Happiness and productivity at work

Last week I chaired the Business in the Community WorkWell Summit in London, which was attended by over 250 senior people from the FTSE 100, government and other organisations.

There was overwhelming evidence provided of the link between enhanced wellbeing and increases in job satisfaction and productivity, as well as decreases in sickness absence. The evidence is that lack of workplace wellbeing costs the UK economy roughly £26b in terms absenteeism, presenteeism and labour turnover – and that doesn’t even take into account lost productive value in terms of products and services or the costs to the NHS to treat people who have been stressed by the workplace. (You can find out more about these in my recent book with Prof. Ivan Robertson, Wellbeing: Productivity and Happiness at Work).

We know from the volume of evidence in the field of wellbeing and workplace stress (see my three-volume research set, Organizational Health and Wellbeing, to be published in June 2011), that the main sources of workplace stress are working consistently long hours, a bullying line manager, lack of control over various aspects of the job, lack of engagement by managers in decision-making, lack of communications, poor management of change and a lack of work-life balance, with the job frequently interfering with family life.

The conference focused on what could be done to enhance wellbeing, with presentations by the HR Director of Marks & Spencer, the Group Director of Health and Safety of Centrica, Chief Medical Officers of BT & Nestle, CEO of Boots Alliance, Director of Health & Safety of the Royal Mail Group and many others.  They each highlighted what their organisation was doing to promote wellbeing, but more importantly, the impact of their interventions in terms of the specific business benefits (including sickness absence, productivity and customer perception of service).

This Summit, and more of these in the future, will make wellbeing a business necessity, as we move toward a culture of ‘more with less’. As John Ruskin wrote in 1851: “In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it.”

Cary L. Cooper, CBE, is Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School and Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences.

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