Google caused a shift in the culture of Silicon Valley when they promoted software engineer Chande-Meng to the position of “Jolly Good Fellow.” Meng, who was known for spreading cheer and motivation, had spreading happiness become his literal job for the company. Google were hardly the first to do something like this though. French fashion brand Kiabi hired their own Chief Happiness Officer – Christine Jutard – in 1999.
Once Google had done it though, employee happiness was suddenly a key metric that other organizations wanted to invest in. Three years after Meng received his new position, McDonalds would name their own Chief Happiness Officer; company mascot Ronald McDonald.
The role of CHO is still a popular one even now. Over 1,000 CHOs are listed on LinkedIn. Taking a closer look at employee happiness and what keeps employees happy suggests that businesses are still wrong in their approach, however.
Making the Right Investments
The theory is that happy employees are productive ones, and productive employees generate bigger profits. Another benefit of employee happiness is retention; they don’t look for work elsewhere. This can reduce recruitment costs, which leads to even bigger profits. Companies investing in creating a culture of happiness see it as having a high return on investment.
Some companies will throw perks and benefits at employees, while others will give them free food and office toys to keep them happy. The answer to employee happiness can’t be found in a beanbag though. All of these perks mean nothing without creating a real culture and providing career opportunities.
There’s a massive difference between gimmicks for happiness and working in well-being cultures; one that values people and praises and rewards them rather than finding faults; one that enables flexible working and lets them find a good balance between work and home life. These have been shown to be the real keys to employee happiness.
A 2017 study looking at start-up businesses showed 57% of them had at least one person on staff working remotely. Those companies said it was because of logistics. The person who was best for the job might not have been local, or there might not have been enough space in the office for them.
There’s another benefit to be found here though; the implied trust and autonomy that comes with allowing for remote working can contribute to their happiness more than forcing them to work in an office, even one filled with fruit and free coffee.
The key to employee success was laid out way back in 1851 by British reformer John Ruskin, who explained that people need three things to be happy at work; they have to be fit for the job, they have to not do too much of it, and they have to have a sense of success in their work.
Research has shown that employee personality plays a role in happiness. A large study of 3,200 employees from several sectors and organizations, performed by Robertson Cooper Ltd, showed that some personality types had more “good days” than others.
The employees that scored well on positive emotions and enthusiasm, and performed lower on depressive tendencies such as sadness and loneliness, as well as those who began tasks and carried them through had the most good days while working.
Those who embodied all three characteristics reported that around 79% of the days they spent at work were good days, compared to the 57% of good days those who scored low on these characteristics had. More good days means better job satisfaction, higher productivity, and overall better employee health.
This implies that companies should focus on hiring people with these characteristics, but there are bound to be times when someone without these characteristics has key skills that the company considers more important. Even if you are recruiting with these happiness traits in mind, being content and happy to work with a particular organization is also dependent on creating a workplace culture that values staff, manages them humanely and compassionately, trusts them, and gives them the opportunity to balance their working and personal lives.
Workplace happiness is about more than just having sushi and getting massages; it’s about how a boss treats the people who work for them. Mark Twain said it best when he said that you should avoid people who belittle ambitions, and stick with the truly great people that leave you feeling like you can be great as well.