Webinar: Linking happiness to corporate productivity

10 June 2022

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest happy people perform better at work.

Polls for Gallup during 2020 and 2019, for example, suggested happier workers are, respectively, 20% more productive, take 37% less sick leave and lower staff turnover by 34%. Just as importantly, a further Gallup poll from 2018 argued organisations with happier employees are 21% more profitable.

As a highly informative webinar for WPA in June 2022 illustrated, happier employees can bring very tangible business benefits. In particular, the event, led by business transformation coach Jenny Allen-Smith from Stretching the City, highlighted that:

  • Companies that engage their staff are more successful, whether that is measured in customer satisfaction, innovation, productivity, or profitability.
  • If employees feel 'alignment', 'control', and 'contentment' then happiness is likely to follow.
  • A 'best self' approach, where employees are encouraged to channel their most valued behaviours and traits, and a 'strengths-based' approach, where they are encouraged to understand and make best use of their unique strengths, can make for a happier workplace.

Webinar: Linking happiness to corporate productivity

Business transformation coach Jenny Allen-Smith from Stretching the City discusses how happier employees can bring very tangible business benefits.

Defining happiness

The event opened with a Slido poll where participants were asked: 'what does happiness mean to you?'. 'Contentment' came out as the most common answer, but phrases such as 'to feel respected', 'being recognised for what you do', and 'hearing my kids laugh' were all put forward.

Jenny cited psychologist Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky's definition of happiness: 'The experience of joy, contentment or positive wellbeing, combined with a sense that one's life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.'

"We all possess the raw ingredients for happiness," Jenny outlined. "At its root, happiness is a feeling. And, like any feeling, it is the result of the action of various chemicals that are moving all the time through the brain and the body – chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins. As long as you are physically capable of producing this incredible cocktail of chemicals, then the potential for happiness absolutely fits."

Why happiness is important in the workplace

The compelling statistics cited earlier illustrate very clearly why it is so important that we have happy colleagues at work, Jenny explained.

"Happiness leads to success. Most people think that, if they can become successful then they will be happy. But recent discoveries in psychology and in neuroscience show this formula is actually backwards," she said.

"Happiness fuels success; it is not the other way round. When we're positive, our brains are more motivated; we're more engaged, more creative, more energetic, more resilient. We are more productive. Again and again, it has been shown that companies who engage their staff are more successful. Whether that is measured in customer satisfaction, in innovation, in productivity or in solid profitability and share value" she added.

How, then, should employers be creating this virtuous circle? For the second half of the webinar, Jenny outlined a range of approaches employers could embrace.

She started by highlighting psychologist Dr Rangan Chatterjee's concept of a 'three-legged stool' of happiness. The first leg is 'alignment' or ensuring our inner values and external actions - for example our role at work or the values of the organisation we're working for - line up. The second is 'control', or that we feel a sense of control over our lives. And the third (echoing the earlier Slido poll) is 'contentment', or that we feel a degree of calm and contentment.

"The important thing is that happiness isn't a final destination you will reach one day and then everything will be pure joy for ever. The three-legged stool doesn't stay upright all the time for everybody. Some days, of course, will be better than others. But, with regular practise, your core happiness stool can become more stable," Jenny explained.

Ways to make for a happier workplace

One practical way to embed happiness in a workplace setting, Jenny argued, is to encourage a 'best self' approach among employees, especially new hires and during onboarding.

She cited IT services Wipro where, at induction, employees are asked to write down times they have used their very best characteristics, and then share them with the group.

"The reason this is such a brilliant strategy is that, when we are feeling anxious, particularly about meeting new people and fitting in, what we tend to do is highlight the parts of ourselves that conform to the group and which fit the expectations of others. This can be both exhausting and highly stressful" Jenny pointed out.

"By sharing their personal stories at the very start of their working relationship, by taking a 'best self' approach, the new hires felt like they were able to express themselves more fully by showing their colleagues their most valued behaviours and traits. They were able to feel like their best selves from the get-go," she added.

