They say you can’t put a price on happiness, but an app-based study of UK employees by research company Psychological Technologies (PSYT) has quantified the potential value of happiness has on a business’ bottom line. If every employee in the country was 1 per cent happier it could in fact add an extra £24 billion to the UK economy per year, boosting the profits of the average company of 10,000 staff by an extra £7.38 million.With UK productivity stalling and the country facing a “significant” mental health challenge, could a focus on workplace wellbeing through mindfulness hold the key to both?
Mindfulness and creativity
According to new research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), ten minutes of mindfulness alone can boost happiness and creativity. Researchers Emma Schootstra, Dirk Deichmann and Evgenia Dolgova found that employees who participated in guided mindfulness meditation for just ten minutes, generated a 22 per cent wider range of ideas, compared to those who took part in fake meditation, or just “relaxed”.
Participants of the study were asked to present as many business ideas for the use of drones as they could within a limited time. One third had a guided meditation session, one third had a fake meditation session, and one third were just told to “relax and let their thoughts flow freely”.
Although all three groups produced roughly the same number of ideas, the group that took part in guided mindfulness meditation produced significantly more inventive uses for drones, such as washing windows, extinguishing fires and even feeding giraffes. According to the researchers, mindfulness essentially removes our innate “fight or flight” response, meaning that meditating participants feel significantly less restless, nervous and irritated, allowing them to focus on being creative.
“Creativity has traditionally been the responsibility of research and development departments; however, it is now vital for company survival that employees at all levels contribute to organisational innovation.” says Deichmann. This research provides managers with a cost-effective way to increase creativity in the workplace.
“Mindfulness meditation is not only an effective creativity booster, it is affordable, accessible and easy to organise in the work place: all it needs is a quiet place, a comfortable chair and access to one of the many mindfulness exercises that can be found online or in apps.”
Mindfulness and happiness
The PSYT study was conducted by Nick Begley, former head of research at mindfulness app, Headspace, and Dr. George MacKerron, one of the UK’s leading academic experts in the economics of happiness. While at LSE, MacKerron ran the world’s largest study into momentary happiness, Mappiness, and found from 3.5 million data points that the nation’s unhappiest activity, second only to being ill in bed, was working.
To solve this problem, they set up PSYT and built me@mybest – an app designed to better measure and improve psychological wellbeing in the workplace. The company launched a crowdfunding campaign in November last year to take me@mybest to more businesses around the world and opens with 75 per cent of its target investment.
The study tracked the mood of more than 1,500 employees using a data collection method – now considered to be the gold standard in measuring wellbeing, where respondents are asked to reflect on their wellbeing briefly throughout the day, over a period of four weeks. From more than 56,000 responses, PSYT was able to develop a unique understanding of workplace environments and what creates happier and more productive staff. The data also categorised four ‘tribes’ of workers by their happiness and productivity.
- ‘Thrivers’ – happy and productive. These are the most engaged workers and interestingly have the the lowest levels of stress of all the groups. They are the greatest advocates of their company and demonstrate the greatest willingness to stay.
- ‘Stoic Contributors’ – also very productive, but unhappy. Remaining productive while unhappy is difficult and therefore this group are the most stressed, suggesting they could be at risk of burnout and being off on long-term sick leave.
- ‘Ineffective Passengers’ – happy, but not very productive. They are often loyal to the company and are great advocates, but not the most productive.
- ‘Treading Water’ – unhappy, unproductive and often highly stressed.
Happiness and the bottom line
According to PSYT’s study, a 1 per cent increase in happiness equates to a value of £738 per employee per annum to the average company from productivity gains and staff turnover reductions alone. This is without factoring in the further value likely to arise from reduced absenteeism, increased creativity, collaboration, and company advocacy. Applying this to the 10 largest UK registered companies by revenue, it is clear that a small increase in happiness could result in large returns.
Factors that can impact happiness
The study revealed that a person’s own behaviour had a significant impact on happiness, for example:
- Exercise – employees exercising three times a week for 20 minutes or more were 4.9 per cent happier, on average, than those who didn’t exercise
- Sleep – those averaging more than 6.5 hours of sleep a night were 5.0 per cent happier than those getting less
- Self-reflection – the self-awareness generated by being asked to reflect daily on wellbeing through the app, improved employee happiness by 4 per cent to 5 per cent and productivity by 8 per cent to 10 per cent over a period of four weeks
Beyond the actions of the individual, the research also found workplace culture had a huge impact. Having a supportive team and personally buying into the mission and strategy of the company were the most important factors in predicting whether employees are ‘thriving’. Those who felt this were a significant 10.3 per cent happier than those who didn’t.
“Recent analysis suggests mental health issues are costing the UK economy up to £99 billion a year. Our research takes it one step further and shows improving the happiness of everyone, just slightly, could have a dramatic impact too,” Nick Begley, co-founder of PSYT, says. “We want to show businesses how improving the mental wellbeing of their employees links directly to profitability within their own companies, giving them permission to make the investments needed to help solve this problem. The technology we’ve developed also provides detailed insights on how to create the best culture and offer effective, scalable, low-cost interventions to immediately boost wellbeing.”