How being happy can make you better at your job

29 September 2015 -

“DalaiLama"

With the Dalai Lama giving his blessing to a new UK course dedicated to making people happier, Insights takes a look at how happiness can improve work performance for all workers, no matter their job title

Jermaine Haughton

According to the Action for Happiness organisation, their free eight-week course, Exploring What Matters, is scientifically proven to increase life satisfaction, compassion and enjoyment. The course’s founders claim attendees benefit from scientifically exploring life-reflective questions such as “what really makes us happy?" and "how can we create a happier world?".

Launched on World Peace Day, the course is the latest example of how individual and societal happiness has become an established scientific discipline in the last 20 years, influencing everything from political policies to business ethics.

For business leaders, happiness is a major issue both personally and for staff. From Google giving out free coffees to employees in the morning to Waitrose treating staff to trips to theme parks and group activities such as go karting, businesses realise that happiness and productivity are intrinsically linked and dependent upon each other.


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Affecting everyone from chief executives to frontline staff, happy workers have an average of 31% higher productivity and 37% higher sales, with creativity coming in three times higher, according to the Harvard Business Review. University of Warwick researchers also found happiness made people around 12% more productive. Dr Daniel Sgroi, who helped conduct the study, said: “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.”

Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, proposed that the human brain functions much better when a person is feeling positive, with the individual feeling more creative and more effective at solving problems. Such effects has led the likes of Alexander Kjerulf, founder of Woohoo Inc. and the organisation’s "chief happiness officer," to argue that happiness can help develop better leaders.

And productivity is as important an issue for the UK economy as ever; the amount of goods produced by workers has been flat lining since the start of the economic crisis. As Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, says: “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

The Bank of England figures show that productivity grew by 3% and 2% a year between 1971 and 2007 but has since shown virtually no growth, causing many politicians and economists to scratch their heads furiously. Ultimately, low productivity negates staff pay and the ability of companies to compete with foreign rivals. Therefore, any advantage companies can gain from incentivising staff to produce more during their working hours is most welcome.

Job engagement is one of the few indicators bosses can study to find out whether employees are happy – a notoriously subjective and complex term. The Global Perspectives survey, released by global research firm ORC International last year, suggests UK businesses ranked 18th out of 20 countries based on employee engagement. The study of more than 7,000 employees showed that only workers in Japan and Hong Kong experienced less enjoyment about their work than Britons. Furthermore, only 37% of UK workers felt they were encouraged to be innovative, down from 47% in 2013. In the wellbeing index, the UK had a score of 57%, down from 61% in the preceding 12 months – ahead of other countries in Western Europe, but trailing Australia, US, India and China.

ORC International head of employee research Kate Pritchard said the low engagement scores should act as a warning to employers: “Encouraging innovative ideas, creative thinking and providing an environment where employees feel that managers act in their best interest are just some aspects to improving engagement, which ultimately have a positive effect on overall business outcomes and client satisfaction.”

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