At a time when statistics are showing that the majority of UK workers (84.4%) are looking for a new role and 35.8% of employees dislike their current job, with a further 35.1% admitting that they think about quitting their job frequently – it begs the question, how productive can unhappy employees be? And how does that really impact the service they provide to your customers?

With Richard Branson’s famous words still ringing in Managers ears “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers, it’s that simple.” Why is it so difficult for management in 2017, to realise that happy staff = happy customers?

One sandwich chain which has attributed their increased employee satisfaction on rising profits (+16% in 2015) is Pret a Manger. The company takes the wellbeing of its staff very seriously, because it realises the strong link between the happiness of their employees and increased turnover.

The Chief Executive – Clive Schlee takes a hands on approach to employee management and tours shops to gauge the feedback of the staff. He said “The first thing I look at is whether the staff are smiling, reacting to each other, happy, engaged? I can almost predict sales on body language alone.”

Staff at Pret a Manger are given a bonus, paid to everyone in their branch, if a weekly secret shopper spots positive and happy staff behind the counter. It is easy to dismiss Pret a Mangers management style as ‘Americanised’ and reject any link between the workers’ real feelings and the profits of the company, but with the economics of happiness being taken more seriously around the world and with British employees coming in as a fifth less productive than their American counterparts, employers throughout all industry sectors are taking notice.

One multi-national company leading the pack of employee satisfaction and seen as a bit of a pioneer in this field, is Google. Googlers, as they are known, are given free ice cream, free lifts to work, free dry cleaning and the opportunity to spend 20% of their time in the office, dedicated to non-work projects that they are passionate about. They are also given quarterly questionnaires asking for their feedback on their satisfaction within the company.

Research undertaken by Professor Alex Edmans from the London Business School, suggests that it is not just the large rewards such as bonuses and better pay, but also smaller measures which help lift employee’s morale. One key measure which had a large impact on employee satisfaction was to give them more autonomy about how they work. This could be as simple as a desk move, or give them more freedom in terms of their working hours.

But can SME’s really implement these Google-eque ideas?

One Southern-based UK business, leading the pack when it comes to employee satisfaction is Digi Toolbox is an award winning IT/Web and Telephony provider. Whilst most companies are striving to win industry awards for their products and services, Digi Toolbox are proud to have just taken the southern accolade of The News Business Excellence Award for – Employer of the Year.

Founded in 2007, Digi Toolbox is a locally focused IT/telephony and website provider established by Mark Viccars. After years of working for large IT companies, Mark was unhappy with the level of service that both clients and staff received.  “Staff were often seen as disposable and there were no encouragement or rewards for the employees, yet they were expected to provide excellent customer service to clients – that didn’t make sense to me.” Mark explains.

From left Project Manager/Designer Stacey, Owner Mark, Marketing Dee and Help Desk Supervisor Paul at the News Business Excellence Awards Feb 2017 accepting the award for ‘Employer of the year’

With a passion for providing excellent IT and web services to local customers, at a competitive price and backed by first class support services – Digi Toolbox was born.

Digi Toolbox has a team of seven full time employees, two-part time employees and a number of contract staff. Each member of the team is thought of as a vital cog in the success of the company and the ability to provide customers with a service that sets them apart from the competition.

Digi Toolbox has a belief that fostering a culture of creativity will produce happier, motivated employees who are more loyal and productive. The staff are highly talented and creative and they are encouraged to have a voice in the company. Mark explains “We don’t want staff to think that they are here just to fulfil the boss’ dreams and ambitions for the business, they need to know they can have a meaningful impact and we are not under the illusion that all the best ideas have to come from the top down!”

Digi Toolbox has embraced many of Google’s ideas – staff enjoy regular rewards from the company and are given pizza lunches, gifts, bonuses and positive written and verbal feedback to let them know how much they are appreciated. Quarterly team days out are enjoyed by all employees and staff are encouraged to enjoy days out of the office at customer events.

Training is also a critical factor to Digi Toolbox, Mark Viccars explains “We believe that training our staff is very important in order for them to feel confident within their roles.  Aside from the initial training they receive, the staff are encouraged to participate in training if there is an area that they would like to become stronger in.”

Managing Director – Mark also encourages staff feedback at his own quarterly reviews, (which can be emailed anonymously) so that he can get a real picture of how employees feel and any potential changes he needs to make.

Digi Toolbox think outside of the box in terms of hiring staff – apprentices are a crucial part of the team and they work hard to train them and ensure they have a good experience of the working environment. Digi Toolbox have also been able to recognise the wealth of experience and knowledge from staff that are only able to work part time or in term times around their families.

Digi Toolbox has embraced the philosophy of rewarding its staff from its very beginnings back in 2007 and flexible working hours are an ingrained part of the company culture. Staff are able to work from home when they need to and spread their hours over the course of the week, as they need to. Mark explains “The flexible working hours impact the life of not only our employees but also their families and we have seen the huge benefits to company productivity and employee satisfaction, by simply giving our people an opportunity to have a good work-life balance.”