In recent years, if organisations wanted to publically demonstrate their dedication to employee well-being, they would introduce unusual company perks like colourful bean bags, creative breakout spaces, cute office dogs and free breakfast cereals. However, employees nowadays expect a deeper commitment to workplace well-being that goes beyond these cosmetic initiatives. In fact, as recent research has revealed, four in five employees believe that being happy at work is important.
Companies are starting to realise that happy employees, in addition to being more loyal, are also far more productive. Consequently, businesses have a real economic stake in ensuring their workforce is motivated and engaged. Many global organisations, especially those based in the US, have started to introduce dedicated company culture and well-being positions that often sport catchy titles like chief happiness officer (CHO). While this is surely a step in the right direction of recognising how important happiness in the workplace is, the success of these initiatives fundamentally depends on the reason why they were created in the first place.
In order to be successful and meaningful, the introduction of positions like the CHO needs to be the result of a company’s deeply-rooted commitment to a happy workforce, and its belief that employees will be at their most productive when they feel empowered. Creating workplace well-being roles for the sake of it alone will not benefit anyone. However, that is not to say that the onus for workplace happiness solely lies with the employer. It is generally accepted among staff that creating and sustaining a positive company culture is a joint responsibility, with only 7 per cent of employees believing this is the sole responsibility of their manager.
Employee wellbeing as a business focus
While top American companies like Google are currently leading the way, UK businesses are slower at adopting this trend. Currently, none of the top ten FTSE 100 businesses have a chief happiness officer in their leadership teams – or any role directly related to employee wellbeing and happiness. At a time where productivity levels in the UK are the lowest of any G7 nation, initiatives that focus on employee engagement, motivation and empowerment, might just hold the key to getting UK businesses out of their productivity slump.
As organisations across the globe are starting to recognise that employee wellbeing has a positive, long-lasting effect on workforce motivation and productivity, companies in the UK need to ensure they don’t lag behind the international competition. Looking at the pool of businesses that make up the FTSE 100, 15 companies are either about to or have recently changed their CEO. A change in leadership can often be the catalyst needed for businesses to re-evaluate their employee well-being practices by putting a finger on the pulse of their company culture.
That is not to say that every business must appoint a chief happiness officer.
In order to really nurture a positive and empowering work environment, companies need to show a genuine commitment to employee happiness that should also be an integral part of the company ethos.
Senior management should adopt this philosophy and take an active interest in creating and maintaining a supportive company culture.
Ultimately, employee happiness is a unique and individual experience that is made up of different factors including how appreciated an employee feels, whether they find the work they do interesting and meaningful, and whether they have a positive relationship with their colleagues. Building a strong foundation of initiatives centred and commitment around these factors will pave the way for a productive, loyal and motivated workforce. Otherwise the appointment of chief happiness officers will be nothing more than just another cosmetic initiative without any real impact.
Matt Weston is a director at Robert Half UK.