Beyond engagement: Decoding happiness at work

Happier employees are not only proven to be more productive but also to actually engage with and enjoy work much more

Never Grow Up
Published: 13, Jul 2017

Never Grow Up is an Employee Engagement and Employer Branding firm. It partners with Human Resource teams & Business Leaders across sectors to create an admirable work culture & a happy workplace thereby enabling companies to create a strong employer brand, keep employees engaged and making work life a lot more creative, balanced and full of dialogue. Using a tailor-made approach, the services provided by Never Grow Up ® result in a productive workforce with a positive impact on attrition and company bottom line. The company's mission is to bring out the inner child of every employee it works with by peeling off the layers and reaching the core of an organisation !

The happiness puzzle stands a chance to get decoded only when every point in anorganization is ready to face their own roles in attaining the shared goal of happiness (Image: Shutterstock - for illustrative purposes only)
The happiness puzzle stands a chance to get decoded only when every point in anorganization is ready to face their own roles in attaining the shared goal of happiness (Image: Shutterstock - for illustrative purposes only)

The Hawthorne studies are often alluded to as allegories of yore but it was not too long ago when employee engagement was identified as the need of the hour – the mantra to attain, maintain and retain the perfect employee.

The numbers were glaring – about 87% employees across the globe were reported to not be engaged, organizations with lesser engaged employees realized that they were at a 147% disadvantage as compared to their more engaged competitors and theories of engagement, well, galloped into the limelight. Organizations were now less than 14 answers away from cracking the code to engage each and every employee. Universal models were made and adapted. Often at the cost of forgetting that no two companies are the same. Even if they belong to the same sector. Battle plans were drawn out, events with long hour flights to exotic locations and an equally long hours in a conference room once you arrived became the norm [and continue to be so] and engagement levels became a matter of comparison between companies as you won awards for being the ‘most engaged’. Was that all?

The Missing Link

The times have changed and as the workplace tries to become more human and humane (ironical and yet much needed in our times of AI and VR!), there seems to be the necessity of something more than engagement to make the (corporate) world a better place. Is engagement really enough to increase absorption, involvement and participation? To be able to make work meaningful enough that employees are cognitively absorbed, effectively involved and are moved towards conative participation? What then emerged as the link that pulled in the whole ‘people puzzle’ together was happiness.

Happiness not only presupposes active absorption, involvement and participation but also an innate feeling of being fulfilled. Fulfilment of purpose being one of our most basic needs as humans, happiness is nothing less than an existential aspiration. Isn’t that why we do anything at all? To be happy?

Creating Happiness at Work It is commonly shared wisdom that happiness does not reside in our possessions, but instead in our time as it passes by. Well, as a working professional, we realize that a great deal of our day is spent at our workplace (and if you’re like most of us, work invariably gets carried over to our homes as well). It would be safe to assume, then, that the happiness of an individual is deeply tied with how happy their work makes them.

But, how do you make people happy? Do you simply feed them chocolates hoping that the anandamide will kick in any moment and you can sit back and relax while the bliss molecule works its wonders? How do you externally create a state so subjective and personal? Moreover, the state created cannot be short-lived. It must last much longer than a bar of chocolate. It has to make each individual want to come to work every day.

Over the course of years, every organization, at some point or the other, tends to pride themselves in having cracked the code on happiness at work. Whether its intelligent ergonomics coupled with unbelievable perks or nap pods, candy-vending machines and fully-paid exotic vacations, various permutations and combinations have been tried out to derive at the perfect catalyst for employee happiness. When it comes to understanding how to create happiness at work, it becomes imperative to explore what employees think would make them happy at work.

Measuring Happyness at Work
Answer this: What do you pay people for? To do their job or to arrive at the job on time before the bell rings? Do you hire them to deliver results or have fun while doing so? Do you want them to work longer and harder to deliver on shareholder value or have a ton of booze at the office party while the company foots the bill? Wait! All this leads to motivation. Right? Sure!

