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Jessica Pryce-Jones

Jessica Pryce-Jones

The business case for happiness at work

Why happiness at work is a business imperative for everyone

Last week I met someone I'd coached a few years ago for a catch-up dinner. Her face was glowing and she was radiating enthusiasm and energy. Her organization had been through a very tough time with job losses, new management, high levels of uncertainty. And she had been given lots of new challenges to deal with, responsibilities and in areas she'd had little knowledge of. She was loving it all and told me that she was incredibly happy at work.

But what is the general effect that supposedly post-recessionary times are having on happiness and productivity?

At iOpener the research and consulting company I run, we've been collecting data about happiness at work and productivity since before the recession started. So we can compare some before, during and after recession numbers, all of which are really interesting.

One of the main ways we measure the effect of happiness at work is by looking at time people spend on task - or doing what they're there to do. Before the recession, people who were really happy at work reported that they spent 78% of their day on task. The rest was taken up by sorting diaries, doing mundane stuff like waiting on calls, for frozen screens - the kind of thing that gets in the way of real work. In contrast people who were most unhappy at work said that they spent only 53% of their time on task. That's a 25% difference between both groups.

Let's work out what that means in terms of time. Seventy eight percent of a week is about four days. Fifty three percent is two and a half days. So the unhappiest people at work were in effect working only half a week before the recession. But they were intending to quit in the following 6-9 months. So they wouldn't be around doing not much for very long.

What about now?

When we look at the data now we can see that people who are happiest at work have in fact become slightly more productive. They're telling us that they now spend 80% of their week focussed on task.

But the people who are unhappiest at work, whose numbers have swelled considerably, are now only focussing 40% of their time on task. That's two days a week. So they're working even less than before.

Here's the really bad news.

Not only are they working less, they've decided that because jobs are so thin on the ground there's no point looking for one. They're telling is that on average they'll be in their jobs for the next 36 months. In other words they're unproductive and not performing well but they'll be with you for far longer than you'd like - whether you're a boss, colleague, business partner, customer or vendor.

It doesn't stop there.

When we crunch the data we can see that people who are unhappiest at work have decreased by about 25-30% in all these key areas too:

• Goal achievement
• Helping colleagues
• Feeling they're having a positive impact in what they do
• Confidence
• Engagement
• Pride
• Trust
• Recognition
• Feeling that they are achieving their potential

All of this is having a knock-on effect on project delivery, new ideas, delivery of new products, acceptance of, and adaption to change. The cumulative effect is unsurprising: general happiness with life is being affected too.

Astonishingly all these areas showed higher numbers regardless of happiness levels while the recession was in full swing. A huge number of people enjoyed the pressure of it all because they learned a lot, were given greater responsibility, stretched themselves and overcame challenges that they didn't know they could. Let's remember that happiness at work is made up of going through and dealing with tough stuff because that's how we learn and grow. Now those figures in all those important areas have all dropped back. Unless you're really happy at work.

If you're in that category, and admittedly there are far fewer people in it than before or during the recession, you'll have maintained and even increased their scores in the above areas.

What does this all mean? It's clear that happiness at work isn't just nice to have. Unhappy employees are not delivering what organizations need. It's a business imperative for everyone - leaders, managers and employees - to address.

If you want to see how your happiness and performance are currently being affected, click here and you'll access our questionnaire and free six page report about your happiness, performance and what's currently affecting it.