Should We Expect Happy Employees?

I do not often think in terms of looking for “happiness” at work.  My self-made World War II Vet dad raised me to focus on responsibility and to not expect easy roads.  Nevertheless, is it unrealistic to talk about “happiness” at work.  We probably define our goals by different terms, but at the end of the day, are we not all searching for happiness?  Last spring I attended a series on “The Philosophy of Happiness” taught by Marist High School teacher and future Ph.D, Eric Heintz.  Eric applied rigorous analysis to an otherwise “touchy feely” concept.  He explored philosophical, physiological, and religious factors influencing happiness, and the methods by which we have sought this elusive state for thousands of years.  It turns out that developing “a philosophy of happiness” may be a more orderly and rigorous pursuit than often portrayed.  I came away from the lectures believing that we have a responsibility to seek to be happy; in large part because of the benefits to society.

This week I read a white paper, “The Science of Happiness: “How to Build a Killer Culture in your Company” By Globoforce (good stuff on their site).  The paper opens with the acknowledgement that “the culture we have isn’t always the culture we want.”  The paper challenges one to consider  factors which contribute to the type of workplace culture we want, and argues that employee “happiness” is essential.  Many employers would love to have Intel’s 2% turnover rate or to have to deal with Google’s 7,000 unsolicited applications received every day.  The paper discourages us from thinking about culture simply as the sum of our perks and that culture is entirely dictated from the top …. “leaders tend to see culture in terms of things they can do, like setting goals and core values, but execs cannot dictate a great culture.  They can only lay the ground work for a great culture to take hold.”  Employees control your culture, and as the paper explains, when employees are happy, the culture thrives.  The paper quotes a Wall Street Journal’s survey that “happy employees”:

  •  Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues;
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much;
  • Spends 65% more time feeling energized;
  • Are 58% more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues;
  • Identify 98% more strongly with the values of their organization; and
  • Are 86% more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.

The paper’s conclusion is that the most direct and powerful way to impact organizational culture is to focus on making employees “happy.”

The paper does not analyze the meaning of “happiness.”  Here’s where Eric Heintz philosophy and philosophical analysis provides us with assistance.  We all know that a poor healthcare worker in Africa may be far happier than a wealthy rock star.  However, lets leave those more weighty questions to focus on some of Global Force’s sound suggestions.  Globoforce lists five ways to align employees’ vision, goals and values with that of the organization.  The first and most important point is to ensure that employees see how they “fit into the larger picture.”  The paper recounts a recent Stanford study for the self-evident truth that there is a strong correlation between happiness and a sense of meaning.  Jennifer Aaker from the Stanford Graduate School Study states:

“In fact, having a meaningful impact on the world around you is actually a better predictor of happiness than many other things you think will make you happy.”

The paper cites various studies emphasizing that once basic needs are met, employees crave a sense of direction, meaning and purpose.  Globoforce discusses five suggestions to build alignment:

1.   Pay closer attention to job-person fit;

2.   Fire people who don’t fit your culture;

3.   Help employees find greater meaning in your values;

4.   Show workers how your company fits into a bigger picture; and

5.   Cultivate more trust and flexibility into your policies.

The paper’s next point is to “accentuate the positive.”  It is a sad commentary on our workplace that New York Times best-selling author, Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project,” has to remind us:

“workplaces are far likelier to be a happy place when policies are in place to ensure that people regularly get acknowledgment and praise for a job well done, and where people feel that their happiness at work matters to their employers.”

 I’ll leave the remainder of Globoforce paper for your reading.  I also recommend their related post on “The Power of Workplace Gratitude: A Brief Biography.”  I suppose that we all actually understand the importance of employees being happy.  We may even know how to facilitate this exulted state of work life nirvana.  However, I also suspect that we do not often prepare business plans and act on our common sense knowledge to achieve that goal.  After all, isn’t happiness too touchy feely a goal for business?

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
This entry was posted in aging workforce, attitude/culture, books and articles, cultural changes, employee engagement, employer policies, management and leadership and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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