Happiness at Work: It's not Working

Happiness at Work: It's not Working

Since the 1930s we have known that making employees happier at work leads to better outcomes for the organisation (Hawthorne studies, 1924 - 1932). Interventions such as shortening working days, improving the décor of the work environment and increasing opportunities for social connection and collaboration make the workday more enjoyable and employees more productive.

If we've known this since the 1930s surely by now we should all be skipping into the office each day, ready to start work in a welcoming and comfortable work environment in a job that enriches our lives and supports our overall well-being and work-life balance. Nope?

Gallup reports that engagement has been decreasing for the past 10 years and according to the 2019 World Happiness Report, negative feelings are rising around the world. To readdress this happiness and engagement decline, companies, which have such a huge impact on our lives, need to play their part. Long gone are the days where companies can claim to only have a responsibility for making profits for their shareholders. Companies hold a responsibility to all their stakeholders, particularly their employees. Employee well-being and happiness needs to take centre stage in strategy decisions and not be resigned to a one-off mental health webinar and yoga session for employees.

Companies love to call themselves a family, but often that looks like making demands on employees without the expectation of anything in return. Companies are under constant pressure to deliver increasing shareholder value. To do this in emerging markets is easy, but as markets mature and the opportunities for innovation are less, it is inevitably employees that feel the squeeze. Work longer, produce more, be better. Employees, already at their limit, take the hit in their personal life, overall well-being and of course, happiness. If companies genuinely care about their employees (and if you don't, please don't be a leader) they need to embrace the positives of the family analogy. Help and support your people, treat them fairly, support them in their development but give them the freedom to make their own decisions, provide financial assistance for professional development and take a genuine interest in them as whole people, with interests, problems and passions outside of work.

In addition to the constant work pressures many are feeling the impact of extended periods of working from home with endless teams calls and minimal social interaction. Going back to the office can fill that gap of colleague connection, but it's a shame it has to be in the often dreary, grey offices that most operate from. Why do offices have to be such depressing places? Bring in colour, pets, social areas and comfy meeting places and I am sure we would all be fighting to get back to the office. Companies like Next, Cisco and Goldman Sachs even have on site nurseries. Critics say this is intended to keep parents at work longer, but I think this is an easy swipe at companies trying to make attaining work-life balance easier for parents.

If you can relate to any of this, what can you do?

If you lead an organisation:

  • Employee happiness is not an initiative or responsibility of HR, it should be the responsibility of every leader and be a key factor in strategic decisions.
  • Use your influence to push for reasonable targets and the resources to meet those targets
  • Consider how you can improve your work environment to make it a better place to spend 8 + a day

If you are an employee:

  • Find a company culture that works for you. Take time to reflect on your values, what really matters to you and contributes to your happiness and well-being.
  • Within your existing company work with your leaders to positively impact the work environment and culture.

If you can't change the culture around you, change what you can within your sphere of influence. Connect in with colleagues, support one another and set boundaries that allow you to achieve a reasonable work-life balance.

While reading for this blog I came across the world happiness ranking, if you are interested you can read the report here. The happiest country in the world begins with F, can you guess what it is?