going on, they can better contribute. At RedBalloon, our communication flows through team huddles, weekly one on ones, and our internal social media network, Yammer, which provides an open channel for all employees to share and be heard.”

3. Provide the right environment and tools

Open-plan offices with break-out spaces have been proven to boost communication, teamwork, integration and employee morale. RedBalloon’s ‘non-hierarchical’ layout takes the concept further.

“Our leaders sit alongside everyone else at a desk identical to everyone else’s to demonstrate we’re accessible, part of the team, and we value everyone’s contribution,” Buchanan explained.

Add tools that encourage everyone to contribute solutions to business challenges, and you have a winning formula.

“Our library of inspirational books and our Idea Lab online platform, where employees submit ideas, have been great tools. Since August last year, 223 ideas have been submitted, 99 of which have been approved,” she continued.

4. Take an innovative approach to employee performance

RedBalloon ensures employee performance is measured, challenged and stretched.

“In addition to quarterly performance reflections, we ensure employees contribute to their own KPIs with quarterly personal promises. Personal promises are an individual’s contribution to the delivery of our company’s strategic plan and are a key measure of our overall growth and performance. Over 90 per cent of personal promises are achieved at RedBalloon,” Buchanan proudly told us.

“In addition, regular ‘Lunch ‘n Learns’ with notable speakers are designed to inspire, and we utilise great tools that provide insight into peoples’ strengths through their thinking preferences,” she said.

5. Recognise and reward

Recognition programs should aim to drive performance, and the key to making them work is spontaneity.

“Everyone at RedBalloon can accumulate – and redeem – points through company milestones and their own performance. We award Oscars to team members who most live the RedBalloon values. Our dream catcher wall, where new employees list their most wanted experiences, enables us to choose rewards that are personalised and highly valued,” Buchanan continued.

6. Create wellness together

Recognising that wellness contributes to happiness means ensuring your employee programs creates a balance between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of work.

“Our Redballooner wellness program includes yoga, personal training and flu shots. We also create opportunities for employees to volunteer in the community,” Buchanan said.

These six steps have turned RedBalloon from a startup into a profitable business and, made it a very desirable place to work.