Have you ever felt like a donkey chasing a carrot that is always tantalizingly just beyond reach? Maybe it’s not a carrot you’re chasing, but if you’ve ever found yourself thinking, “I’ll be happy when…” then you’ll understand.
Whether it’s striving for a promotion at work, dreaming of retirement or just trying to survive until the weekend, that feeling of satisfaction is often just out of reach. “Be happy when…” thinking comes from the belief that only when we achieve our goals will we be rewarded with happiness. The same applies in a wider business context where KPIs like exceeding financial targets or shipping a certain number of widgets are pushed ahead of having a happy workforce.
While achievement can lead to satisfaction, it is often short-lived. No sooner are our goals achieved, both as individuals and as part of a business, then the goalposts shift. But what if we thought about things differently and considered putting happiness first. Let’s look at what happens if we consider, “be happy THEN…”
Being Happy When … to THEN!
Jim Harter, who is head of wellbeing research at Gallup, looked at data from over two thousand business units in ten large organizations, examining employees’ perceptions of their working environment and their financial performance over a period of months and years. He found that whilst successful financial performance predicted good feelings about the work environment later in time, happiness at work was more than twice as likely to result in good performance.
Indeed some of the world’s most powerful and successful businesses like Apple, Google, and Zappo’s are famous for creating cultures of happy workers. They understand that happiness is the central component of a thriving organization, driving creativity, productivity and customer satisfaction. Happiness has many business benefits, so rather than have an attitude of “be happy when,” these great companies have embraced the idea of “be happy, then…”
Happiness at Open English
When companies focus on happiness first, success is often the result. It can be as simple as phrasing something differently, as Alain Lagger did at Open English. Open English sells language-learning materials in South America, and Alain worked as their Director of Happiness. He explained to their telesales team that they weren’t just making money; they were helping customers build better lives, especially in the age of the Internet and globalization where English is so prominent. Inspired by this benevolent purpose, the telesales team were much happier in their jobs, and as a result, much better at their jobs. Sales increased by 30% and staff turnover reduced by 12%.
Happiness at Pixar
At Pixar, the hugely successful animation studio, Steve Jobs wanted to encourage friendly relationships between staff. They believed that serendipity sparks magic, chance meetings and random conversations can lead to great ideas, solutions and a new point of view. To encourage people to get to know others they wouldn’t usually talk to, they designed their office building with a large central atrium where people can mingle. The result? Every single one of its fourteen feature films has been a box office number one, raking in an estimated $8.6 billion, and the studio has won twelve Oscars.
Happiness at Buurtzorg
Perhaps the best example is from the Netherlands where a focus on happiness has revolutionized the delivery of community healthcare. Buurtzorg is a non-profit organisation founded in 2007 by former nurse, Jos de Blok. Jos was disenchanted with the nursing industry, which he felt had become like a manufacturing assembly line, with nurses assigned specific jobs and given strict quotas of how many minutes they could spend with each. He believed that a friendlier, happier, more personal system would be beneficial for everybody, both patients and carers. Starting with a small team of self-organising nurses, Buurtzorg has now grown to over 9,000 employees and is the largest healthcare provider in the county, three times the size of the second largest.
Going from a standing start to a turnover of $275 million within eight years, Buurtzorg exemplifies the business benefits of happiness. Happiness is a sound investment. Just ask Alex Edmans, a Professor at the London Business School, who compared the stock prices for companies listed in “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” from 1984 to 2011 with those of their peers. His benchmark portfolio provided a 1.7 times return on investment over that period, not bad. But a portfolio updated each year with the hundred best companies? That achieved a 2.7 times return on investment, a Warren Buffet style difference.
First, Build a Happy Culture
So my advice for investing, whether in the stock market or your own organization, is to focus on happiness first. Employees that love their jobs do them well. The best employers do not dangle an unobtainable carrot, focusing on shipping widgets to the detriment of staff happiness. The best employers build a great culture, where staff is happy, and then they do their best work. Instead of dangling the carrot, the workers get to eat it, and the nutrients give them the energy to move forward. Rather than an attitude of “you can be happy when…”, great companies empower their staff to “be happy, then…”
Is building a culture of happiness within your reach? Please share your thoughts below.