What's the value of a happy organisational culture?


Happiness guru Liane McGowan on the importance of emotional well-being in driving performance.

According to top ‘Happiness At Work’ researchers Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, there is a lot of fascinating data around the value of a company’s culture and the role that culture plays in employee satisfaction. The Business Dictionary defines company/organisational culture as; “The values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation”. But how do these behaviours and values affect employee happiness? Deci and Ryan used a measure called “Total Motivation” to evaluate the employees of four major airlines, analysing the relationship between total motivation and customer satisfaction. 

The results showed a high correlation; that is, the higher the employees’ total motivation, the higher the levels of customer satisfaction. This correlation also played out in the retail, banking, telecommunications and fast food industries. Essentially this means that happy staff will result in happy customers.

International research has proven that the benefits of focusing on employees’ emotional well-being within the workplace can no longer be ignored by South African employers – creating a happy company culture is part and parcel of this approach. Happiness isn’t just a good idea, it is extremely good for business.

The ideal wellness approach focuses on all areas within the organisation, promoting happiness, motivation and a dedication to achieving a different outcome to that of the traditional Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP). As good as the physical wellness strategies have been, a key factor which has gained global recognition is the focus on proactively targeting mental health.

The elements that employees seek at work are becoming increasingly obvious. Backed by science, psychology and philosophy, it is evident that the employees’ basic needs must be addressed. This requires a unique and innovative approach.

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After years of implementing repetitive and reactive EAP campaigns, some of the top companies realised that something was missing. Employees were still suffering from depression, teamwork was still poor, interpersonal relationships were being ruined and staff turnover was increasing. A shift was needed, and as a result, happiness was explored. Google, one of the most successful and influential companies in the world, features a fun-filled office, complete with slides and ten-pin bowling aisles. It encourages laughter and strives for total happiness for all employees; from the CEO to the security guard.

Whether moulding a team of one or 1,000, there are essential happiness principles that can be applied for a more successful business. Happy employees enjoy being at work – that in itself is enough to ensure productivity and a high level of customer service. Employees need to feel that they operate within a happy environment and that their emotional needs are being met.

Management should consider various vital components when it comes to keeping valuable members of staff. Don’t pamper employees, engage them; listen to them. The belief that remuneration is the only motivator will have employees heading for the door. Happiness is an individual responsibility but it can also be learned by observing others. Don’t overwork good employees; it can make them feel like they are being punished for great performance. Always communicate, recognise achievements and show care – people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers. Encourage creativity, encourage laughter and, most importantly, to be a great boss – pay attention and smile.

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Pamela Xaba is the founder of Nonkosi Creatives, and has over two decades of experience as a corporate HR professional. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion both in workspaces and society.