The state of the nation's workplace happiness

In the following opinion piece, exclusive for for HRreview, Lord mark Price argues that Government must focus on making employees happier in a post-brexit UK.

January traditionally marks a time for reflection and resolutions. You may have a long list of resolutions to eat healthier, drink less and do more exercise. By keeping these resolutions it is thought they will make you a happier person. But how about instead this year undertaking a resolution to simply be happier?

Ever since taking a career change I’ve been focusing on happiness. Specifically, happiness in the workplace. For the last few years I’ve been measuring workplace happiness on my website, Engaging Works. These measurements are not just in the UK but around the world and so far over 10,000 people have taken the free happiness survey.
The data collated from 2018 puts the UK 10th in global workplace happiness. On a positive note, the UK’s workplace happiness is on an upwards trajectory with it increasing in 2018 compared with the year before. There are also areas where the UK scores above the global average, in information sharing, development and having sufficient resources. But the UK is lower for: pride in our organisations, feeling respected, fairly rewarded, views being heard, doing something worthwhile and workplace relationships.

From a global perspective employees feel happier and more developed than in 2017. Diving deeper into the data we can see that in 2018 men felt more empowered and were more positive than women when assessing whether they have enough information to do their job well. Women on the other hand, felt more proud to work for their organization and are more likely to recommend their workplace to friends and family. In addition, women are more positive when assessing whether their workplace cares for their well-being.

Looking at generational differences we can see that in 2018 non-millennials scored higher in Happiness, Pride, and WellBeing. Looking at Generation Z, those aged under 25 years have consistently scored poorly in the survey. By quite a large margin, results have shown that these younger employees are less happy at work than all other age groups. When assessing the overall state of the nation in the survey we can see that the findings show eight of the countries which sit ahead of the UK in workplace happiness ranking (Austria, US, Germany to name a few) also sit above the UK for productivity, where the UK is a global laggard. This shows a strong correlation between workplace happiness and productivity.

In happier and more engaged workforces sick absence is lower, staff turnover lower, wastage lower and as a result experience is greater and so service and productivity higher. But is that as true for a country as it is for an organisation? The answer is yes. If the country were to adopt a New Year’s resolution to be happier we would undoubtedly see an increase in productivity here in the UK. As a former minister for trade and investment I am keen for the Government to create a ‘happiness strategy’ to generate a more engaged workforce. Particularly ahead of Brexit. In a post Brexit free market, open trading, world improving our productivity through having a more engaged and happier workforce will become even more vital if we are to become globally competitive.

So what practical measures can the Government implement to help make employees happier? I’d like to see the Government encouraging organisations to share the value created in a business with employees, bonuses and share option schemes. Whilst working for the John Lewis Partnership I saw just how motivating this way of business was for employees – with both financial and emotional rewards. Worker happiness would also improve if it were obligatory for businesses to make information more and better available on company performance. To give the same access to information as shareholders would create an open and transparent culture ensuring widespread understanding of the businesses’ objectives.

One way to make employees happier is by empowering them. This can be achieved through placing employees on boards or shadow advisory boards. Once employees know what needs to be done, if you empower them they’ll make intelligent suggestions and be more committed to the best way forward. When discussing happiness you can’t ignore wellbeing. And wellbeing at work should be central to every business. I’m keen to see the Government invest more in the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of citizens; encouraging employers to make this a priority.

And finally, one problem I hear over and over again is a lack of development for employees. If we are developing employees then we are investing in them and that means investing in the business and the bottom line. The Government should have mandatory requirements for businesses to up-skill employees and retrain for roles.
It is these simple and straight-forward changes that if businesses adopt, can transform their workforce and ultimately their bottom line. Indeed the more the Government can do to promote the happiness and wellbeing of the workforce the richer we will be as a country.





Lord Mark Price is Founder of Engaging Works and writer, former Minister of State for Trade and MD Waitrose.