Happiness at work – So what?

Looking after your well-being can help your business, your community and our world. Is happiness a weekend luxury?

We’re all busy business people – making a living, or a profit, even changing the world. Happiness? That’s what we think about when the weekend comes. 

Or is it? Increasingly businesses, politicians and community leaders are waking up to the role happiness might have on the future of work. More evidence is emerging of how big a challenge and opportunity it is. 

The business case

Happiness makes business sense. A key impact on the bottom line is a reduction in staff turnover. Happier employees stay in the job longer; the 20% least happy employees are twice as likely to leave their job in the next quarter than the 20% happiest employees.

Productivity is another benefit. There’s plenty of evidence demonstrating the link between how we feel at work and our productivity. A 2010 analysis of 73 studies found a significant correlation between job satisfaction and team productivity.

This ties into the vast literature on positive psychology. People in positive moods are better at lateral thinking, process complex information more speedily and have a wider attention span1

But smart business isn’t just about squeezing the most out of people. Pioneering leaders and the millennials they recruit are interested in the social and environmental impact underlying their work.


The social and environmental case 

To understand this we must ask, what is well-being? Conversations at Happy City with people ranging from FTSE 100 leaders to refugees have yielded consistent answers. Well-being includes our basic needs, but also quality of relationships, a sense of belonging and purpose, opportunities to learn and have fun, trust and security in our community, and agency, the ability to influence our lives.

If these are missing you get much more than a bunch of unhappy people. Lack of social support leads to isolation, mental and physical illness impacting on communities and local services, family breakdown, substance misuse, even violence and crime. 

Low well-being can tear communities apart, with fewer personal and group resources to provide resilience for the inevitable challenges of life. Trying to fill the void with excessive consumption as a route to ‘happiness’, not only fails to deliver but ruins the planet on which our well-being and that of future generations depends.

Ignoring well-being costs – at a human, financial and planetary level. Taking care of well-being or that of your team is a deeply socially responsible thing to do.

So what can we do as organisations and workplaces?

Happy City’s well-being measurement tool, the Happiness Pulse distils the research about personal and community well-being into three areas: be, do and connect. How are we doing? What are we doing? How are we relating to each other? 

Here are some simple tips to boost these areas at work:


BE

Mental health is undermined by insecurity or lack of purpose and belonging, so making work secure and meaningful creates a shared purpose, and helps each of us find our place in delivering that.

Feedback is a means of generating a sense of value across the team, creating a cultural focus on success, gratitude and appreciation. 


DO

How you work is as important as what you do.  

The physical environment should provide opportunities to move, breathe, relax and eat well. But it’s wider than that; develop a way of being that is enthusiastic. Enthusiasm helps create and seize opportunities, enabling the cognitive leap essential for innovation.

Chances to grow and develop are also vital. From formal courses to shared learning lunches or walks. Make work interesting, to fuel focus and staying power. This energy keeps us committed through the tasks that feel mundane or challenging.


CONNECT

Build a sense of connection, even affection. Affection builds relationships – people rarely leave teams when they like one another. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has moved beyond its niche as a PR tool to an HR one. Connection with place and community can bring huge benefits to employee well-being.

Finally, recognising that the whole person comes to work not a part of them, will bring rich rewards. Be interested in the whole and support the communities in which your teams belong. 


1 In one study students were shown short films that either put them in a positive mood or were neutral. The students were then asked to solve a challenge: 75% of the students who had watched the film that put them in a positive mood solved the task. In contrast only 13% of students in the control group did. 


Liz Zeidler is Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Happy City, an organisation that supports leaders across society to take happiness seriously and make ‘what matters count’. Happy City delivers measurement tools and training to put well-being at the heart of business, government and community. If you’d like to know more, get in touch at info@happycity.org.uk

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