Achieving sustainable engagement means focusing on Happiness

There is strong evidence supporting the idea that happier employees produce better results. Of course, if you ask HR professionals, the same can be said for engaged employees - I don’t want to get into an argument about which is right, as I suspect they both are, but what I will say is despite many years of focus on engagement, results have been mixed and often the gains that have been made have been fleeting.

The graphic below (from an HRZone article in 2011) illustrates how the subject of employee well-being, engagement, satisfaction has developed over time...



It clearly recognises the limitations of Employee Engagement by referring to Sustainable Engagement as something different (the “Happiness" box is my addition), and for what it’s worth I agree with the point the graphic is making. Here’s why...

Most of our engagement efforts rely on getting employees to engage with the strategy or the vision - but we’re finding in almost all companies we talk to that the strategic context is changing faster than ever… certainly most executives learn that the assumptions supporting the strategy are incorrect quicker than they used to. The implication is that we’re constantly needing to re-engage the team with a new message, a new brighter future - it isn’t any wonder that engagement is somewhat sporadic.

We think the future of productive workplaces lies in creating the conditions where employees can feel happier, more engaged and able to do their best work. Essentially, we focus on happiness at work as a vehicle to success, not being dependent upon it.

"research has proven in no uncertain terms that the relationship between success and happiness works the other way around - happiness is the precursor to success not merely the result" Shawn Achor. The Happiness Advantage.
Changing the focus from engagement to happiness (where engagement comes as a result of happiness) places a different emphasis on how we think about the employer / employee relationship, how we should want them to feel, and what we might expect in terms of behaviour as a result. The evidence suggests that if we improve happiness we see significant gains in employee engagement as well as every other key performance indicator.

So, what do we mean by Happiness at work? Let me answer by sharing our 5 Drivers of Happiness at Work:

  1. Purpose and Meaning - Employees need to know that the company has a purpose that is more than about making money, that it does some good. They also need to know that their role has meaning. The next time you cancel a project - think about what you’re telling the team associated about the importance of their work.
  2. Collectively Authentic Leaders - We all want to believe in the leadership of our company. Employees need to trust that their leaders will think of them and the company before thinking of themselves.
  3. Connected Autonomy - We all want to be part of something bigger than just us but we need to be given room to do our own work. Let employees influence what good looks like for themselves. Cascade the question not the solution.
  4. Humanistic Management - Effective management is not about being better than other people, or knowing more than others - it is about supporting people to do more and better work. Remember that we are all humans.
  5. Developmental Growth - Invest in the development of your people. Challenge them to be better and support them getting there. As Richard Branson said “train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough that they don’t want to"


It would be a mistake to think of happiness in the workplace as trivial or cuddly, increased happiness has proven implications for productivity and every other metric and those elements listed above are amongst the things that make us happy as people - not the temporary happiness that comes from the occasional free beer or cake from the boss (as nice as those things are) - but really fundamentally happy.



Likely as not, if you worked at a company that did all of these things this you'd be pretty happy, you're also likely to be highly engaged in what you do.

Let me finish this with another Richard Branson quote:

“It is not clients that come first. Employees come first.
If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients"


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