I think a secret belief that too many leaders still harbour is ‘ Who cares if employees are happy or not? That’s their own business. What matters is how well they’re doing their job.’ And this mind set is perhaps an understandable one, given the very private sphere that mental health traditionally inhabits.
You could make the moral argument to employers that as work is the biggest cause of stress in peoples lives, and one in three employees suffer form anxiety, depression or chronic stress, organisations have an ethical duty to mitigate that and look after employees mental wellbeing, but frankly the economic argument speaks a lot louder.
An expanding body of research suggests however that psychological wellbeing has a direct impact not only on how well a person does their job, but also whether they stick at their job and consequently the business’s bottom line.
Soaring levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and presenteeism – i.e. when people turn up but are under-productive and do the bare minimum to get by – costs UK employers anything between £33bn and £42bn every single year.
And investing in staff wellbeing is not just a question of mitigating against negative effects. It actively boosts profit because positive emotions improve performance. Studies show that the productivity of happy employees is 12-20% greater than that of a control group. It is no coincidence that Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ stock prices rose an average of 14% per year from 1998-2005, compared to 6% for the overall market.
There are multiple approaches to creating the conditions of a happy workplace and the right approach will end up being as unique as your organisation and the people who make it up. As a broad rule of thumb though, workplace happiness correlates with operating on an appreciation model rather than a blame one and recognising individuals’ strengths and fostering growth from that foundation. And although changes to workplace culture need to be modelled from the top, they need to be authored collaboratively, beginning with asking employees the simple question:
“How could this workplace be made better for you?”