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The rise of the happiness officer

Anthony Bennett, founder - Bennett Hay

With a roadmap in place to ease lockdown, corporates are facing up to the reality of what the workplace will look like from summer ‘21 onwards.

2020 was a decisive year for workplaces when protocols and procedures were put in to place to ensure social distancing, sanitisation and touch-less environments for employees. It was also the year when the global workforce was told to work from home.

Initially there was a sigh of relief from employees who were no longer having to deal with lengthy and costly commutes. Video-conferencing and online collaboration were the new modus operandi and a long summer made working from home a very welcome new norm. Now, a full 12-months on, there’s a palpable cry for a structured workplace, where the workday is clearly delineated and social interaction isn’t driven by a diary invite but by a chance meeting in the corridor, sharing lunch with a colleague or a collective brainstorm around a table.  For some it’s been a wilderness year where they may have joined an organisation yet never physically met anyone. Graduates in their formative years of training have had to learn company culture from afar, their mentorship and their interaction with their peer group online, often devoid of emotion.

In every business sector HR is leading the charge in reconstructing workplace practices; balancing the lessons of flexible working from home with the human instinct to meet and interact.

The evidence between employee happiness and the productivity of a company is conclusive and underlined with figures from the US where productivity in the third quarter of 2020 rose 4.6%. This followed a 10.6% in the second quarter: the largest six-month improvement since 1965.

Happiness is clearly big for business, especially as a contented workforce will help attract additional great talent to an organisation. Balancing a new hybrid approach to the workplace, where employees can work from home or gather in a safe central location, requires major HR dexterity. After a year online, it’s hardly surprising that employee experience is topping the agenda for HR and business leaders: from recruitment to on-boarding and development to leaving the organisation – employees happiness counts. A 360-degree approach to happiness is an enabler of productivity.

For us, the creation of a Happiness Officer’s role at Bennett Hay in 2019 was instrumental in developing and nurturing the team and to the company securing its place in the Top 20 Places to Work in Hospitality 2020. The role was created to attract, create and engage happy talent and encourage high employee retention by focusing on empathy, learning and development and employee benefits.  It feeds seamlessly with our own colleague services manager, who looks after our HR & training needs, and emphasises our key learning that mood, emotion and empathy can have demonstrable impact on performance.

From March last year the role was fast-tracked to focus on client engagement too. Creating and engaging with clients through online platforms; instilling a sense of community and normality in a time of un-precedented challenges and change. Through our client portal we’ve tasted, tested and analysed food and drink trends, we exercised mind and body and have created a social and sociable climate for peer-to-peer networking.  We’ve Christmas-ed with our clients and even organised competitions and book clubs to keep team spirits up and keep the momentum as an employer of choice.

Conversely the desolation of the UK hospitality sector in 2020 also saw our Happiness Officer at the centre of our FWDTogether initiative for employees impacted and displaced by the pandemic.  The scheme supported, mentored and helped to up-skill members of the team and provide advice and sessions to help employees navigate a new role or career path. For us as a company, our Happiness Officer had the empathy required during a sad period of employee outplacement to help create a positive environment despite people having to leave.

With a roadmap in place and more positive news on the cards, we’re once again recruiting. Pre-Covid employees saw workplace design incorporate a tangible element towards happiness. But with the current focus on new hybrid working routines, office design will now potentially only touch 50% of employees. Instead, we need to look beyond the tick lists to company culture and the elements that go into instilling a company’s values and culture.

Caring for and sharing with employees are proven traits that instil a positive employee experience.  Whatever part of the lifecycle the employee is at in the company, whether it’s on-boarding, development or leaving the organisation; positive experiences lead to happy, content people and increased productivity.

The role of the Happiness Officer has never been more relevant as we work our way back to new routines post Covid-19.

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