RESEARCH shows a causal link between happy workers and an increase — 13 per cent — in productivity, while unhappiness at work costs the world $8.8 trillion. According to a survey conducted by Gallup, there is a “strong relationship between worker happiness and workplace engagement. Happy and engaged employees are much more likely to have a positive relationship with their boss, are better equipped to handle new challenges and changes, feel they are more valued by their employers, handle stress more effectively, and are much more satisfied with their lives”.
There are three types of employees within organisations: a) ‘engaged employees’ who work with passion and feel a deep connection with their organisation. “They drive innovation and move the organisation forward”; b) workers who are ‘not engaged’ and sleepwalk through their workday, putting “time, but not energy or passion, into their work”; and c) employees who are ‘actively disengaged’, not only unhappy at work, but also busy acting out their unhappiness. They undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.
An employee contributes to productivity, if his supervisor focuses on his strengths or positive traits. At the same time, having a positive interaction with coworkers is also important. Employees who are not happy at the workplace don’t maintain a positive relationship with their peers. Engaged employees feel less frustrated at work in comparison to those not engaged or actively disengaged.
Supervisors play a crucial role in workers’ well-being and engagement. If the employee feels uncomfortable while interacting with his supervisor, it will adversely affect his morale and performance. Such employees often take home their tension and frustration, which impacts their relations with family and friends.
In her article ‘Creating a happier workplace is possible — and worth it’, Jennifer Moss describes three steps organisations can take to turn around a negative environment. An expert on workplace well-being, employee happiness and workplace culture, Moss delves into the following three factors for generating happiness at work: flexibility, a sense of belonging among employees, and finding purpose in their work.
Flexibility at work: A 2023 ILO report found that greater flexibility — from staggered start times to shift-sharing, to remote working options — leads to greater productivity and improved work-life balance. A global survey of 28,000 full-time employees by Cisco shows that over 80pc of employees find that their ability to work from anywhere has made them happier.
The Covid pandemic forced organisations to allow some of their employees to work from home. However, post-pandemic, the concept of working from home has not taken root in Pakistan. Few companies here allow flexible work timings. Besides, 60pc of the workforce can’t work from home, such as those engaged in the manufacturing process, in running shops, or managing hospitals, etc.
Build a sense of belonging: Happiness is negatively impacted at the workplace without social interaction. People should have a sense of belonging to their organisation, which is generated by making friends, who may also be of help in their hour of need. A pleasant work environment is created when employees contribute meaningfully to shared goals. Having social get-togethers, shared activities, etc, outside the workplace boosts people’s attachment to their organisations.
Purpose in work: Businesses should responsibly and ethically serve all stakeholders, including employees, communities, and the environment — not just their management teams and shareholders. The hospitality industry suffered the most during Covid. But Hilton Hotels continued to retain recruiters that placed their employees in outside sectors that needed talent. Similarly, they announced a million empty rooms for patients who had to quarantine away from their own homes.
In 1972, I had joined a factory at Kot Lakhpat, Lahore, which was nationalised by the government. Most employees had no sense of belonging to the enterprise nor had any purpose at work to keep them motivated. Their output started to decline after the government takeover and the only purpose left for them to come to work, was their monthly salary. The number of not-engaged and actively disengaged employees started escalating.
Thereafter, I worked in an American and a British multinational company for around 27 years. There, besides a system that ensured lucrative salaries, the companies’ leadership would take good care of employees’ health, general well-being, fulfilling their personal needs and maintaining a work-life balance by providing recreational activities. The employees in both the above companies remained happy and motivated and delivered greater output in terms of productivity.
The writer is a consultant in human resources at the Aga Khan University Hospital.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2024