I was thrilled to be invited back to speak at BrightonSEO for the second time in September 2019, talking about the importance of happiness in the workplace. Below is the full transcript of my talk (with a few extra nuggets of information that there wasn’t time for during my slot), along with all the sources and slides.
It was incredibly exciting to be part of a whole session on wellbeing and inclusion at this year’s conference. It’s fantastic to see these issues being given real weight at events of this standing. BrightonSEO sets a great standard for inclusion in our sector – there is a creche on site, and the organisers’ dedication to ensuring a diverse speaker line-up is phenomenal, which makes it wonderful to be a part of.
The happiness problem
Happiness. It’s often seen as something fluffy and woolly. Sure, we talk about it in hippy, touchy-feely Brighton, we love to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, but it’s not something businesses need to worry about unless they need to tick the CSR box or fill out an award entry. It’s not seen as serious business. In fact, it’s often seen as actively detracting from serious business. Well, here I hope to bombard you with enough facts and figures to convince you that happiness is serious, it’s not just a nice to have, and if you take it seriously it will translate to serious cold, hard cash in your pocket.
Those of you who already know a bit about me, or have read my previous blog about how I fell out of love with marketing, will know that I spent more than ten years as a marketing consultant before becoming exasperated with the aggressive, short-term sales approach of many businesses and have now set out on a mission to help organisations connect with their core values and use these to inform meaningful actions that will form genuine relationships with their audiences. I am not at all unique in having fallen out of love with my previous role…
My generation – I’m so reluctant to use the “m” word, because it’s so overused, and misused, but it is helpful when referring to those born between around 1981 and 1996 – expect to change jobs at least every three years. In fact, 43% of them expect to leave their current job within the next two years. Now, possibly that’s because they’re all incredibly ambitious and intent on climbing the career ladder, but it’s still clear that their current jobs aren’t offering them what they need in order to grow and flourish in the way that they want.
The tech sector has the highest turnover rate of any industry. That should give all of us in the sector cause for concern. Apparently 51% of people in tech are happy in their jobs. Am I the only person who finds that a bit concerning?
Because if 51% are happy, then 49% of people in our industry are unhappy. 49% of people in tech don’t like the thing that they spend a third of their lives doing.
The UK as a whole is pretty far down the happiness league tables – only 42% of people are happy in their jobs. That’s not ok.
The value of happiness
First of all, if your job involves selling things or services to people, you’re going to be much more likely to get those people to buy from you if you make them happy. 63% of people prefer to buy from brands with a strong sense of purpose; not only that, but 47% will change to one of your competitors if they feel you lack a sense of purpose.
Once you’ve got them to buy from you once, you want them to keep coming back, and customer loyalty is driven by likeability for 86% of customers.
“A happy brand is a successful brand; it is better recalled, better liked and chosen more often.”
Steve Hastings, Isobel
When it comes to your internal team, if you’re an employer or manager you need to keep your staff happy and engaged. If you’re an employee, happiness is critical to your success so you owe it to yourself and your business to push for your own happiness. For freelancers and one-person bands, your business is you so your happiness is crucial to the whole venture.
According to Oxford Economics, the average cost of hiring a new member of staff is £30,000. That’s £5,000 on recruitment fees, then a whopping £25,000 on lost productivity in the 28 weeks that it takes on average for a new recruit to get up to speed. So keeping your staff happy, engaged and not wanting to leave is going to save you a lot of money.
Happiness substantially increases productivity – by 20%. Not only that, but happiness increases results. Happiness in sales people, for example, increases sales by 37%. Your brain in general works 31% more productively when you’re in a positive state versus a negative or stressed one, so it stands to reason that happy people produce more and better results.
Ultimately, this all adds up to a more successful business that makes more money. Happy companies continuously outperform the competition by a significant margin of 20%.
Not only that, but companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced by those that don’t.
Hopefully that’s convinced you that happiness is valuable and can make you some serious money. So the big question now is how can you make people happy?
