Happiness at work and how it can influence employee productivity
Income is not among the main factors for happiness and satisfaction in the workplace, stresses Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of Hygge and Lykke, the global bestsellers on happiness. Wiking visited Slovenia as a special guest of En.Ekonomika & Industrija 019 conference, organised by Montel Energetika.NET and the Slovenia Association for Energy Economics, where he spoke about employee happiness and satisfaction.
Companies should strive for employee satisfaction, as happy employees are also more productive and loyal, says the New York Times bestselling author. Employees must have a sense of purpose and meaning at their workplace. These are the two main factors for job satisfaction. Of course, their satisfaction also depends on stress level and the relationships with management and co-workers, said Wiking, whose Happiness Research Institute aims to bridge the gap between the academic community and the public in order to make happiness research more accessible. To do this, the researchers use data that shapes science as well as stories to spread the science. They wish to determine how to measure something as intangible as happiness.
What are the trends in terms of happiness and life quality that you notice while leading the Happiness Research Institute?
Globally, there is a surge in interest in happiness. Governments are starting to measure happiness and wellbeing the way we measure progress and the biggest courses in universities such as Harvard and Yale are now on happiness.
Are corporations and companies aware of the importance of employee happiness and satisfaction?
We are seeing corporations becoming increasingly conscious of happiness. In order to be sustainable, the wellbeing of employees must be a priority and to achieve this, corporations must ensure they supply their employees with the necessary resources to complete tasks.
What should employers do to achieve higher employee satisfaction?
Employees will undoubtedly experience stress if they do not have the means to complete that which is being asked of them. Therefore, corporations must assure their employees are clear about their roles, responsibilities and expectations. Corporations have a great responsibility over their employees' experience at work, and therefore heavily influence the perceptions of their work in relation to their happiness. Structural problems in corporations are an element over which employees have little-to-no control. Interestingly, these problems have the potential to be rectified with happiness research, since it demonstrates where things are not working, and thus gives direction to the areas on which to focus, such as: social relationships, kindness, generosity, trust and having basic financial needs met.
Can happiness at work lead to higher productivity?
Happy employees are more productive and more loyal employees. Caring for your employees makes good sense - also good business sense. If employees are happy at work, they are more capable of focusing on solutions and problem-solving, which is of course good for companies, since, as a result, the company is more productive. This makes sense because in countries where people are not happy at work, they will invest their resources elsewhere.
How do you measure such a subjective thing as happiness?
When we are measuring happiness, we are focussing on three dimensions: life satisfaction, affective happiness and purpose. Evaluative life satisfaction is the cognitive scale. To measure this dimension of happiness we use the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale which asks people to imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 to 10, with 0 being the bottom and 10 being the top. Considering zero being the worst possible life for you and 10 being the best, participants are asked to evaluate where on the ladder they feel they stand at this time. The second dimension we measure is the affective scale, which asks the individual the emotions they felt that day, the day before, the last two weeks and so on. This dimension is where we see the most fluctuation. These two scales provoke much discussion about what is more important: overall satisfaction or day-to-day feelings. Finally, we have eudaimonia, which asks individuals about the sense of purpose they feel about their life. Having those three things gives me a better impression of how someone is doing than just one, and they also tell me different things.
Why are some societies happier than others and which are the happiest countries in the world?
According to the World Happiness Report we can explain 75% of the differences in happiness levels with GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life decisions, good governance, generosity and social support. These factors give a comprehensive understanding of the areas in which countries are doing well and those in which they are not. In addition to these factors, each country has cross-cultural nuances which also contribute to differences in happiness. All five Nordic countries are consistently ranked within the top ten of the World Happiness Report. I believe Denmark inspires other countries to increase the quality of life for their citizens, since we are exceptionally good at decoupling wealth and wellbeing. After our basic needs are met, we realise that more money is not conducive to more happiness. So, instead, we focus on the things which increase our quality of life. In other words, it is the small things that really matter. These include spending more quality time with friends and family and enjoying the good things in life.
Which are the unhappiest countries in the world and why?
There are many societies who have failed to convert wealth into wellbeing; at a country level, and also very much at an individual level. I see that a lot with South East Asian countries. For instance, South Korea has experienced tremendous growth and wealth increases but continues to struggle to convert that into quality of life.
How about Slovenia - where do we stand?
The most up-to-date findings available are Slovenia's ranking in the World Happiness Report 2019. Of 156 countries, Slovenia falls into the top 50, ranked at number 44.
Is there a recipe for happiness?
Unfortunately, we do not yet have an ultimate happiness manifesto. However, we do have the six factors which are used to explain countries' happiness ranking in the World Happiness Report, in addition to the four factors which explain variances within a group: mental health, physical health, safety and trust. The combination of these factors gives us direction for increasing happiness globally.
In your first bestseller, Hygge, you focused on the Danish way of living well. Can you describe what hygge means?
Hygge is the art of creating a nice atmosphere. A pursuit of everyday happiness. It is about feeling safe and secure and ultimately, you know it when you feel it: it can also be cuddling up to a loved one on the sofa or sharing comfort food with your closest friends. This was a Danish concept but has now been embraced globally.