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In 2012 the United Nations General Assembly, ‘conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal’, established an international day of happiness to be marked throughout the world on 20th March each year. The charity Action for Happiness, in concert with a group of over sixty organisations, coordinate a campaign to promote positive social action to ‘help create a happier and more caring world. This begs the question, what can HR do to improve happiness levels within their organisation…?

#1        Trust your instincts

In the inexorable battle HR appears bound to fight to prove its worth to organisational strategy, there can be a trend towards only doing what is quantifiable, only responding to data and only investing where there is a clear path to an increase in productivity or profit.

In a speech in 2010 after being elected to office, Prime Minister David Cameron, said, “you cannot capture happiness on a spreadsheet any more than you can bottle it. If anyone was trying to reduce the whole spectrum of human happiness into one snapshot statistic I would be the first to roll my eyes.” Our intuition tells us that a happier workforce is a more productive one and that an environment in which people feel comfortable, secure and looked after is conducive to them producing their best work. A wellbeing strategy that seeks to measure its impact but does not solely rely on empirical proof for validation is essential in ensuring the best chance for your employees to be happy at work. Trust you intuition and use your data to inform it and refine it, but never to replace it or hold it back.

#2        Mistakes are opportunities to learn

James Cash Penny, founder of US retail giant JC Penny in 1902, said that, ‘The greatest teacher I know is the job itself.” Yet, whether it was a parent, a teacher, a football coach or a boss at work, many of us know what it is like to not enjoy performing a job or a regular task because of the fear of being shouted at or reprimanded for making a mistake.

HR can be instrumental in creating a culture that embraces mistakes as learning opportunities. Whilst managers should be rigorous in ensuring the maintenance of high performance standards, it is long proven that we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. If managed incorrectly, responses to mistakes can lead to a fear that not only makes employees unhappy in their roles but unwilling to take risks or perform tasks with which they are not familiar or experienced in, thus stifling their ability and willingness to learn.

Charles Kettering, head of research at General Motors 1920-47, once famously said, “The biggest job we have is to teach a new employee how to fail intelligently.” Empower your people to treat mistakes as chances to improve and this will add to their sense of security and happiness at work.

#3        Give it purpose

Do all of your staff understand the wider implications of their role and the tasks they perform? President Theodore Roosevelt once stated that, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work at something worth doing.” Understanding how even the more menial tasks fit into the goals and achievements of the business at large can give those that perform them a real sense purpose and belonging integral to their happiness at work. This can start with a well written job description or role profile, but should be reinforced by managers on a daily basis. Maintaining this sense of purpose in your employees can be a significant factor in their happiness during work hours.


#4        Make it social

For many, the opportunity to get to know their co-workers and enjoying their company is a key facet of their happiness at work, as it is in many environments. HR can be an important facilitator of social and team-building events that allow their employees to feel a sense of belonging and community where they work. Some will do this naturally themselves, but others will be less confident and will appreciate opportunities presented.

Most HR pros are all too aware of the risks presented by events such as the office Christmas party, and are often nervous with good reason, but events such as these offer colleagues the chance to get to know each other and form relationships at work that can make coming to the office each day much more pleasant. Moreover, ideas can be exchanged and debated that may not otherwise be heard in a less relaxed environment.

“The glory of a friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that come to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

#5        Praise them like you should

In spite of the commonly held understanding that recognition is a crucial factor in an employee’s happiness in the workplace, so many managers are still slow to praise high quality work. Manager’s interacting with their teams, providing them with constructive feedback and praising them for a job well done can have transformational effects on an individual’s happiness at work.

In A Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare did write, “Our praises are our wages”, but this in truth must now be considered an outdated view. Founder of global retailer Walmart, Sam Walton, believed that, “Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”