Making people happy
What makes you happy and what’s important to you will likely vary slightly depending on your life stage and situation, but a study by the marketing consultancy Rare found five key drivers across the board: fun and enjoyment, health, safety, relationships with others and self-respect.
I’m not about to give you an exhaustive list here, but I am going to take you through a few key elements within each category.
Fun and enjoyment
So yes, fun is on the list, but that does not mean you can shove a table tennis table in your break room and have done with it. I have a real bee in my bonnet about table tennis tables. I worked in two separate offices that had them, and in one everyone was so overworked, working through their lunches and into the evening, that they never got a chance to touch it, and in the other it got commandeered by one group of guys who took it over at every opportunity and no one else got a look in. So these sorts of things are all very well, but if you’re not careful they can actually be a source of far more resentment and division in your organisation than any sense of fun. And actually, no one cares about this stuff. When employees are surveyed about what perks they want, these sorts of gimmicks don’t feature at all. In fact, only 11% care about having a paid for Christmas party. That doesn’t mean you should ditch your Christmas party, it is important to celebrate with your team, but it does show that one-off sprinkles of glitter don’t mean anything to anyone. If you want to incorporate fun into your organisation you need to make it inclusive and meaningful.
Do celebrate successes and milestones with your team – not just once a year, do it whenever it’s relevant – but do it in a way that resonates with your company and its values. When it comes to team activities, volunteering or giving back to the community in some way can be much more fun than an awkward paintballing tournament because it is far more rewarding and makes your team feel that they’re part of something.
Be energetic and enthusiastic in the way you communicate, both internally and externally. A word of caution here, there’s a difference between enthusiasm and being “quirky”. Being fun and quirky in your communications is all well and good if it’s authentic to your brand – Innocent do a phenomenal job of that – but there are ways to make people feel that you’re a fun brand that are much more meaningful that posting topical cat memes. Often a great user experience or excellent customer service can be far more enjoyable, and make people far happier, than a quirky brand that provides a poor service.
Most importantly, enjoy what you do. If you have a sense of joy in your role, your colleagues and customers will share it. If you are an employer or manager and you don’t have a sense of joy in what you do, you need to seriously think about why that is and reconnect with the reason why you do what you do, because it will have a huge impact across your organisation.
Health and wellbeing
Ok, games tables and bean bag chairs set aside, when employees are surveyed about the kinds of perks they want, they repeatedly ask for schemes that will benefit their health and wellbeing. Don’t forget that, when we talk about health, we’re also talking about mental wellbeing, not just physical health. People want long-term benefits that genuinely add to their quality of life. Health insurance and gym memberships feature highly in staff wishlists, as does finishing early on a Friday afternoon, as well as a generally more flexible approach to working hours.
A third of staff want flexible hours, and 20% are willing to take a substantial hit in pay to get them. As another option, some businesses have trialled a six-hour working day. Toyota is one of those, and they reported an increase in happiness and a decrease in turnover as a result. One thing that employees are always keen for, but makes employers turn a funny shade of purple, is unlimited holiday. Studies have actually shown that staff given the option of unlimited holiday actually take less time off, because they’re happier at work, they feel a greater sense of autonomy over the time they take off, and they feel trusted and respected by their employer.
Simple things like mental health days – which is a terrible name, by the way, no one wants to phone up their employer and say they can’t come in because of their mental health, I prefer the term “duvet days”, a set number of days staff can take whenever they want without having to give a reason – have a huge impact on employee productivity and overall happiness.
Work/life balance is crucial, and you are not going to get the best out of your team, or yourself, if you work everyone until they drop.
Staff sickness and presenteeism cost the UK economy more than £77 billion each year. Helping your staff to stay healthy, feel happy and, importantly, have time off to recover when they do need it, will save you serious money. It’s so important to note that that figure includes presenteeism – that’s the loss in productivity and the spread of illness caused by people coming in even when they’re sick. Contrary to what you might think, if you are encouraging a culture where people come in no matter what, or if you yourself are coming in no matter what, then you are hurting your business and damaging its profits.
