The happiness factor

“TRADITIONAL business thinking in some areas still regards employees as resources, that like any other corporate item must be bought as cheaply as possible.

“Executives who believe in treating employees well are faced with pressure from analysts and the stock market to stop doing so and start being more like anyone else – regardless of the results their strategy has been getting them so far.” (Alexander Kjerulf, Analysts to Costco: Stop treating your employees so well, July 17 2007.)

“Companies listed in the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For in America’ generated 2.3-3.8%/year higher stock returns than their peers from 1984-2011.

"These results have three main implications. First, consistent with HRM theories, job satisfaction is beneficial for firm value. Second, corporate social responsibility can improve stock returns.

"Third, the stock market does not fully value intangible assets, and so it may be necessary to shield the manager from short-term stock prices to encourage long-run growth.” (Alex Edmans, The Link Between Job Satisfaction and Firm Value, with Implications for Corporate Social Responsibility, Academy of Management Perspectives, 17 August 2012.)

Do you ever feel like you’re nothing more than a cog in the machine that is your company, grinding out results for the shareholders? Yeah, I know, I’ve been there.

Bottom line, bottom line, bottom line is the focus – what does it matter that every day, when your alarm goes off at 5am, you feel your heart sink inside you?

The thought of going in to that office or shop floor, to face the deadly dull, repetitive work, or perhaps in your case it’s the vicious office politics, can make you feel almost nauseous.

But it’s all in the quest for shareholder value, we’re told. Just be glad you’ve got a job, and work to keep it by ensuring the shareholders get results.

I’ve always thought that the power of the shareholder was nuts: after all, the shareholder is the most ephemeral stakeholder in a business. Shareholders often come and go within a very short space of time, but the other three legs, namely staff, management and customers, are invested over the long-term in a company.

And often staff are the most invested. In  a number of companies I’ve known, some of the most important carriers of company values and culture have been quite low on the totem pole: supervisors, people on the factory floor, the old geezer who’s been in the same job in Claims since Noah.

They are the unseen cellulose that provides strength and purpose to the whole plant.

So it pays to focus on the happiness of staff, from the bottom up. I remember hearing of one company run by an individual who had a most adversarial attitude to his staff: he truly believed that if he showed any ‘weakness’ (like praising staff or being flexible about hours) they would immediately take advantage.

In consequence, the company was a very unhappy place. But many of the rising stars left and were replaced without impact. It was only when a couple of the less obviously scintillating old hands left that the rot really started.

They were the custodians of the company’s raison d’etre, and once they were gone, a certain vagueness of aim crept in.

Recently, I was at a breakfast in Rosebank, held by Re-Action (Responsible Action in Wellness and Sustainabilty), which was addressed by Nic Marks of the New Economics Foundation in the UK.

He has just launched a new venture, Happiness Works, which is researching the impact and value of happiness at work and creating tools which will help corporates attain the goal of a happy workplace.

It was from Marks that I got the fascinating fact that happy workplaces – the best ones to work at – had such measurably better results than their peers. How have we been able to avoid seeing this for so long?

People who have a sense of purpose, who find their jobs rewarding and stimulating, who are content at work, are obviously going to be more productive.

Happiness is, he says, the driver of success, rather than the other way around. You’d think that people who were doing well and therefore getting kudos for their results would, AS A RESULT, be happy at work.

Nope, turn that on its head: people who start out happy up their game and achieve great results, as a consequence of some of the impacts of happiness, shown by research into positive emotions over the last decade or two.

Positive emotions, the scientists tell us, make us more open to experience, readier to take risks and explore. Positive emotions build our resources, and those resources can then be put to use in the workplace and the home.

Does this mean you should be seeking happy job applicants? Well, yes: people who are happy have a multiplier effect in the workplace, positively effecting people even outside their immediate circle of contacts.

But as a manager or CEO, you should also follow the example of highly successful companies which are exploring the idea of happy workplaces, by catering for human needs on the job (needs for connection, needs for time out, needs for recreation, needs for recognition, for example).

This way, even if you hire someone well qualified who doesn’t beam like Pollyanna from dawn till dusk, you can bring out the ‘happiness benefits’ in them.

- Fin24

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.

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