How easy would it be if employees would just clap their hands to let you know that they’re happy, right? Well, while there might not be such directly overt cues for happiness, measuring work-happiness, or Happyness Quotient as it is called is not as shrouded in theoretical mystery as it is often made out to be. Yes, it is true that measurement presupposes a certain degree of objectification of a very personal experience. That said, there are facets of happiness that allow a clearer understanding. For example, understanding the degree to which aspects of work like sense of ownership, job security, role-fit, mental and physical health and goal alignment affect the state of happiness of a particular employee, would help us understand which aspects to focus on, when measuring his/her happiness. Pulse surveys that help you mark a baseline to begin with are thus a good place to start at.

While measuring individual levels of happiness seems to be an easier (and more researched upon) task, measuring organizational happiness or the collective level of happiness of an organization as a whole involves a deeper understanding of the culture, functions and processes at work. In fact, while happier employees might not have glow-signs on their heads, they do behave differently than employees who are not happy. Happier employees are not only proven to be more productive but also to actually engage with and enjoy work much more.

Is Goal Alignment the Secret?
Picture this. Your organization is getting geared up for a new product’s launch. Your researchers have been studying the markets like hawks; your analysts are working overtime to synthesize all specifications; your designers are working ceaselessly on their UML diagrams; the coders are glued onto execution of the designs; your testers are so busy scrutinizing the product for bugs, you almost want to give them gas-masks and cylinders of pesticide; your marketing team is planning out the most effective strategy to make the launch a success with such unwavering concentration that even the best chess-players would be shamed. Everything seems to be rather perfectly synchronized, right? Everyone has their individual goals and nothing can come in between your product and complete success.  If that really is what you think, you’re only partly right and there’s a lot that could go wrong.

If everyone is busy with broken down functional aspects of the bigger goal, who is actually responsible for the product launch and for making it a success? If you thought that your entire workforce will answer, “We all are!” in unison, you need a reality check. Setting these team goals are great but how do you ensure goal alignment between these goal and the individual goals of your employees? Moreover, if every individual on your team has only specific goals to take care of and be accountable for, is it possible for them to be engaged to the bigger goals or you knowing what truly drives people to do their jobs?

Employee engagement, though heavily researched upon, often seems to be nothing less than a utopian mirage – elusive and always a bit out of your reach just when you thought you almost had it within your grasp. Among the many factors that are thought to contribute towards employee engagement (from bigger paycheques to more freedom to longer holidays to complete job-security to taking your employees out for adventure sports), goal alignment mapped to driving force is a really important one. If banked upon, it could lead to increased employee engagement along with other benefits.

Whose Onus is it anyway?
Have you ever taken a step back as an employer and thought about whether your HR team is truly ready and engaged? Do they have enough opportunity to ‘practice what they preach’? While we discuss the importance and ways of creating and measuring happiness, it tends to become a cause that is begun with due gusto and aplomb but soon dies out. This is probably because of the question that ensues regarding whose responsibility it is to create and maintain happiness at work. Is it the organization’s duty to make sure every employee has exactly what they need and want at work? Is it the individual responsibility of each employee to ensure their own happiness? Or is it the charge of every leader to make sure that everyone in their respective teams is happy? While everyone starts passing the buck, the true essence of discovering and manifesting happiness at work fades away.

It might sound diplomatic to say that it is the collective onus of each of the mentioned groups, it could not be truer. Thus, the happiness puzzle stands a chance to get decoded only when every point in an organization is ready to face their own roles in attaining the shared goal of happiness.

With happiness unlocked, there is a barrage of benefits that come in ranging from increased receptivity to change, greater retention capacities, increased productivity and a stronger sense of belongingness. How is measuring happiness different from measuring engagement, you ask? All engaged employees might not necessarily be happy but more often than not, every happy employee is actively engaged at work.

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