Why employee happiness matters

Type “define happiness” into Google and it explains that to be happy is “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment”. Sounds like a bit of a dry and one dimensional description, doesn’t it? Perhaps how one would try to explain happiness to a robot, or an alien. It’s commonly described as an emotion, or a mood, although some think that’s too simplistic. Happiness means different things to different people and, consequently, each of us derives happiness differently. No surprise then that it’s difficult to convey the enormity and complexity of happiness within a few succinct words.

While it may be difficult to define happiness satisfactorily, it’s something we are all familiar with. Sure we might not feel happy right now, but all of us have felt it at some point.

It’s been around since time immemorial. It’s one of the things that makes us human and something we strive to achieve. Perhaps even a key meaning of life itself. 

Pretty shocking then that only recently has happiness been considered within the context of something that most of us spend the majority of our lives doing – work. The happiness at work phenomenon has been growing over the last few years, and is quite well established in the US, popularised by radical examples such as American clothing company, Zappos. In 2013, interest started to pick up in the UK, although take up of the concept by organisations appears to have been slow. Is that due to a stereotypical British stiff upper lip, where we consider happiness and work to be incompatible? Or have the traditional among us placed happiness in the “soft fluffy HR” box, only to be brought out at the annual staff conference and Christmas party? Whatever the reason, employee happiness needs to be considered a key output of any employee engagement programme.

A word on employee engagement

The stats don’t look good. More than half of employees (70%) are disengaged, with a large proportion of those (20%) being actively disengaged (Gallup) i.e. openly miserable and encouraging their co-workers to join them in their pit of despair. Now the jobs market is starting to pick up, HR circles have predicted 2014 to be “the year of employee engagement”. Cue employers desperately scrambling to keep the talent that didn’t leave in the economic downturn because there was nowhere else to go. Obviously employees who are happy at work will be much less likely to leave than those who are unhappy, but it’s not just that. Studies show that happy employees are better motivated, more productive and perform better. Which is why we need to take employee happiness seriously.

Your first question may be, are my employees happy? As a manager, you should make it your business to know whether your employees are happy. Trust me, they’re going to make it obvious if they’re not, either through their words or their behaviour (or both!). Secondly, but why aren’t my employees happy? You may have invested considerable time and effort in introducing initiatives designed to improve employee satisfaction and ultimately happiness. While rewards and benefits are positive steps, the bad news is that research shows these have little or no effect on employee happiness.

So what does affect happiness? It can be daunting considering everything which is purported to improve employee happiness, from walking to technology, and difficult to know where to start. Thankfully it’s actually much more straightforward than that, as in essence, happiness at work can be reduced down to two things – Meaning (the sense of purpose employees derive from their work) and Connection (the positive relationships employees have with their manager and colleagues). If either of these are absent, expect a bunch of unhappy and demotivated employees.

Success or failure of ensuring meaning and connection will depend upon one thing – managers. They need to know their people well, provide them with work that is both challenging and plays to their strengths and then trust them to deliver. They also need to provide motivation that appeals to individual values, coach and provide regular and positive feedback so employees know they’re making progress. They need to oversee and balance their team, tackling any conflict as it arises. And the most important thing? They need to be happy. 🙂


One thought on “Why employee happiness matters

  1. I definitely agree with this. I always tell people it is important to have a job you’re happy in. You’re more likely to be successful (and passionate) in a job you love than a job you hate.

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