Why Happiness at Work Matters, and How to Make People Happy

Published February 22nd, 2018 - 12:24 GMT
Happiness is no longer a choice for companies wishing to maximize return on their most valuable investments: their people. (File photo)
Happiness is no longer a choice for companies wishing to maximize return on their most valuable investments: their people. (File photo)

By George Karam

Academics and researchers are studying the contribution of happiness in a stable and prosperous society and how to define, achieve and measure happiness and the well-being of people. Now it’s finally time for business to truly embrace happiness in the workplace as a top priority.

It’s time for happiness to make its way out of the HR department and get a seat in the boardroom.

Not because it’s a nice thing to do or delivers good PR. Happiness is simply good business. That is if companies expect to maximise return on their most valuable investments: their people.

The challenge is in defining and measuring workplace happiness. And directly connecting happiness to specific individual and broader overall business objectives.

Too many companies view happiness as purely an HR function or a “soft goal” as opposed to a strategic business initiative. This is not meant to criticise companies or HR leaders. But it doesn’t go far enough to protect the future sustainability and health of companies in this region.

Today, happiness in the workplace correlates directly to the greatest challenge corporate leaders face preparing for the workplace of the future: winning the talent wars. It is particularly challenging in markets like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and across the GCC where companies face a dual challenge.

They are responsible for working in partnership with the government to develop the national workforce while competing for highly specialised people in markets with real gaps in essential skills needed for businesses to succeed in the future.

A distinctive and clearly articulated employee value proposition is key to a winning people strategy. And happiness is an essential component of a successful employee value proposition. But defining happiness, and connecting it to productivity and business strategy, is not easy.

It’s even more complicated in a highly diverse multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-generational mosaic of a workforce, as we have in this region. Adding to the complicated environment employers deal with are the expat employees who share a common fear — job security. Expats who rely on employment visas to stay in the country are more likely to feel safe in a company that actively engages happiness as a core principle of its employee value proposition, contributing to both recruitment and retention of top talent.

Happiness is simply not a one-size-fits-all proposition. One segment of employees may view monetary rewards as the benchmark of success while another is all about prestige, title and rapid promotion. Employees raising children may value family benefits and security, but that’s not as highly valued by single people. Some want flexibility. Others want a regimented career path.

In this kind of environment where do companies start? They can begin with an assessment of the current workplace, one that objectively looks at deep-rooted mindsets that could impede a cultural transformation. Is there an understanding, tolerance and acceptance of common drivers of happiness?

Is there a culture that encourages continued innovation and learning? Are leaders empowered to create sub-cultures that work best for them and their people? Is there flexibility in non-traditional career pathing that encourages development of new skills and experiences?

Is there flexibility in reward and compensation that responds to varying needs and desires across a diverse workforce? How deep does real engagement reach across the workplace?

Most important is to start in the C-suite. That’s where leadership style and a climate of happiness begins. It’s where companies decide if happiness is a genuine cultural value that permeates an organisation or it’s just another initiative. And it’s where connecting happiness directly to productivity leads to a measurable business impact.

There may be a cost in both time and money to achieve workplace happiness. But there is a clear return on investment that is very real.

According to McKinsey research, the top 25 per cent of publicly traded companies analysed in their Organizational Health Index deliver roughly three times the shareholder returns as the bottom 25 per cent. And companies undertaking these kinds of internal transformation initiatives have seen tangible performance gains in as little as six to 12 months.

The evidence is clearly there for business leaders to make happiness an actionable objective to get the most from a company’s greatest investment while futureproofing the business to compete for the best people in markets that have growing skill gaps.

The writer is Managing Partner at Korn Ferry Hay Group, an organisational consulting firm.


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