The Happiness Factor

Who’d have thought five years ago that employee wellbeing would one day be the focus of  boardroom concern?  Now that the fiercest threats of economic gloom are receding, global corporations like Google and Starbucks are leading the way in addressing the cost to their business of  stress-related sick-leave and high employee turnover.  It’s beginning to dawn on the business world that companies literally can’t afford to have unhappy, unwell staff.

But while these multi-million dollar global brands are at the forefront, many smaller companies have a long way to go in addressing workplace stress.  Although businesses are finally back in expansion mode, organisational leaders are slow to invest in new people to share the load. They are not ensuring that working conditions will keep staff feeling motivated and fulfilled.  Instead, people are expected to do increasingly more in less time.  The numbers of over-stretched staff working under unmanageable pressure are climbing.

One factor that might help to reverse this trend, is the acceptance that employee happiness has a measureable impact on business. Economists at the University of Warwick conducted research amongst 700 participants and found that their productivity increased by around 12% after being given happiness-inducing treats.  Trying the experiment in reverse, subjects who had good reason to feel unhappy (such as those going through bereavement or divorce) had significantly poorer performance levels.

Increasing employee productivity is a critical goal in many businesses, and the 12% improvement will go straight to the bottom line.

And while we’re focusing on that bottom line, let’s not forget that unhappy staff are likely to leave.  It’s well documented that costs related to directly replacing an employee can be as high as 50–60% of the employee’s annual salary, but the total cost of turnover can reach as high as 90–200%  when you factor-in the value of the knowledge they take away with them (especially if they take it to a competitor!).

So strategies to increase employee motivation and reduce turnover should be viewed by employers as an essential financial investment.

But how do you make your staff happy?  Motivational strategies used to be based on money: in the form of bonuses and salary rises, but psychologists have proved that beyond a certain comfort level financial incentives become progressively ineffective.  Other factors such as peer-group recognition, a sense of community and social interaction all play their part in making people want to give of their best at work.

Clearly HR leaders need to consider a whole raft of initiatives that will make employees feel cared-for.  In addition to the bonuses, rewards and training programmes these should include experiences both inside and outside the workplace that leave a positive emotional impact.  Organisational stress-busting programmes can include lunchtime tai-chi, yoga or massage; or one day a year charity fundraiser bake-offs or bike rides.

We’ve discovered that the most noticeable (and measurable!) improvements in staff motivation occur when a company’s board publicly champions wellbeing as a pillar of its business strategy,  allocating resources to sponsor and support these initiatives.  Social interaction and a sense of community can be fostered through a carefully planned schedule of events throughout the year.

So if the annual Christmas party is your company’s only opportunity for staff to have fun together, maybe it’s time for a rethink. Especially as fun activities and motivational games can be incorporated into many internal events that have a business objective.

Corporate wellbeing is a truly sound investment and should be a part of every business strategy – no matter how small or large.  If we compare that to the cost of maintaining an emotionally sick workforce it’s a no-brainer!


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