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Employee happiness can be a fuzzy concept to strive for, and is not necessarily seen as a priority by all businesses. It can often be an afterthought, with many believing that if workers are paid enough, or promoted regularly, they’ll be happy.

But there has been much research conducted to show the resounding impact happiness within the workplace can have upon productivity. A recent study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. Dr Daniel Sgroiwho was involved in leading the research concluded “the driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”

Google is one company cited within the above study, owing to its unique culture of success. Google has people whose sole job is to keep employees happy and maintain productivity. The perks of being a Google employee are well documented, and include things like nap pods, free organic chef-prepared food, free health and dental care, free haircuts, free dry cleaning…the list is endless. Obviously these benefits come at a cost to Google, but the trade off is worth it as the search giant is able to retain loyal, happy staff, amid fierce competition for talent within Silicon Valley. It comes as little surprise that Google consistently ranks as one of the best places to work.

Professor Oswald, who led the Warwick research, explains “companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%, so they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”

Is happiness something that employers can create?

In one word…yes!

English author Sir Thomas Browne wrote in 1642, “I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity. I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.”

Browne advocated that happiness was something that could be artificially created, and Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert draws on this theme within his TED Talk ‘The surprising science of happiness’. He says, “human beings have something that we might think of as a ‘psychological immune system’ – a system of cognitive processes, largely non-conscious cognitive processes, that helps them change their view of the world, so that they can feel better about the worlds in which they find themselves.”

Similarly, Shawn Achor’s TED Talk, ‘The happy secret to better work’, claims that 90% of our long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way in which our brain processes the world. He argues that if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way that we can then affect reality. He claims only 25% of job successes are predicted by IQ, while 75% of job successes are predicted by optimism levels, social support and ability to deal with stress.

Within his talk, Achor goes on to say that if you can boost an individual’s positivity levels, their brain is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed. “Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves.”

So what factors help to make employees more happy in their work?

  • A survey by the TUC found that employees in small businesses are more satisfied at work. They were also found to be the most committed and loyal to their organisations, and had the most freedom to choose their working patterns. There were far fewer reports of bullying, lower stress levels and less complaints about long working hours.
  • Reducing the commute to work can have a positive impact on happiness and stress. A recent study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that people who spend between an hour and 90 minutes getting to work each day are more miserable than their colleagues, and people travelling by bus are even more unhappy.
  • Employees with autonomy tend to have greater job satisfaction. This means having some control over their work, such as managing their own time and making decisions on what they do when.
  • Managers make a big difference to employee happiness. Good managers are key motivators who can make a real difference to their teams. The ‘five fundamentals’ of good management include coaching, giving feedback, listening, rewarding and recognising success and performance management. If you haven’t already read the article from New York Times on Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss, you should, which was based on a great deal of research.
  • Having good friends at work helps employees to engage more fully in their work. There is much that businesses can do to help with this. Google found that providing long lunch tables for employees to eat at exposed them to more people who they could get to know.
  • Green spaces and a natural working environment have been proven to boost employee mood and wellbeing. Research at the University of Queensland found that office plants made staff happier and increased productivity by 15%.

For more ideas on what makes employees happy in their work, please see this infographic below…

The Smart Working Handbook