Mar 20, 2017

Get Serious: What's the Role of Happiness in the Workplace?

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin | 0 Comments

Implementing project management methodology raises employee satisfaction by a significant percentage

If you haven't looked up from your screen recently ... it's the first day of Spring (or Fall if you are reading this from the Southern hemisphere): the vernal equinox. You may be feeling some spring fever. But if your inability to settle down to work with a sense of wellbeing lasts longer than a few days in spring, that's a problem. And it isn't just a problem for you -- it's a problem for your company and potentially, our whole society.

The University of Oxford's Said Business School released their World Happiness Report today, because not only is it spring, but it is the International Day of Happiness (on a Monday, no less!), a day set aside by the United Nations for people around the globe to step outside the rat race and think about what really contributes to their wellbeing. One of the major categories in the Oxford study is Happiness at Work. Here are a few high points from the study:

  • Work and employment are not only drivers of happiness, but that happiness can itself help to shape job market outcomes, productivity, and even firm performance.
  • Work-life balance comes out as perhaps the strongest workplace driver of an individual’s wellbeing. This turns out to be true across the board, in terms of people’s life and job satisfaction, [and] general happiness.
  • The level of support that a worker receives from his or her fellow workers is very strongly predictive of all four measures of subjective wellbeing.
  • Managers and professional workers are the happiest people on earth.

Project leaders who work in teams, and enjoy executive support are, by this research, likely to derive more of a sense of wellbeing from work that many other people. That's something to be happy about. But there is more to this worldwide trend of focusing on happiness (to find out how all this got started, read about Gross National Happiness here) than just something interesting to while away a Monday ... obviously or the likes of Said School of Business would not get involved. In a crowded world, with resource scarcity and a global trend towards slower economic growth, economists are realizing we need to find new ways to measure wealth. GDP is fine, as far as it goes, but it only measures monetary value. And pretty much anyone will tell you, money ain't everything. Here's the Boston Consulting Group chiming in, with a set of measures for sustainable development.

Business, I have found, is a kind of laboratory for systemic social changes. At work we deal with people different from us, and are exposed to ideas we might not have  come across on our own. Already, in companies around the world, the connection between financial success and the impacts our products and policies have on employees and consumers, is being capitalized on, almost in advance of the research supporting these ideas. Luminaries like Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Steiglitz have recommended governments adopt "GNH" beside GDP to gain a fuller picture of their countries' progress. The United Arab Emirates has done just that.

We know that measurement is important ... "you can't manage what you don't measure" ... and the flip side to the value of measurement is that if we measure the wrong things, they can take on an inflated importance. The current focus on Benefits Realization, in a way, is related to measuring wellbeing. After years of keeping track of schedules and budgets, we have lifted our eyes from the spreadsheet to ask: Why are we doing this? Project management, in acknowledging the centrality of stakeholder happiness to any definition of success. already is walking a stride ahead. Our own research has shown that implementing project management methodology raises employee satisfaction by a significant percentage. What else can we do to forge a happier world?

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