For Happiness – A response to Against Happiness! [OPINION]

Joe Wedgwood | 29th November 2016

Measuring engagement, happiness and wellbeing to improve productivity and profit is not overstepping the mark.

I was clicking away the other evening and stumbled across an article that halted me in my tracks. It was titled Against Happiness and it set out to rubbish all the evidence behind happy workers being more productive and positively driving your business(es) forward. It also attacked the same employee engagement technology that is empowering HR directors around the world and laying the foundations for the revolution of all things HR – it’s safe to say it hit a nerve!

The article positioned itself on this idea of a superficial/outward-looking happiness, where everyone is required to put on a front and wear a forced a smile – this demonstrates that the author has completely misunderstood what employee engagement is all about. I completely agree that forced emotional labour is very damaging for any organisation. This is precisely why my company (and all other employee engagement companies) focus their attention on real happiness – the type where you don’t have to force a smile, as you will have a real-life organic one plastered across your face. What this article repeatedly fails to do is to distinguish the difference; which creates a very disjointed argument.

It wasn’t until I trawled through the comments and witnessed the amount of support the article was receiving that I really started to take notice. Upon reading these comments my focus was shifted from battling the author, to enlightening people about the many benefits of a happy and empowered workforce. Luckily I have been gifted the perfect platform to try and change people’s attitudes around employee engagement and people analytics.

Here’s my attempt to set the record straight and prove that happiness and wellbeing are pre-cursors to productivity and success.

Disengagement is dear

If your staff are unhappy, then their health and happiness will be at risk too. Sadly, there is a culture of “so what?” and “not my problem” – well this attitude needs to change, as it is very much your problem.

Disengagement often leads to staff turnover, lacklustre performances, reductions in creativity, a lack of advocates for your brand and an increase in absences and sickness. But don’t just take my word for it… The CBI estimated the direct annual cost to the UK economy of sickness absence as over £17 billion and they placed the costs of absence in the UK at between £10bn and £20bn. Want more? According to a report by Oxford Economic, “Replacing an employee costs on average around £30,000 and it takes up to 28 weeks to get them up to speed.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but for now, let’s shift our focus towards the benefits of having engaged employees in your team. According to Tower Perrin’s 2006 global survey; “Companies with highly-engaged employees had a near 52% gap in performance improvement in operating income.” Additionally – “Companies with high levels of employee engagement improved 19.2% in operating income while companies with low levels of employee engagement declined 32.7%.”

Now I have your attention, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you want your staff to ‘go the extra mile’ for you and make efforts to be helpful whilst taking ownership of their tasks and responsibilities. Well you must give to receive – if you aren’t making noticeable efforts to ensure your staff are happy and healthy, how can you expect them to go above and beyond for you?

You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t have engaged staff who believe in the business then it all counts for nothing. The Saylor Foundation produced a business report which highlights the importance of empowering your workforce – “[empowered employees] feel more confident, capable, and determined to work more effectively and efficiently. As a result of these business practices, employees become more productive.” This perfectly sums up the many positive gains and outcomes you will achieve when you make efforts to ensure your staff feel valued and content at work. On your part it could be as simple as collecting regular feedback and insights from them.

Happiness is not an immeasurable luxury

We may have been labelled as “miscreants” but we go to huge efforts to ensure that you are looking out for your most important asset – your people.

The article also suggests that happiness is a vague immeasurable metric. If this was the case then the carpet would have been pulled out from under our entire sector’s feet long ago; yet we are going from strength to strength… Admittedly, happiness is less tangible than your gross profits or sales figures – but that doesn’t mean it is any less important. By using employee engagement technology you can collect actionable insights that will help you to determine the best course of action for both your employees and your business. Focusing on your employee’s real-time feedback will help you to get an accurate snap-shot of your company – this will ensure you can measure the happiness, motivation and wellbeing of your (afore-mentioned) most important asset.

Typically, companies will lean heavily on the traditional P&L measurement – which is fair enough as it does a pretty solid job. However, by adopting regular pulse surveys, you can start to measure people and leadership too – we refer to this as the 2nd P&L. When you collect data-driven insights from your employee’s feedback as well as the traditional P&L stats, you will get a fully-rounded 360 degree snap-shot of your entire company. If we get labelled as a “cult of happiness” in our pursuit to improve organisations around the world, then so be it!

Don’t get too caught up with the word happiness – for many employee engagement companies it is utilised for marketing purposes and is essentially a blanket term for all things productivity, engagement and efficiency. Let’s be honest, the word happiness sells better than employee engagement tech; even if some people view it as a bit soppy.  

Employee engagement is a tangible and measurable thing that has clear and noticeable effects on individuals and in turn, businesses too. By monitoring and tracking your staff you will keep your finger on the pulse of your organisation and be better equipped to improve productivity and staff retention, whilst boosting your ability to recruit new talent.