The International Day of Happiness will be marked on March 20th, and I have been thinking about happiness in the work place. Most of us are destined to spend a quarter of our adult life at work, a figure surely set to increase as retirement ages are ever-increasing. If you add to that the third of our time spent sleeping, that doesn’t leave a whole lot for anything else.
Happiness is typically defined by how people experience and evaluate their lives as a whole. (OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Wellbeing 2013). With this in mind, it is clear that the workplace needs to contribute towards our wellbeing rather than detract from it. This, sadly, is too often not the case.
It is well known that working is good for us and can add to our overall happiness. However, some employers treat their employees like machines and wear them out until they are broken and replaced. This really is not beneficial for anyone. Companies need to step up and take responsibility for the mental as well as physical well-being of their staff. The level of commitment many employees are expected to display is enormous. Now, increasing connectivity has allowed the workplace to creep further and further into our private lives. This issue has therefore become even more pressing. Companies exercise a huge amount of power over our lives, and with that power, as is said, comes great responsibility.
Human beings inherently need to belong. In a work context, this can be harnessed and used for the good of both employees and the organisation. Respect and care work both ways. When in harmony, this means a sense of loyalty, and contributes to a more positive working environment. The result, the employees and the companies, are happier. After all, a company can only ever be as happy as their staff.
The overall approach taken by companies should focus on people as well as process, something which is not practised or simply not understood. A shift in attitude and the will to take a new perspective could make the world of difference.
So what can companies do to make the work place happier? Top of the list is communication. This is the foundation of all good relationships and the one between companies and employee should be no different. A two-way conversation means higher levels of trust and a greater understanding of what is being striven for together.
Work can bring great stress and life outside of work can too, so an understanding of the employee situation should be taken into account, offering support and flexibility where appropriate. The introductions of well-being programmes are now becoming more the norm. A company may offer free gym membership, discounts on products, but more focus should be directed on the psychological. Employers should encourage employees to reach out for help, whilst working towards an environment that encourages sharing and offers a real system of support, should be a high priority. By taking the time to understand individual motivations, a company can create a more engaged employee, rewarding achievement in a way that is meaningful to them.
Having a sense of freedom and responsibility means people feel a greater sense of commitment and enabling individuals to make decisions and determine the course of action engenders a feeling of empowerment and a belief that they make a tangible difference. Working together to reach goals makes things more efficient and much more fun in the process. This taps into our desire to belong and be part of something, helping create a cohesive shared spirit and knowledge that others can be relied on.
Companies often assume that promotion equals progress. They must allow individuals to engage in learning for their personal development as well as their professional development. In turn, they will become a more rounded individual and be able to contribute to the organisation in different ways.
Employees should have a sense of how they fit into the overall plan and understand that what they do is important in achieving this. Through understanding other roles, how their work impacts on these roles and on organisational goals, a clearer sense of purpose emerges. It must be remembered that work forms part of a person’s life and not the be all and end all of it. A balanced life is needed for a healthy and thriving mind, which in turn means the company will get the best out of the employee.
- The writer is a Counselling Psychologist at Amani Counselling and Training Institute