Intuitively most managers and HR professionals think that happy employees are more productive. But what does it take for employees to be happy in their jobs and in their personal lives? And how does that happiness translate into improved job performance? The booming area of happiness research provides answers, along with practical tips for improving talent management.
Economics used to be called "the dismal science." But lately economists have discovered the importance of happiness, defined as subjective well-being. The World Economic Forum, a global economic think-tank, argues: "We should all care about well-being because it helps produce other good things that we care about—happier workers generate better performance for companies; happier people have more successful families and create more harmonious communities." In other words, happy employees are essential for sustainable business success and future economic prosperity.
Thriving Employees Actively Create a Company's Future
Researchers at the University of Michigan's Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship describe happy employees as "thriving." In a thriving workforce, employees actively create the company's future—and their own careers. Employees thrive in jobs that give them a sense of purpose and room to develop their potential. Successful companies such as Costco, Quik-Trips, and Trader Joe's understand that low costs, excellent customer satisfaction and strong financial performance depend on positive employee work experiences—in other words, happiness.
When collective well-being in a company's workforce is high, so is productivity, loyalty and employee health. This is called the "Google effect" because the high-tech company's efforts to cultivate workforce happiness improve productivity and are crucial for generating innovative ideas.
Well-Being Is Contagious
Well-being is positively contagious. According to Gallup researchers, the overall well-being of each work team member can enhance, or reduce, their fellow team members' sense of well-being. Supervisors have a big influence in this regard. Employees whose supervisors are 'thriving' are themselves more likely to thrive in the future.
The quality of a person's job influences their overall quality of life. In Redesigning Work, my book with Frank Graves, we document that three out of four Canadian workers who are satisfied with their lives (a standard measure of "happiness") also are satisfied and motivated when it comes to their job. Furthermore, workers with high life satisfaction are far more likely than their peers who report low life satisfaction to experience manageable levels of work stress and good work-life balance—two key job quality indicators.
Happier Employees Take Initiative In Their Job
Well-being also is directly linked to crucial talent management goals. As Redesigning Work reports, those same employees who are happy with their lives also are far more likely than their less happy peers to take initiative in their job, fully contribute their capabilities and learn new ways to do their job better.
HR professionals must reach beyond engagement when setting strategic HR goals. As psychologist Martin Seligman suggests, the goal should be to enable people to "flourish." Work engagement is an important enabler of well-being for both employees and organizations. Engaged workers perform their jobs better than their disengaged co-workers because they experience positive emotions at work, are healthier, actively create their own job resources and contribute to thriving work teams.
Six Ways to Improve Employee Well-Being
For talent management, the practical implication is that cultivating the capabilities of each and every employee also requires a comprehensive focus on their well-being. Consider the following ways to simultaneously improve employee well-being, talent management and organizational performance:
- Job stress, work-life imbalance and job dissatisfaction remain problems that employers must address head-on. Reducing these problems could result in lower health benefits costs, absenteeism, turnover and dissatisfaction, thereby contributing to effective talent management.
- In Canada, more organizations are adopting the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which promotes talent management by supporting employees to actively contribute and further develop their potential.
- By viewing engagement as an enabler of well-being, not just an end in itself, employers can support workers to feel involved, enthusiastic and energized about their jobs. These positive experiences promote healthy work, learning, collaboration and creativity.
- Important work motivators are positive workplace relationships and deriving a sense of accomplishment from doing challenging and interesting tasks. These fundamentals of job performance should also be central to any talent management strategy.
- Deloitte's 2017 Human Capital Trends Survey revealed that many companies intend to redesign their organization for the digital age. The most successful organizations in future will implement a transformation process that envisions well-being and learning as by-products.
- As talent management strategies identify the workforce capabilities required for sustainable success in 10 to 15 years, these can be powerfully communicated in a workplace vision that supports everyone to thrive in their job.
Photo: Creative Commons
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The 2023 Talent Health Index: Your holistic guide to talent success, a new report led by the Cornerstone People Research Lab, provides you with a comprehensive view of the state of talent programs across organizations worldwide. The study found that most organizations are falling behind with their talent health initiatives, but they don’t have to stay that way. With the 2023 Talent Health Index, you can better understand what a successful talent program looks like and what steps you can take to redefine your talent strategy and unlock your organization’s full potential.