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Happiness in the Workplace: Cause or Effect?

Mark Hedberg, DrMedVet MRCVS

Happiness is a popular topic these days. Today in the UK you can find positivity self-help books, hear about beating winter blues, statistics detailing how happy workplaces are productive workplaces, and a host of other sources discussing how happiness is indeed a marvelous thing and we should all be happier. However, this often isn’t the easiest trick in the book – especially at two minutes to closing time when a last emergency lands on your desk!

 What does happiness measure?

Happiness is inherently hard to measure. The old cliché of ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ isn’t always true, but it is a good point that intangible things are tough to quantify, and even harder to put in context. What exactly does happiness measure? Take global happiness, for instance. The 2013 Well-Being Index by Gallup1 found that the happiest country in the world is Panama. A newly qualified professional in Panama can look forward to a starting wage of £4272, so clearly money does not buy you happiness.

So it would appear that while happiness is a good thing, it’s not a particularly good economic indicator. A lack of happiness, however, may be a very good indicator that something is badly wrong – using tied-for-unhappiest nations Syria and Afghanistan as examples.

Coming back to happiness in the workplace, well-managed workplaces are often staffed by engaged, happy, and satisfied employees. Conversely, you can often identify poorly run businesses by the unhappiness of the staff. The poor attitudes, the high turnover, frequent absenteeism, and poor service are hallmarks of a business that’s not doing well.

So how can you make an unhappy workplace a happy workplace?

Look at the fundamentals of your business. What are the most frequent complaints?  Listen to the issues or problems, and try to identify a common theme. If you or someone on your team is complaining about excessive workload, look at what they do or how they do it – are there more efficient, effective ways to do that job?

Working hours are a classic issue; if you’re constantly working past closing time, either the time management isn’t very good, or you do actually need some help. What can you delegate to your team?

Do your own books if it gives you pleasure, but if your numbers-loving receptionist can get an AAT qualification and save you hours of effort, this could be a worthwhile investment for you.

Give them meaningful work. Fine, there are parts of the job that aren’t pleasant; but help them put their job in context. Show them where their job fits into the business’s greater goal. Happiness is hard to measure, but it can be created – so go out there and make things happen!




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