The pursuit of happiness

A deep understanding of the business and wider economic context we operate in is crucial to a successful career in HR or L&D, and our ability to add value to the organisations we work in. But businesses need to become much more people savvy too. One of the most important dimensions in building more sustainable, effective and responsible businesses today is how we look after our people.

The welfare workers of 100 years ago - from which the CIPD of today evolved - understood that a healthy, happy workforce is a productive workforce. And for more and more of the HR directors I speak to today, employee wellbeing in all its forms is high on the agenda.  But our latest research reveals a worrying implementation gap.

For most employers, the promise of reduced absenteeism and increased productivity makes for a convincing business case. But where does an employer’s duty of care begin and end? Should we invest in the wellbeing of our workforces only when we are convinced it’s good for the bottom line, or because fundamentally it’s the right thing to do? And how far should we take the definition of wellbeing? Most employers accept a duty of care for the physical health and safety of the people they employ, but what about mental and emotional health, or even basic financial wellbeing? These elements of wellbeing are profoundly impacted by our experiences at work.

How seriously an organisation takes wellbeing depends a lot on the organisation’s culture and its belief in wider purpose. An organisation that considers its purpose to be broader than turning a profit, or just delivering on its operational metrics, knows that having a happy and healthy workforce not only contributes to sustainable performance, creating value for all stakeholders, but also shows that it is a responsible employer.

A true commitment to health and wellbeing isn’t just about bolting on some mindfulness programs or even financial education, good as they might be. Action needs to be supported by a genuine business belief in the importance of well-being, recognising the wider impact and value of a well workforce, as well as the organisation’s duty of care to its employees. Helping to alleviate stress, for example, requires a real understanding of where the corporate culture is misaligned, where job pressures are becoming too great, or management behaviours are inappropriate. It requires educating managers at all levels to understand the signs, and it requires specialist support from HR.

Corporate culture, strong leadership and good people management are the bedrock on which to build a happy and healthy workforce.  But it seems that for too many employers, health and wellbeing initiatives are still seen as optional perks – nice to have when times are good but often the first to be cut when the going gets tough.

Our annual Absence Management survey and ONS figures show that stress has been the biggest source of long-term absence for non-manual workers in the UK for a number of years now, with 15.2m days and 4.5% of GDP lost in 2013 due to stress, depression, or anxiety. In a world where there are too many signs of work becoming increasingly stressful, where engagement levels or sense of fulfilment at work continue to languish, we have to work towards a better future – a future that provides engaging, meaningful work, with more opportunities for personal growth, and a greater sense of equality and fairness. Aristotle talked about the purpose or goal of life as happiness, built from a sense of purpose. We need to make sure that work plays its part in pursuit of that outcome.

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  • Having a good manager is important for overall wellbeing as well as colleagues who are professional. In my current role, I have the best team leader and line manager in the world. It makes such a difference when someone is treating you with dignity and respect. Of course, I try to do my job to the best of my ability and its a wonderful feeling to know that my work is appreciated.

    Having been micromanaged in the past, happiness at work is not always possible..which can lead to stress and absence due to stress. Having said that, the cause of unhappiness at work is people you work with. You either click or you don't. And if you don't, then each day becomes difficult. It's not even about a workload, it is about attitudes of other people who can make it very difficult for you.