The happiness revolution: Turning workplace wellbeing into business success

Saurav Chopra, CEO and co-founder of Perkbox, discusses why workplaces should evolve to put employees first.

 The happiness revolution: Turning workplace wellbeing into business success

Employee happiness is important, but the rise of so-called fun and creative workplaces like Google and Facebook has finally made the issue relevant. The American Institute of Stress estimates that stress-related sickness costs businesses $300 billion annually.

The stakes are high; it has become all the more apparent that businesses can no longer afford to ignore the benefits of investing in their employees’ wellbeing.

A year ago, Perkbox dived headfirst into the world of ‘team happiness’ with employee rewards. At the same time, our team went from about a dozen people to an office of over 50 strong, so we know first hand that when growth happens, it can happen fast. Keeping everyone happy and managing that same degree of quality of service you had when you first started, can be very tough.

That’s why there’s so much media hype around companies who take care of their employees. It’s still a rare thing to find a business that genuinely cares about employee happiness, but when these businesses succeed at building a strong team, it becomes a big deal.

The caring revolution

A quiet revolution is happening here. Businesses are beginning to make a name for themselves as employers who care. In turn, they are genuinely being recognised as inspirational places in which to work. They are winning the war on talent, retaining staff better and creating a workforce composed of inspired, productive and motivated loyalists.

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The Harvard Business Review found that businesses who take care of their employees can expect to see up to a 31% increase in productivity and up to a 37% increase in sales. Treating employees well – previously a completely unthinkable and ill-considered thing – has become the catalyst for success. And it’s this very pool that the so-called happiness pioneers are tapping into.

So what does creating happiness at work look like, and what can every business, no matter what size, learn from those who are pioneering a programme that puts employees first? We looked at some of the world’s top companies and saw something instrinsic: the teams that perform the best all work towards a common goal – they care about the work they do and they understand how their role advances the business.

Put simply, you embed the values of trust, respect, praise and empathy so it becomes the very fabric of your work culture, and you complement this basic no-cost offering with creative, recreational and practical incentives and benefits. This symbiotic balance of empathy and physical ‘rewards’ is important.

It speaks volumes about the collaborative and contented work environment you want to foster and demonstrates an understanding that, beyond work, staff are real people with real families and lives.

But is there a real return?

For the cynics, perks and benefits can seem like a fad – ineffectual, fluffy and shows no tangible or measurable impact on a worker’s productivity. But the figures around treating staff well and providing perks are compelling.

A partner of ours, InMobi, the mobile advertising giant set up in 2007 that is second only to Google in the global advertising market, believes transforming their mission statement of ‘imagination, harmony and action’ into a way of life at work has been crucial to their success.

Speaking in a recent interview with Fast Company, Inmobi revealed that employees receive incremental pay increases every year in lieu of bonuses and, importantly, employees are actively encouraged to work on outside, personal and pet projects on the proviso that it does not interfere with their day-to-day work. An annual company festival provides an opportunity to put their ‘imagination, harmony and action’ mantra into practice.

And, in a bid to build and engender trust within the team, the company has virtually abolished stringent policies and employees are given the gift of flexibility (for example, when it comes to travel, workers are advised: “Take off if you think it’s important for you”, and on expenses: “Travel as if it were your own money”).

InMobi have grown exponentially over the past eight years by rewarding and treating their talented staff well, empowering employees to develop, experiment and remain creative, and through simply trusting them. Likewise, Google have gone the extra mile by giving their staff lots of freedom with flexible working hours and time to work on their own personal projects too.

Meanwhile Virgin recently offered a year’s paternity leave for all employees, plus unlimited holidays for everyone. Sir Richard Branson qualified this move by publicly announcing: “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.”

These details all combine to create a work environment that will change the way businesses work and operate, for the better. All of the above measures are effective ways you can say to your employees: we trust you, we value you, and we want you to stick around.

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While progress will be gradual, organisations are waking up to the understanding that it no longer makes business sense to consider employee happiness as an after thought. It must become part of the overall business strategy; one that factors in productivity, retention and talent acquisition. Replacing members of staff can cost up to £30k once you’re done with training and recruitment, so keeping people happy is a lot more efficient.

Of course there’s no foolproof way to guarantee happiness, that’s for sure – but understanding your workforce and developing a tailored solution will give you the best chance of success.

Mix and match

Mix and match different techniques. Create a great office atmosphere by offering free food and drink, but don’t go thinking that’s the whole job done. Praise your employees regularly to let them know they’re doing a good job, and give them the freedom to succeed. Be flexible, open up communication, and encourage a working environment where everyone pulls in the same direction. Treat your employees with respect and they’ll respond in kind.

With the advent of innovative new services that enable all businesses, from micro operations and SMEs to bigger industry players, to provide enticing, practical, self-developmental and useful benefits that are flexible, easy to redeem and won’t hurt the bottom line, now has never been a better or more important time to think about the happiness and wellbeing of the people who work for you. Not just for a better balance sheet but for building a better business.

Saurav Chopra is CEO and co-founder of Perkbox (www.perkbox.co.uk), an employee benefits scheme designed specifically for SMEs, where businesses of any size can now give perks to motivate, inspire and retain employees.

Further reading: Fostering a company culture to attract customers 

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