Another effective approach is to encourage people to focus on their strengths. "Just as a fish doesn't know that it is wet, we don't always know our strengths because they just seem so natural and normal to us," Jenny explained.

"Our signature strengths don't seem like a big deal to us but they mean so much, often, to other people. Research shows that where people identify and use their unique strengths, they report feeling more alive and fundamentally happier with their lives."

To best identify your strengths, Jenny recommended asking six key questions:

  • What do you most like about yourself?
  • What are you like when you are at your best?
  • What or who brings out the best in you?
  • What is your most significant achievement from the current or previous year?
  • How have your strengths helped you through the past year?
  • How can your strengths help you in the future?

"Also, I really encourage you to ask someone who you really trust and respect to answer these questions about you," she added, as often it is easier for others to see what you may not.

Conclusions and Q&A

As the main presentation came to a conclusion, Jenny summed up: "As leaders, you have a chance to make life more meaningful, more worth living, for the people you lead.

"Happiness is not some impossibly distant destination or a state of mind that is reserved for the privileged. It is trainable, it is accessible for everyone," Jenny concluded.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Jenny was asked, first, how significant is the link between income and happiness?

"I am not saying income has no bearing on happiness, because it absolutely does," Jenny replied. "But it is only up to a point. Yes, money may well boost happiness, especially when it lifts people out of impoverished circumstances. Beyond that, its effects are limited, however. Once people get past what you can call the 'comfortable zone' and the money worries have gone, what the studies show is that there seems to be very little change in happiness levels."

Was the message about the corporate importance of happiness getting through to business leaders, Jenny was then asked?

"I'm an optimist but I do believe it is. The point is happiness needs to be led from the top; it needs to form a key part of your wellbeing strategy. And about role modelling that. Yes, it is getting through, but I also think there is still so much scope for improvement," Jenny added.

Other Questions that were asked which Jenny has subsequently answered:

Is it ok to focus on personal responsibility for happiness, because it takes attention away from the wider problems in society?

Some people argue that any focus on a personal responsibility for happiness is wrong, because it takes attention away from the wider problems in society, such as poverty, discrimination and social mobility. I completely agree that there is so much in society that makes life harder for many people, especially for marginalized groups and those who struggle financially. I want society to change. But we can't wait for that to happen. I feel strongly that happiness is a skill that we can all develop and only we have the power to feel happiness.

Is a meaningful life necessarily a happy life?

There are differences between a happy life and a meaningful one.

Meaning is not the same thing as happiness although they are closely linked as in our definition of happiness at the start. One might argue that a soldier fighting on the front lines is living a deeply meaningful life, but it would be hard to say it was a happy one. You might have a job you adore that gives you a deep sense of meaning but you could at the same time be working too much and close to burnout. You would have meaning but you wouldn't be happy.

It's useful to make distinctions between meaning and happiness-in part to encourage more people to seek meaningful pursuits in life, whether or not doing so makes them feel happy. Still, we must recognise that the two are closely tied.

Are we able to order grumpy staff to be happy?

No! Let's not advocate for toxic positivity! Instead, we should be encouraging staff to be open and honest about their emotions and embrace the full spectrum of human emotion. If something sad has happened to someone, let them feel sad. Be there for them. Listening is the greatest skill that leaders can hone and practise.

But can we influence and encourage a culture of happiness and positivity? - yes we can and your positivity will be contagious! As leaders, you impact the mood of your teams by the energy you project.

About Jenny Allen-Smith and the author

Jenny Allen-Smith is a Transformational Coach, a Master NLP Practitioner and a Mental Health First Aid Trainer with MHFA England. Jenny works daily on her happiness practices and tries to incorporate something that makes her feel joy, every single day! She is getting good at happy.

Nic Paton is one of the country's foremost journalists on workplace health, safety and wellbeing, and is editor of Occupational Health & Wellbeing magazine. He also regularly writes on the health and employee benefits and health insurance markets.