The University of Warwick in the UK recently published research highlighting that happiness can increase employee productivity by up to 12%. Separate research by the New Economics Foundation in 2013 suggested that in some creative industries, happiness can improve productivity by up to 50%. Furthermore, academic research in the US found that when employees were in a good mood they performed their least favorite tasks better than when they didn’t feel as happy.
With employee productivity so crucial to business growth, it should be encouraging to companies to learn that employee happiness is so closely connected to their performance, because employee happiness is not a myth; it can and does exist.
What was interesting about the original Warwick University research was how quickly and easily employees’ moods were boosted by eating chocolate and watching comedy for ten minutes. While this is an affordable and active way to boost somebody’s mood in the short-term, it is perhaps not the most cost- or time-efficient approach to ensuring employee happiness, and thus productivity, in the long-term.
For many years academics have been conducting surveys and research to establish proven ways that improve happiness in the workplace. The findings – many of which are summarised below – include a number of quick, easy and low-cost ways companies can start boosting employee happiness and productivity.
1. Get some plants
Research conducted by the NCIB shows that “nature contact” was very effective at reducing stress among employees. Separate research in Norway also showed that working in an environment with plants was very effective at improving staff health by reducing coughs, headaches and skin ailments.
2. Better use of space and better furniture
When you also look at the offices for some of the most successful – and popular – companies in the world, their offices offer ample space and comfort, not only for work but for also breaks. Not every company has the budget to offer Google style offices, but small changes to the working environment can go a long way. Research in New Zealand has shown that investment in ergonomic furniture and effective use of space could increase productivity by up to 64%.
3. Organized exercise breaks
The same research in New Zealand showed that when exercise breaks were encouraged there was a 25% increase in staff productivity and separate research shows that taking four short walks a day can boost a person’s mood for as long as 11 hours. Offer “walking breaks” to your employees and make it easy for them to get exercise during their lunch hour.
4. Keep your promises
Psychologist Dr Noelle C Nelson concluded from research for her book “Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy” that many employees consider a good manager to be someone who keeps their promises and puts employees first. Giving the example of the CEO of aluminium company Alcoa Ltd who made employee safety his “sole priority”, this approach not only reduced accidents, but employee productivity dramatically increased.
5. Make managers happy
Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University explains that the main cause of unhappiness in employees is line managers. Investing in line manager happiness as a priority and encouraging this to “drip down” is a very logical and effective way to improve staff happiness. When studies have shown that over two thirds of employees feel their manager has an impact on their career it’s important to ensure that it’s a positive one.
As the original Warwick University research shows, laughter has a quick and direct impact on our mood. Research also shows that regular laughter reduces stress, helps us sleep better and can even boost the body’s immune system. If laughing in the workplace isn’t appropriate, then organise a work trip to a comedy club or share recommendations for funny movies that employees can watch at home.
7. Let employees go on Facebook
While many companies have a no social media policy, there is some evidence to suggest that those who are allowed to access these websites at work could be happier employees. In a recent interview with Entrepreneur, Richard Branson stated that one of the key reasons Virgin introduced flexible working was to show employees they were trusted and this in turn improved their productivity. This article also argues that some of the world’s most successful CEOs are very active on social media, and they use it to promote their company. Why not let your employees do the same?
When studies have shown that over two thirds of employees feel their manager has an impact on their career it’s important to ensure that it’s a positive one.
8. Start a book club
Neurological research has shown that brain functions are significantly boosted after people finish reading a novel and the additional benefits of reading include greater social perception and empathy. These are all excellent reasons to start a book club.
9. Encourage sharing
When we introduced the Noticeboard feature for our customers on Findmyshift we expected it to be used to share work-related memos. In reality it’s used by our customers to share a variety of information about social events, personal announcements and yes, even book club updates! In a recent survey we conducted it was listed as one of our most popular features by staff and managers alike.
10. Let them get on with it
Arguably the most welcome and cost-effective way proven to make your staff happy and more productive is to simply let them get on with their work. This is supported by Harvard Business Review research which showed that what motivated them most was not financial reward or public recognition, but progress.
There is some comfort in knowing that employees are motivated by the same thing managers are and in many ways it confirms the strong link between happiness and productivity; we all like to feel useful. Of course, you don’t need to be an expert to understand why happier employees are more productive employees, but perhaps we all need to take a bit of extra time to do what we can to make our employees happy when they come to work and not just when they leave.
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