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What makes a happy workplace?

Happiness equals productivity, a new scientific study has found. And the key to a more upbeat workplace lies in just four key areas… 

The happier the workplace, the more productive it will be. That’s the overwhelming message from the latest research into positivity and profit led by a team of economists at Warwick University [1].

The study, due to be published in the Journal of Labor Economics in October 2015, involved over 700 subjects, and provides a scientific basis for one of the hottest topics in HR: the happy workplace.

Professor Andrew Oswald, Dr Eugenio Proto and Dr Daniel Sgroi led the research.“Happier subjects tend to be more productive than less happy ones”, said Dr Proto. “If this result holds [true] in a workplace, happier employees will be more productive.”

The study found that happier employees use their time more effectively, generating about 12% more work in lab trials than less happy colleagues. Professor Oswald elaborated: “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”

Keeping your chin up

But what makes for a happy workplace? There’s no single answer, according to Dr Proto. “There are different ways [to achieve happiness],” he said, “from providing nicer office spaces or entertainment, to securing a good pension scheme, higher wages and other benefits, and guaranteeing a good level of sociability.” 

“Make happiness a priority. Start by recognising that a happier workforce is better for everyone.”

AFH director Mark Williamson

Just as in the rest of life, the key is making it sustainable. As many studies into general wellbeing have shown, a sense of happiness tends to be fleeting, and the goodwill caused by a new company perk, a successful project or an office makeover will only last so long. Retaining a dedicated, passionate workforce involves making long-lasting changes that focus on the wellbeing of individual employees and the contribution these employees make to the company as a whole.

Recipes for happiness

One organisation taking happiness very seriously is Action for Happiness (AFH), a charity spearheaded by former government ‘happiness czar’ Lord Richard Layard, which aims to ‘help people take practical action to improve mental wellbeing and to create a happier and more caring society’.

The group’s message encourages individuals to address their own happiness in the workplace in the same way that they address happiness in other areas of their lives, but also offers advice to managers who have the ability to administer a top-down approach.

“Make it a priority,” urges AFH director Mark Williamson. “Start by recognising that a happier workforce is better for everyone.

“Employees are healthier, enjoy work more and get on better with their colleagues. And employers see benefits in terms of increased productivity, higher staff retention, better customer service and reduced sickness-absence.”

According to Williamson, there are four main contributors to workplace happiness:

  • Autonomy: people feeling that they have control over what they are doing.
  • Relationships: people liking their colleagues and working in a supportive and friendly environment.
  • Progress: people having a sense that they are making progress against goals that they care about.
  • Meaning: people feeling that what they do at work has a purpose and makes a difference.

A winning formula

That formula is certainly reflected in some notably ‘happy’ companies. This year, the first winner was announced in the Happiest Workplace 2015 Competition, a new award created by workplace consultants Wylde IA for businesses around Bristol and Bath.

“Happiness in the workplace is key to success,’ said Penny Eiberg, one of the Wylde IA judges. “Happy people mean an increase in productivity; they are healthier, and more satisfied – which in turn means higher staff retention and higher morale.”

Shiner, a Bristol-based skateboard, equipment and clothing distribution company, won this year’s competition, fulfilling the criteria set out by Wylde IA – which included individual wellbeing, how change is communicated and flexibility.

“Shiner are a family firm that have been in operation for almost 40 years,” said Eiberg. “It was immediately evident to us that they all love what they do and that a lot of the staff really live their work. Shiner staff are committed and hardworking; the company encourage ideas and helps people progress and move into areas that interest them.”

So there you have it: autonomy, relationships, progress and meaning. If it can work for a family skateboarding business in Bristol as well as a global giant such as Google, it’s surely a formula any business could try to apply?

To view articles similar to this please visit Workplace Focus.




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