Our research into happiness at work makes for largely optimistic reading. On the whole, British workers are fairly or very happy at work. But why should business care if its workers are happy? And what do we mean by ‘happy’? In ‘Happiness is a serious business’ (People Management, December 2006), Nic Marks draws on research published by the CIPD and suggests that happy employees are crucial to the future success of a business and that building on what makes people happy at work is more effective that just fixing what makes them unhappy.

Though a subjective concept, it’s not difficult to see that employees who judge themselves to be ‘happy’ in their work, will be more productive and perform better than those who admit to being ‘unhappy’. Though a happy employee is not necessarily an engaged one, there is a striking correlation between what makes employees happy and what engages them.

Thus, staff that enjoy good working relationships, receive proactive career development, feel valued by the organisation and well treated in times of change, are likely to be contributing the most to a business. Furthermore, they will be ambassadors for the organisation, sending out positive messages to the outside community and enhancing the employer brand.

Even in the event of redundancy, those leaving an organisation can leave happier if they are given appropriate support to find a new role, and this in turn sends a message which raises the spirits of colleagues who remain with that organisation. These messages help make recruitment and retention easier and hence more cost effective.

This ultimate link to the bottom line is why happy staff are so important to organisations. In support of several theories of motivation, it’s interesting to note that for employees, personal financial gain comes way down the list of happiness indicators. If businesses think a little more deeply about what employees really want and what will make them happy, they could reap the rewards. Happy employees will not only improve the working environment, but could also increase revenue.

Main findings:

  • The happiness index is 6.5 out of 10, where very happy = 10,fairly happy = 6.5, somewhat unhappy = 3.5 and very unhappy = 0. The index is calculated by scoring each of the respondents against their range of responses in an online questionnaire, to measure their relative degree of happiness.
  • One quarter of employees describe themselves as “very happy” at work.
  • Around half the workforce (56 per cent) are “fairly happy”.
  • One in five employees are unhappy at work.
  • Seventy-three per cent of people cite relationships with colleagues as being the key factor in happiness at work.
  • Lack of communication from the top was seen as one of the biggest causes of unhappiness.

Respondent profile:

1063 respondents (547 men and 516 women) aged from 18-65 years old in full or part-time work in the UK. All are employed in organisations of 20 staff or more.