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What Does 2021 Have in Store For Employee Happiness?

As the author of Freedom to be Happy, Matt Phelan shares his predictions for what 2021 has in store for employee happiness and engagement.

1) Changes to Personal Life Will Change Professional Life


Covid-19 has changed people forever. The changes people have started to make in their personal lives will flow through into business life. With people now being used to working from home, being able to be part of their children’s lives, or see their partners more in the evenings. And these changes which are currently not affecting their work-life because of enforced remote working will need to be taken into consideration by employers. Whether it’s people wanting to skip their daily commute, live in the countryside, or be able to make it home for the school run – professional flexibility is here to stay… and I’m all for it!


2) Employee Happiness And Wellbeing Will Start Being Leadership Priorities


Sadly topics like employee happiness and wellbeing are often relegated to footnotes in the HR report. In reality, they should be at the top of the agenda. Following the release of the Financial Council Report towards the end of last year, many companies are realising that treating employee engagement as a tick-box exercise isn’t good enough. Instead, substantive engagement is necessary. Not only is this a mandate coming from the FRC, who layout clear recommendations and actions, but it also makes general good sense! 


While many companies know that this should be a priority, the FCR’s report shines a clear light on the fact that without clear steps and KPIs, many companies are failing to give the issue the attention it deserves. However, as bodies such as the FCR and others like it internationally highlight these shortcomings, we predict that leadership teams will pay more heed to HR professionals who have been urging for employee engagement to take centre stage and a greater need for empathetic leadership


3. Companies Will Start Linking Employee Feelings to Company Performance


At The Happiness Index, we believe ”Today’s emotions are tomorrow’s performance (a quote I love from our Head of Neuroscience, Clive). We also believe that in 2021 this will start to be more widely understood. The writing has been on the wall for a while – there are countless studies which link feelings with performance. One of my favourites is a 2017 study by Tyng, Amin, Saad, and Malic, which shows evidence linking emotions to memory, perception, attention, reasoning and problem-solving. For many companies and organisations, these are key skills which are vital for productivity. 


Of course, other studies such as a study by Jeremy Dawson and Michael West funded by The King’s Trust proved a causational link between staff engagement and patient outcomes. Not only this, but there was also an impact on the employees themselves, with an improvement in their health, absenteeism, and turnover, all of which will impact their personal performance. These kinds of findings will be increasingly hard to ignore, and companies will have to start paying more attention to their employee engagement in order to leverage the results they need. 


4. Unhappiness at Work Will no Longer be Accepted


We estimate there are 2 billion unhappy employees in the world. Based on an evaluation of thousands of data points globally, we can see that between December and January, nearly half, or 49.8% of workers scored their happiness at work a 6 or less, indicating that they were unhappy at work. We looked specifically at people who answered questions around feeling, so this isn’t around their behaviours or engagement, but specifically about their levels of happiness. 


While we recognise that no one is going to be happy at work all the time, chronic and extreme unhappiness at work is unlikely to be well tolerated for long periods of time. We predict that these unhappy workers will start to express their dissatisfaction. Not only this, but it’s likely that HR professionals will start to take note of unhappy employees, particularly in such large numbers, and be forced to take their feelings seriously and make changes to policy, procedure and culture in order to retain staff. 


5. Seismic Shifts in Unhappy Employees


The minute the economy picks up we’re going to see one of the biggest mass migrations of talent in a generation. Currently, people are staying put where they are because of the current situation and putting up with unacceptable behaviours. However, as we move back up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’ll see people leave their jobs for pastures new. They will no longer put up with bullying, passive-aggressive behaviour, or inflexibility, and they will move on to try to find the working environments they need and deserve. 


Although it will be easy for business leaders to criticise those moving after the pandemic, the reality is that if employees felt secure, content and ultimately, happy and cared for, they likely wouldn’t be moving. However, conversely, it does also mean that there’s a huge opportunity for those who have been working on their employee happiness and culture, to snap up incredible talent who are keen to work at exciting and engaging organisations. I know that I for one am looking forward to attracting talented and passionate people.

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Matt Phelan

Co-Founder & Co-CEO

"Matt is happiest when spending time with loved ones, particularly when he's at one with nature."

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