Happiness at Work

by Terence Jeyaretnam

The pursuit of happiness underscores the US Declaration of Independence, yet it is ironic that neither the US nor Australia measure their levels of happiness as an indicator of progress or productivity.

Two recent seminars by Net Balance on happiness at work found that the topic hit a chord with corporate Australia, with the sessions being oversubscribed. The keynote was happiness and wellbeing researcher Nic Marks, who was also instrumental in creating the Happy Planet Index. Nic strongly believes that ‘happiness does not cost the earth’ and should be the pursuit of all nations. The Happy Planet Index shows which nations are most successful at achieving this goal. Technically, it is a global index of the environmental efficiency with which nations generate human wellbeing. Unhappily, Australia is sitting at a regrettable 76th spot, with the first place going to Costa Rica.

Following the global success of the index, Nic embarked on researching happiness at work, developing it into a survey tool. In a world full of contracting economies, high levels of unemployment, lagging millennium development goals and record levels of environmental debt, continuing to be happy at work is an important management prerogative. NAB recently told me that their carbon neutral initiative generated a record volume of congratulatory notes to the executive, proving a tremendous success in employee engagement.

Lydia Dishman writes in Fast Company that a happy employee is a productive one. To support her argument, she points to the following research. Happy employees deliver:

  • 33% higher profitability (Gallup)
  • 43% more productivity (Hay Group)
  • 37% higher sales (Shawn Achor)
  • 300% more innovation (HBR)
  • 51% lower turnover (Gallup)
  • 50% less safety incidents (Babcock Marine Clyde)
  • 66% decrease in sick leave (Forbes)
  • 125% less burnout (HBR).

So what makes people happy at work? Laura Garnett, Talent Strategist and Leadership Activator known for her work on Zone of Genius talks of being part of a higher purpose, a mission that’s bigger than oneself, as being the pinnacle of work happiness. According to Garnett, ‘when someone is purpose-driven, they become resilient beyond measure. In an extreme example of this, Nelson Mandela was able to survive 27 years in prison because he was unshakably clear on his purpose. Clarity of purpose provides endless amounts of fulfillment and can create superhuman results and impact in your work.’ This is a lesson for employers, who should provide clarity in their mission so that they hire people who are mission-aligned, as well as for employees, who should seek out work that aligns with their own identified higher purpose.

Indeed, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School says that the happiest people tend to be those facing the toughest, but most worthwhile, challenges. Today’s environmental and social challenges provide some of the most pressing missions for employees to find their true purpose, and accordingly organisations that contribute in a meaningful way to solving these concerns are likely to find a happier and more engaged team, with extraordinary levels of productivity.

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (terence@netbalance.com), 
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.

Twitter: TerenceJey

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