Ask most managers what their top priorities are for their direct reports and I would be hugely surprised if the word ‘happiness’ appeared anywhere on a list littered with words like ‘productivity’, ‘creativity’ ‘target-orientated’, ‘efficient’ etc.
But we are now interested in the idea of happiness at work (and in society) and there is a whole happiness industry emerging rooted in positive psychology, driven by individualism and personalisation and expressing itself in the health and wellbeing agenda.
It is important for several connected reasons.
Firstly if organisations are full of unhappy people then they won’t be as productive, as creative or as dynamic as they could be and need to be in today’s competitive world. The connection between happy employees and productivity is pretty well established (see Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage for some compelling data wrapped up in some great positive psychology advice).
Secondly, we desperately need all our organisations to be the best expressions of human ingenuity, enterprise and endeavour. Why? Because the world is facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities and the only vehicle we have to respond effectively is our organisations. Organisations of all shapes, sizes and colours (?) are how we do stuff. Want something done, get together with a bunch of other people and make it happen. If our organisations are unhappy, miserable, unproductive places (and too many are) then that dysfunction may end up costing us the planet as we fail to harness our human capabilities effectively at the scale and speed we now need them.
Thirdly if people are unhappy at work then they are likely to be unhappy outside of work. We ran a small survey recently examining the idea of happiness at work and one of our findings was that an overwhelming 80% of respondents confirmed that their happiness/unhappiness at work was mirrored in their life outside work. If we want happy communities, families and positive individuals (and we do) then our organisations need to be places where human happiness can flourish.
So what can organisations do to nurture employee happiness?
Our research suggests three interconnected conditions that taken together provide a starting point to creating a place where happiness can be the norm.
A clear compelling purpose If the work you are doing doesn’t matter to anyone (except for a few people who are interested in the financial side of things, or anonymous shareholders) then it is tough to create the foundations for happy employees. We all want to feel as if our work matters. And in truth it does, usually. Most organisations are communities of people trying to help other people in some way. At Impact our purpose is to ‘build organisations worth working for’, talk to any of us about that and you’ll have trouble shutting us up. Are we happy? We are!
Direction and contribution Happy people are working towards something, they have a vision for the future and are proactively working towards it, learning and adjusting as they go. Organisations that are fostering happiness therefore need to communicate clearly on the plan for the future and connect everyone’s work to making a contribution to that future (and then recognise that contribution as and when they make it). Just talking about financial growth, being bigger etc. isn’t a coherent (or compelling) story to enrol effort. Growth for what? More money for why? Survey after survey (including our own) confirms that salary alone doesn’t make for a happy workforce.
Positive relationships We are social animals. Much of our deepest satisfactions in life come through our relationships, through friends, family and colleagues. The quality of relationships at work, especially with managers and bosses is crucial to employee happiness. When people say they don’t like ‘the culture around here’ what they mean is that they don’t like the people. Positive people build positive relationships build happy employees.
Here at Impact we have been winning awards as a ‘Great Place to Work’ for over a decade. We know a little about creating a happy place to work and the happiness of our people matters to us.
It should matter to everyone responsible for building organisations worth working for. Is that you?
By Impact International as published in The London Economic on 26th July 2016