Whistle while you work
Savvy employers are realising that happy staff are more productive. Some firms now offer advice on health, money and even love
Smile as you dial: Nev Wilshire, the hands-on-manager, with Kayleigh, one of the staff, in the fly-on-the-wall series The Call Centre. Photograph: BBC
Does your work make you happy? Are your colleagues content? Does it matter a whit? Employment experts from around Europe who converged in Dublin this week, for a conference, think it does. The title of their conference, organised by the Employee Assistance European Forum, was, Are Happy Employees Healthier Employees?
Surely so long as staff deliver the goods, their happiness and health are their own business? Not so for some employers. Going so far as to offer debt-resolution services and marriage advice, savvy bosses are realising that to improve their businesses they need to get stuck in to yours.
“If I had to identify one trend in the workplace at the moment it’s that employers aren’t just dealing with employees on professional matters. They are also looking more holistically at the individual,” says John Ryan, chief executive of Great Place to Work, a research and consulting firm.
But this isn’t just about HR organising an annual wellness day or wheeling in health insurers to give a talk. It’s getting more personal than that. “The employee’s relationship with their family, their partner or their personal finances, all of this can affect their performance, so employers want to help,” says Ryan.
Fans of BBC Three’s fly-on-the-wall documentary series The Call Centre will be familiar with the trend. Its boss, Nev Wilshire, takes the personal happiness of the 700 employees at his Welsh call centre, well, personally. From staff speed dating to one-to-one mental-health mentoring to baking them cakes, he’s not afraid to get involved in their personal lives to improve their performance at work. His efforts have meant that the call centre, on an industrial estate in Swansea, is swamped by job applicants.
According to Graham Randles, chief executive of the New Economics Foundation think tank and the keynote speaker at this week’s conference, two elements feed into good functioning at work. One is “organisational systems”: your relationship with your manager, your pay and rewards, and issues such as autonomy and trust. The other is personal resources.
“We strongly believe that personal resources, which is effectively what you bring to your job every day, are just as important,” says Randles. “If you come into work feeling unhappy there is a good chance that you might take that unhappiness and not be functioning terribly well. That unhappiness can be from a whole range of things that may or may not have anything to do with the employer.”
For employers adept at stepping in sensitively, and not giving the impression of meddling in employees’ lives, there are rewards, says Randles. He says research at the University of Bath last year found that the UK was missing out on the full capability of 20 million workers because they were not actively engaged in their jobs. The cost in lost productivity was estimated at €30 billion a year.
So how should employers go about tackling employee happiness? The German logistics company Kuehne + Nagel, which has 250 employees in Dublin, Cork and Shannon, is leading the charge.
“Happiness is huge for us,” says its HR director, Garry McCabe. “We want our people to enjoy their time in our workplace – being here shouldn’t be a chore.”