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The AR Group

Happy Employees?It?s a Bigger Deal Than You Think

by Victoria T. Aguilar

Throughout the first quarter of 2013, I have noticed a lot of articles and research related to employee engagement in general and ?employee happiness? specifically.? I?ve seen articles on various HR Consulting websites including ?TLNT? where, for example, an article entitled “4 ways to a Happier and More Engaged Workforce” was posted by Derek Irvine. That post was immediately followed by “What Do Companies Know: The 5 Basic Rules of Happy Employees,” where Mr. Irvine noted the increasing interest in employee happiness. Around the same time, an article in Fast Company entitled “Secrets of America’s Happiest Companies” was published. More recently, I read a blog by Susan David in which she highlighted that March 20, 2013 marked the first ever “International Day of Happiness,” as decreed by the United Nations (UN).? Interestingly, the UN?s Day of Happiness was hosted by Bhutan, a country that uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a key indicator instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to evaluate progress.? Selection of Bhutan as the host for the UN?s Day of Happiness was fitting because Bhutan defines happiness as ?the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth.?

As I contemplated Bhutan?s definition of happiness, I could not help but to reflect on the assumed nexus between values and economic growth.? So, I pondered ? if a country can define happiness by this measure, why can?t employers? Put another way ? why shouldn?t employers? Do we really need research to tell us what we likely already know from experience ? happy employees are more engaged.? More engaged employees bring more innovation, energy, commitment and ostensible results to an organization.? These are employees we all want. ?Right? ?If that is true then why aren?t we asking ourselves, ?What are we doing, or what can we do about fostering an environment in which our employees ?feel? happy??

Obviously, this is a big question.? As a seasoned HR consultant, I would be less than truthful if I implied, let alone asserted, that I or our firm has the answer.? The truth is ? there is no one answer.? So much depends on culture, vision, values, and purpose. To the extent, therefore, that an employer is contemplating how to ?foster an environment in which ?happy? and ?engaged? employees flourish, we suggest reflecting on the commonalities evident in organizations where employees self report a strong degree of ?happiness.?? In this regard we know that happy employees:

  1. Experience a work environment in which their job is correlated to something meaningful;
  2. Do not stay in one role for too long;
  3. Work in environments in which policies (rules of the game) are well defined and articulated;
  4. Experience a work environment in which people (all people) come first, workers are second;
  5. Receive support in terms of emphasizing work/life balance or integration.

In highlighting these commonalities, it seems way to simplistic, doesn?t it?? It is not.? Happy employees evolve in environments that commit to these principles in a fundamental way that makes business sense.? These are not ideals, they are commitments.? In this regard, it is telling that the first thing on the list is ? PURPOSE.? Employees ? no matter their position ? want to know that what they do on a day-to-day basis makes a difference.? When employers are able to address that fundamental need ? to make a difference ? they can be more readily assured of their role in moving the dial.? As employers, this is critical to understand.? When we start by finding ways to highlight the differences our people make to the business, we fundamentally alter the equation.? The discussion no longer is one in which we demand that employees defend their existence, but one in which employees articulate the many and varied ways in which they show up to make a difference.? For some this is a seismic shift.? We get that.? But the shift need not be too startling.? Even efforts evidencing a commitment to more transparency around the rules of engagement can go a long way toward positive movement in terms of how our employees feel about their ?happiness? at work.


We encourage businesses interested or intrigued enough to question whether or not their employees are happy ? to ask themselves one or more of the following:

  • Have you ever conducted an employee survey inquiring about your employees? level of engagement, sense of purpose, sense of being valued, or sense of company culture?
  • Do your employees enjoy their relationships at work?
  • Do your employees enjoy their work environment?
  • How often do you see your employees engaged in laughter?
  • How often do you assess whether you have talent in the right role?
  • Do you encourage your employees to evidence their ?genius.?? If so, how?
  • Do your employees understand the purpose of the organization?
  • Do your employees feel that they are a part of something that matters? Can you explain why?

We trust that your answers will guide you accordingly.