The profit of joy: are happy employees more productive?

10 August 2015 Karan Vidal

To borrow lyrics from Pharrell Williams,’ Happy, “if you feel like a room without a roof” not only will you clap along but you could also be more productive.

Sir Richard Branson is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time and he had this to say about achieving success:

“I’m often asked: What is the key to success? My answer is always simple: happiness.”

Here comes the science

Professor Andrew Oswald, Dr Eugenio Proto and Dr Daniel Sgroi from Warwick University carried out research to test whether happiness made people more productive. The study included more than 700 participants. Some of them were given experiences to induce feelings of happiness, like watching a comedy and eating chocolate. The other group were asked about family tragedies like bereavement. The results were that the happy group were 12% more productive. Want to read yourself happy? Download the PDF of the study here.

Professor Oswald cited real-life examples that gave credibility to the findings. He said

“Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%, they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”

Companies in the pursuit of happiness

Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage tells us that positive feelings make the brain function better. Therefore, a happy person is more creative and better at solving problems.

Companies are cottoning on to the fact that joyful employees lead to more productivity and higher profits.

Google has been declared the best company to work for again. It’s well documented that this tech giant has different ways of making ‘Googlers’ (people who work for Google) happy. Google’s campuses have the look of adventure playgrounds that’s bound to bring out the big kid in most people. Slides to get between floors, ping-pong tables and lego stations are features on some of their campuses.

Happiness also comes in simpler packages. Some of Google’s perks includes:

  • Free health and dental care.
  • Free organic meals prepared by a chef.
  • Free haircuts.
  • Subsidised massages.
  • On-site doctors.
  • Six weeks paternity leave.
  • In some cases, a spouse of a deceased Googler will receive 50% of their salary annually for 10 years.

Identifying the ‘H’ factor

Google takes its culture to increase happiness very seriously. The people operations team in human resources has the job of continuously researching what will increase happiness and performance. Some of the discoveries made by the people operations team include:

  • The optimal lunch line time for employees to get to know each other.
  • The shape and length of tables for better socialising.
  • Diner booths are better than conference rooms for encouraging creativity.
  • More paid time off for new mothers.

We take the happiness cue at DueDil

At DueDil we know firsthand about making our team happy. Here are just a few of the ways that we inject some happiness into our business:

  • Free breakfast and lunch.
  • Flexible working hours.
  • Company options.
  • Fully stocked beer fridge (everything in moderation).

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Pret sandwich for lunch (happiness included)

Pret a Manger’s profits have increased by 14% last year and it now plans to expand into the US and French markets. New food lines like macaroni cheese boxes have helped to fuel the growth. However, many believe that happiness is the ingredient responsible for the escalation in profits.

Pret a Manger is known for promoting a smiley culture and their CEO, Clive Schlee said that when visiting a shop:

“The first thing I look at is whether staff are…smiling, reacting to each other, happy, engaged? Look, she’s just touched her colleague – squeezed her arm. If I see hands going up in the air, that’s a good sign. I can almost predict sales on body language alone.” This culture of smiles and happiness starts with the training at the Pret Academy where new recruits are trained in food hygiene, preparation and the Pret culture. A little book of ‘Pret behaviours’ is given to every team member.

The following are happiness boosters provided to staff:

  • Cash bonuses for teams who pass the ‘mystery shopper’ test.
  • Friday night drinks once a month.
  • Company-wide parties twice a year.
  • Ample promotion opportunities after three months.

Research, leading companies and successful entrepreneurs acknowledge the relationship between happiness and productivity.

How do you get in on the happiness action to help your team and jump-start productivity?

Happy is as happy does

Let’s start with you as it’s likely that your team will take their cues from how you act. According to Shawn Achor, an expert on human potential, trying any one of the following for 21 days will train your brain to become happier:

  • Jot down three things you are grateful for daily. This is meant to improve your optimism and success rates.
  • Set a timer for two minutes every day and write down a positive experience of the past 24 hours. This should change you from a task-based thinker to a meaning-based thinker and improve your happiness.
  • Do ten minutes of exercise a day as the positive feelings will translate throughout the rest of the day.
  • Try to meditate for two minutes a day, focusing on your breath can decrease stress and increase feel good vibes.
  • Praise one member of your team in a quick email each morning to raise your feelings of social support, which leads to you being happier.

Spread the joy

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You can learn a thing or two from Ricky Gervais’s character, David Brent in The Office. He wanted to be remembered as the man who put a smile on the face of all who he met. David’s heart was in the right place but unfortunately, his mouth was in a different place altogether.

So if you get an inkling that your team can make any connection with the following comment, then it’s definitely time to try a little dose of happiness:

“Put the key of despair into the lock of apathy. Turn the knob of mediocrity slowly and open the gates of despondency – welcome to a day in the average office.” David Brent

Your company doesn’t have to have mega-bucks like Google to try to make a happier workplace. These small changes will be a good start:

  • Introduce initiatives that promote a healthy work-life balance.
  • Give rewards frequently. Indications are that small amounts of feedback given regularly boost morale more than one big infrequent bonus.
  • Mix things up. A social event in the same place can quickly turn into a bore. Use your imagination to introduce the element of surprise when planning team events.
  • Encourage employees to step out of their comfort zones to take on new challenges.
  • Tell your team what’s going on, this will reduce the ‘them and us’ culture. Even if it’s bad news, let them know. They’ll respect you for treating them like adults.
  • Have a snack bar. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Some aesthetically pleasing glass jars filled with dried fruits, nuts and biscuits should do the trick.
  • Subsidised gym costs. The benefits of good health need no explaining.

There’s no one thing or person that can be fully responsible for another person’s happiness. However, taking even small steps to try to get your team to be happy at work can benefit everyone. A happy workforce can equate to less stress and more productivity.