Safety and security
When it comes to safety at work, unless your office is about to slide into the sea at any moment, it’s probably more useful to think in terms of security.
Pensions aren’t the sexiest of topics, and probably not at the forefront of most employee’s minds, but, as I am beginning to discover, the older you get, the more you start to panic – particularly if you are one of the 31% of UK adults who are going to be relying on the state pension when they retire. If you as an employer are offering a good pension scheme, not just the bare minimum that the government is making you provide, but something your staff can actually live off when they retire, then they’re going to feel much more secure and feel they can stay and grow with you as their life and needs mature.
Speaking of life maturing, 54,000 women lose their jobs in the UK every year because of pregnancy or maternity – that is unacceptable. It’s also a huge amount of skills and experience that UK businesses are missing out on. But becoming a parent isn’t just an issue for women, men suffer from penalties because of new babies too, and most men feel they don’t get enough time off with their new family. The experience of being torn away from their child to return to work after just a couple of weeks can have a very negative impact on men’s mental health.
36% of UK workers say their employer doesn’t do enough to support new parents, and my feeling is that this is because employers see that chunk of time that their staff are away from work as money down the drain. In fact, it’s an investment. Supporting your staff through different life stages, and viewing time off – whether it’s for having children, adoption, bereavement, sabbaticals, or any other reason – as an investment in retaining the skills, knowledge and experience of that person, as well as maintaining their motivation and commitment to your business, will reap huge rewards for both parties.
Relationships with others
Rather worryingly, we trust random people off the street more than we trust the people we work for. Clear and honest communication is missing from so many of our working relationships, for a variety of reasons – we worry about admitting that we don’t know something, or that something is uncertain; we sometimes mistakenly equate knowledge with power or status, so withholding it makes us feel more important; or we have unreasonable expectations of others, or, more often, of ourselves that we feel the need to uphold. We need to let go of these issues because we are killing our relationships with our colleagues, our employees, our clients and our customers by not communicating honestly and positively.
The key to a good relationship is appreciation – we all want our contribution to the whole to be seen; we want to feel that we’re valuable and we want our successes to be recognised. In his book The Truth About Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni boils it down to knowing that people know who you are, seeing impact from your work, and feeling that you’re making progress in your role.
80% of workers say that being appreciated is key to their happiness – way ahead of salary, with only 58%. In fact, 79% cite lack of appreciation as their reason for leaving their job. I’m focusing on the internal situation here because, as we saw before, happiness comes from within, but don’t forget you can also show appreciation for your customers as well, through rewards and “surprise and delight” tactics. Often the most meaningful action towards an employee or a customer is a simple “thank you”.
The final category is self-respect. Self-respect at work comes from a mixture of finding value in your role, feeling good about how you’re doing your job and feeling respected by your colleagues and employer.
To feel good about ourselves, we need to see progress. We need to be able to look at achievements we’ve made and see a next stage to aim for. But as a species we suck at setting goals. 70% of projects fail to meet their targets. We can’t possibly all be that bad at implementing projects, we must be setting the goals wrong. Being set up to fail that often is going to have a seriously detrimental impact on everyone’s self-respect.
The key here is setting SMART goals so you know where you’re going, and you can see if you’re on track. Making the goals achievable, continually updating and evolving them, and having clarity on what’s expected of you and what you can expect from others is crucial.
I talked right at the start about how important purpose is to getting people to buy from you and making customers and staff feel good about your brand. Self-respect comes from a sense that the role we fulfil and the products we buy are contributing to something positive. But only 33% of people think that brands act based on their values. Whether you’re trying to attract customers or retain employees, you need to have an authentic purpose that you can live through meaningful actions that will benefit everyone.
Hopefully that’s given you some ideas on how to make your workplaces happier, and richer, places.