Is happiness in the workplace the key to an engaged and productive workforce


According to a study by a team of economists at the University of Warwick, it is one of the most important factors. The study found that happiness created a 12% increase in productivity, while being unhappy actually makes us 10% less productive than the norm. The conclusion was simply, happiness does have significant positive effects on productivity, and positive emotions do indeed appear to invigorate people.

Happier employees tend to be more engaged, so happiness, engagement and productivity in the workplace are intrinsically linked. And at a time when the UK is lagging behind many other developed countries in terms of its productivity, keeping employees happy should be a workplace priority.

People engage with their job and their organisation based on things like the type of work they are asked to do, their work environment, their career prospects, and the way their boss speaks to them. If organisations are serious about employee engagement and happiness, these are the basics that need to be in place. Then there are the extras, the incentives they can offer their staff, such as employee benefits and voluntary benefits.

The little things are key, helping make people’s pay go a little bit further by providing them with a shopping discount, or enabling them to use an app to access the help they need when unwell or under stress. It’s those feelings, the personal touches and emotional attachments, that make people feel happier.

We at Personal Group recently conducted a survey of 1274 UK employees about their happiness at work in early 2018. Unfortunately, according to the results, both efficiency and enthusiasm are down. The number of senior managers and department heads reporting that they never or rarely feel they are working as efficiently as possible has almost doubled since our last survey in 2017.

With UK productivity levels falling this could be another red flag for the economy. Enthusiasm for work has decreased across all respondent groups in the past 12 months, but the largest drop is amongst male workers. In 2017, half of male employees were enthusiastic about their work often or most of the time, only 35% share the same level of enthusiasm this year.

The Hapi survey results were also benchmarked against responses from approximately 41,000 employees working for engagement-orientated businesses (those businesses actively investing in employee engagement initiatives). Overall levels of employee pride, enthusiasm and keenness to get to work in the morning actually increased slightly at engagement-orientated businesses between 2017 and 2018, whereas respondents to the employer agnostic Hapi survey were shown to feel much more negatively towards their work and working lives across all metrics.

The results are staggering. Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, lack of pride in our work and a loss of enthusiasm are having a profound impact on employees across the UK. Much more must be done to tackle unhappiness in the workplace and to ensure employees feel valued, appreciated and safe in the workplace. There is significant proof that employees of businesses which have employee engagement initiatives implemented are more motivated and enthused in the workplace.

As a country we need re-focus our efforts and do more to drive happiness in the workplace. Front line workers are the engine of the UK economy, and if we can do more to engage and excite these workers, the results could be phenomenal.

The general decline of happiness at work could go some way to explain the UK productivity gap. But how can you effectively increase employee’s happiness and overall engagement? For employees to be fully engaged and happy at work they need these three basic things:

1. A feeling of inclusion in company issues

In the workplace, communication is key. Employees want to know that they — and their organisations — are doing something that matters to other people. And for many of these employees, shareholder value isn’t a meaningful goal that excites and engages them. That’s not to say that shareholder value isn’t something you should be communicating to your employees, as some may find this an effective motivator, just make sure to keep them informed about a variety of issues.

As part of an effective communication strategy, employees from different age groups should be encouraged to recognise and appreciate that they have different skillsets and different ideas, that individually and as a team, bring value to the organisation.

In order to maximise communication efforts across several generations of staff, a personal approach to understanding what works best for individual employees is crucial. There is plenty of research into generational behaviours and preferences, but honestly, the easiest and most effective way to make sure you are effectively communicating with your employees is to simply ask them what they would prefer.

Regardless of age or gender, employers need to communicate clearly how all employees can contribute to the success of the company. They can do this by building diverse working groups or teams based around a project or business objective, setting out clear expectations of what needs to get done and when, while encouraging individuals within those groups to identify their strengths and be aware of their differences in order to reach the desired outcome.

2. The knowledge that they are making a difference

People want to feel as if their work matters, and that their contributions help to achieve something really important. When you recognise and reward a high level of service, you encourage employees to repeat these actions, creating a happier and more productive workforce. The majority of reward and recognition programmes now find their home on the internet, which allows access anytime and anywhere.

Using automated systems to recognise employees can significantly decrease the time it takes for them to receive acknowledgement for their achievements. Whether the reward is financial, an internal announcement or simple thank you, having processes already in place speeds up the procedure. This decreases the likelihood of a good deed being forgotten by the time bonus season comes around.

However, reward and recognition programmes are not a one size fits all solution. Variety is crucial when it comes to staff rewards. Using new technology is all well and good, but it is still important for morale that staff are recognised individually by both their managers and peers. You can easily create a range of awards so there is an element of personalisation, some of which can be presented physically and others digitally. It is good practice to include your staff in the decision making process when it comes to staff incentive ideas, as increasing employee involvement has a strong positive impact on both your overall employee engagement and participation levels.

3. Good inter-office relations

We know that people join an organisation but leave a bad boss — a bad relationship with one’s boss is downright painful. So too are bad relationships with colleagues. For leaders, managers, and employees, trusting and supportive relationships are an important influence on their state of mind and can affect their willingness contribute to a team.

A manager’s job is not to force motivation and engagement, rather, it is to tap into employees’ existing motivators and both boost and sustain the current levels of engagement. A great manager must gauge environmental factors, nurture relationships and foster an organisational culture where employees are trusted, respected and expected to accomplish their work goals.

It is not only a good relationship with managers that increases employee engagement, a company culture that encourages friendships between co-workers is likely to produce far more engaged employees. It’s important to offer opportunities for colleagues to socialise both inside and outside of work hours, consider organising team building events or activity days that are available to employees and their families alike.

While it is true that if you want to increase engagement and unlock discretionary effort among your employees to boost productivity, you must provide them with a workplace and a culture that makes them feel happy, there are also a number of other factors in play. It is crucial that employees feel fully engaged within the workplace in its entirety, understand where they fit in the overall structure of the business and feel as though the work they provide is appreciated by their managers and co-workers alike.

Annie McKee, author, academic, speaker and advisor to top global leaders, drills home the point in her popular HBR piece when she states, “Added up, brain science and our organizational research are in fact debunking the old myths: emotions matter a lot at work. Happiness is important. To be fully engaged, people need vision, meaning, purpose, and resonant relationships.”

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