Exactly How Chobani’s CEO Boosts Employee Happiness

Get inspired by his “anti-CEO” playbook.

Courtesy of Chobani
Courtesy of Chobani

Given that there is no such thing as work-life balance, because work and life are inextricably intertwined, it makes sense that companies are starting to pay closer attention to their employees’ happiness and well-being.

This means more than offering an array of snacks and drinks in the shared kitchen of a workspace — it means fostering happiness among a staff who feels truly seen and heard by a company’s leadership. This is something that Hamdi Ulukaya, the CEO of Chobani, understands well. “For me, the success of a company, the number one sign is the happiness of employees,” he explains in a recent TED video.

But how exactly does that happen? What can managers and employees at all levels do to boost the success and happiness of the staff and in turn, the company? Here are three ideas from Ulukaya:

Don’t lead from a distance

Arguably, one of the greatest benefits of social media is that it has acted in some ways as an equalizer — giving the average person access (at least in theory) to some of the most powerful people in the world. This includes CEOs of companies, who now are visible public figures. But according to Ulukaya, company heads shouldn’t lead from a distance: they should get in the trenches in order to truly understand their employees, and what helps them thrive.  

“Being shoulder-to-shoulder and seeing people, working with them, understanding their conditions, and understanding how they feel about the company, how they feel about the work, how the communities react to it is also very much tied to the success of the business,” he says

Invest in your employees

In a recent TED talk, Ulukaya, who is Kurdish and originally from Turkey, urged companies to adopt the “anti-CEO playbook,” starting with practicing gratitude, noting that “business should take care of their employees first.” And he’s not talking about lip-service, ceremonial gratitude in which a leader makes empty statements about being thankful for his or her employees — he’s referring to implementing actual policies that demonstrate the employee’s value. For example, in 2016, Chobani offered employees shares in the company, not only to make them official stakeholders (and shareholders), but also to ensure that they profit when the company does.

“This notion of doing things by your employees — and making sure they have the conditions for themselves and for their families and for their communities — it’s not an expense. It’s an investment in your own company, in your own people, in your own dream. Every time you invest in your people, the return is 100 times greater than the expenses,” he said.

Include the community

Yes, fostering a sense of community among employees is a crucial part of happiness at work, but beyond doing that, Ulukaya also sees the importance of incorporating the local community. In his TED talk, he espouses a JFK-inspired relationship between corporations and communities, where successful corporations don’t ask communities what they can do for the company, but rather what the company can do for the community. Ulukaya says that businesses should approach struggling communities and ask about their needs and how they can help. For example, before opening a Chobani plant in Idaho, Ulukaya met with the local community, learned what would benefit them, and then created training and educational opportunities at the plant.

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