Employee happiness and success

The Employee Engagement Alliance hosted another interactive, very informative session – The Employee Happiness Event

The session was kicked off by Gautam Sahgal from Perkbox who talked about the huge employee engagement challenge that we have – 61% of people in the UK are disengaged. He said that the UK is in the midst of an employee disengagement crisis which can cost our economy a lot of money through retention and recruitment, sick days and low productivity. This can be £3k, plus, per employee a year.

Gautam discussed the results of a recent survey they had conducted which highlighted the main reasons for low engagement:

  1. 26% of people cited lack of reward and recognition
  2. 21% of people cited a negative culture
  3. 17% cited being micro managed and a lack of autonomy
  4. 15% cited a bad boss
  5. 15% cited long working hours
  6. Gautam highlighted that recognising employees just twice a week – a simple thank you and recognition for effort – can have such a vast impact. And it’s free!


You can also recognise people through gamification which means that recognition is more likely to be spread far and wide and also prevents people getting disheartened if they’re not recognised at the weekly/ monthly team meeting. Also a lot of people don’t like being recognised publically – it may be a British thing, I’m not sure… Recognition for a job well done is very powerful and often more powerful and lasts longer than an extrinsic/ monetary reward. (See Dan Pink’s book entitled Drive along with studies that have been conducted which are referenced further down this blog).

Emma Bridger from the People Lab

Emma discussed the psychology of happiness and engagement. She said that if we focus on being happy first – success will come. Emma highlighted that happy people are more likely to:

  • Be more productive
  • Have less burnout
  • Sell more

She discussed positive psychology and that being in a positive brain state releases dopamine that makes us feel happy, which turns on all our learning centres in our brain so that we work harder, smarter, faster.

So if someone does something nice, it makes us feel happy (dopamine is released) and we work harder, smarter, faster – you get the picture…

Emma highlighted that it takes 21 days to re-wire our brains into a more positive state, by doing just one of these things every day:

  • Say three gratitude’s a day
  • Write a journal
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Do a random act of kindness

Doing one or a few of these a day can re-wire our brains to scan for the positive. Emma also discussed writing a Playlist of activities that make you feel better. This may be watching a fun film, reading a book, going for a walk or to a gig, being mindful, etc.

She stressed that we’re all different, so what engages/ motivates one person is not going to be the same for others. We need to understand what good looks like for an organisaiton and how to engage people (what works in your organisation).

Emma also cited Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and how people need to have purpose, it motivates us and helps make us happy.

(From Wikipedia 2016) Drive is the fourth non-fiction book by Daniel Pink… In the text, he argues that human motivation is largely intrinsic, and that the aspects of this motivation can be divided into autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He argues against old models of motivation driven by rewards and fear of punishment, dominated by extrinsic factors such as money.

In his book Daniel Pink has made a 140-character summary of what the book is about, in the style of Twitter. “Carrots & Sticks are so last Century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.”

Based on studies done at MIT and other universities, higher pay and bonuses resulted in better performance ONLY if the task consisted of basic, mechanical skills. It worked for problems with a defined set of steps and a single answer. If the task involved cognitive skills, decision-making, creativity, or higher-order thinking, higher pay resulted in lower performance. As a supervisor, you should pay employees enough that they are not focused on meeting basic needs and feel that they are being paid fairly. If you don’t pay people enough, they won’t be motivated. Pink suggests that you should pay enough “to take the issue of money off the table.”

To motivate employees who work beyond basic tasks, give them these three factors to increase performance and satisfaction:

  • Autonomy — Our desire to be self directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
  • Mastery — The urge to get better skills.
  • Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees.

People who feel like they have a purpose in life are found to be happier than others. It’s often the same at work – finding your purpose and role to play. If you know what you’re there to do, what your purpose is (what your organisation’s purpose is and how you fit in) this inevitably motivates and inspires you more.

Emma concluded by discussing how you shouldn’t make assumptions about what engages people. Different things will engage different people. Think about what your engagement survey is measuring, the questions that it’s asking. Is it asking the right questions and measuring the right factors for your employees and what your business is trying to achieve? There is an argument for bespoke surveys and not buying one off the shelf.

Andrea Callanan from InspireMe

Andrea discussed how engagement is about making someone feel something – about having a connection. At InspireMe they help people be the best that they can be through workplace choirs, people development, training and engagement. She asks clients to answer:

  • What would your people look like if they were inspired?
  • How would they behave if they were engaged?
  • How would they feel?
  • How would your business benefit?

Andrea talked about how your company values will determine how people behave and behaviour (how things are done around here) will determine your culture. She discussed how happiness at work is to do with a connection. You need to connect with your company, what they’re about, its values and purpose and your role within that. It has to connect and align with you. It’s not about a gym membership… Your company really needs to help feed the core sense of who you are, so you feel part of something and gives you meaning.

Andrea discussed Simon Sinek and his book ‘Start with Why’ which explains how to inspire with ideas. Andrea cited contribution, purpose and value being the biggest drivers for people.

And if you’re having a bad day, remember that Churchill repeated a year at school and Einstein’s teacher told him he was academically subnormal.

Would you like to advance your career or appoint someone?