It would seem we are obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. Even countries are getting into it. For example, Happy Planet has an index showing the extent to which 151 countries across the globe produce long, happy, and sustainable lives for the people that live in them. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) annually conducts and publishes a global-based “Better Life Index,” measuring a country’s sense of “well-being.” The most recent study ranked the United States 14th and Austria number one. On the local level, the University of Vermont’s Department of Math and Statistics conducted a study of positive “tweets” and concluded that Longmont, CO was the second happiest city in the country. Who knew?
For organizations, the preponderance of happiness studies indicates kind of an economic karma. Treat your employees right and they will reward you with great performance, do the opposite and the organization suffers. Consider Google, nearly universally acclaimed as a great place to work. Its stock has soared 674 percent since its inception in August 2004. Other “great places to work” that have achieved economic success include Zappos, Whole Foods, and Mars, Inc.
The argument for treating employees well is not simply because people like to get benefits, although they do. “The data strongly support the fact that organizations that focus on the engagement of their employees deliver stronger performance,” says Julie Gebauer, managing director for talent and rewards at Towers Watson. “It’s not just making them happy — that’s not a business issue. Engagement is.” It seems apparent that engaged employees tend to be happy, and successful organizations have engaged employees. The question is, Which came first?
Engaging employees is complex and no one formula works for all organizations. “We’re in the midst of an engagement crisis said Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse. Overall employee disengagement is being reported at 70 percent in the U.S. and even higher globally. That means even on a good day, your employees aren’t tapping their full brainpower or reaching their full productivity potential” . However, some universal engagement models are worth considering “Making an investment in employees and demonstrating a commitment to them and their well-being is a straightforward way to help employees make daily changes that lead to sustainable healthy behaviors and improvements in workplace engagement and productivity.”
In a Harvard Business Review article on employee engagement, Tammy Erickson wrote, “For many today, meaning is the new money. It’s what people are looking for at work. Clear company values, translated into the day-to-day work experience, are one of the strongest drivers of an engaged workforce, one primed for successful collaboration.” Daniel Pink agrees. In his new book, “To Sell is Human,” he states, “Meaning is the new money.” And as Shakespeare said, “To work we love with delight we go.” In other words, does what I do matter to the organization? If I am absent, will people notice? How do my efforts help the organization succeed? These questions help define “meaning,” but there are many more.
Meaning and its partner, purpose, extend to personal life as well. According to Gallup, the happiness level of Americans is on a four-year high. On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about four of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. The CDCP’s research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction and decreases the chances of depression. All good things.
While Disneyland might be the happiest place on earth, it seems at the country, organization, or person level the better question and goal is the pursuit of meaning.