Simon Dolan is MD of the UK’s leading accountancy firm for contractors: SJD Accountancy. They are the UK’s fastest growing accountancy firm and have won various awards including Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For (2007 & 2009) and Accountancy Age Small Firm of the Year (2004 & 2007). He has just launched EasyAccountancy.co.uk, the first affordable accountancy firm for freelancers and sole traders.

If you speak to most management and HR consultants, they will talk endlessly about duvet days, team building exercises, flexible working, dress down Fridays and bonus incentives as the way to keep workers happy. However, in my opinion these sorts of initiatives are simply a way of management trying to absolve themselves of their real responsibilities towards staff, or to outsource their responsibilities altogether.

It’s very easy to pay a company to put together a team building day, but what exactly do the staff, and as importantly, the company actually gain from this long term? Very little, if anything I’d suggest.
Compare this with the difficult, long term, and sometimes risky approach of really empowering and trusting your staff to make important day to day decisions, using their own initiative, or letting them develop and run their own ideas and projects. By adopting this approach, the real go-getters soon step up, and they are then likely to shape their own roles and be focussed on achieving success.

When company bosses attempt to keep staff happy by offering large bonus incentives, it disguises the real performance improvements that can occur when staff are allowed to be passionate about what they do, by a management that understands what drives them. The major challenge with goal setting is that it drives behavior above and beyond what the person was originally hired for. You can pay somebody £50,000 but once you set a goal in place that pays a bonus of £5,000 they will adapt their entire behavior to achieve the bonus and conveniently forget about the salary you pay them.

Consider also the purpose behind keeping staff happy. Do you want the under achievers, time wasters and negative thinkers to be happy, or would you rather they left the company so you were just left with the adventurous thinkers and doers.

This really goes back to finding the right employees in the first place. Lots of people have great academic qualifications, and fantastic experience. What I look for is that special spark, and a person who passionately cares about doing a good job. As a result, most of the departments and my companies run fairly autonomously with little need for management.

If staff have freedom of expression and really feel that they are playing an integral part in building a company, that they belong to, this will make for a healthy environment.

Think about the type of staff you really want to retain and what would make them happy. Would they want an inspirational, passionate and energetic leader that gives them encouragement and room to grow, or would they prefer a bonus dangled in front of them at the end of the month, an extra day in bed and a team building hike on the Yorkshire Moors?