When I tell people my job title, Head of Global Happiness, people often think I’ve made it up (I have!) but they also ask What does that mean? Once I’ve explained my story, they often ask how they can become The Head of Happiness in their organisation.
Happiness and me
To find out about how I got started in happiness, I need to tell you a bit about my first business.
May 2008 found my business partner, Chris, and I sitting in an attic above Wimpole Street in London’s West End starting our very own business. We could not have been happier!
As our company got bigger, the clients we worked on got bigger, and we found we weren’t able to see them as much as we would have liked. Our approach was not scaling well and we needed to do something about it.
Chris and I sat down with our CTO to figure out if there was a way we could use technology to see how happy our customers were. I suggested that if we were going to do this with customers, then we should do this with our employees and see if there was a correlation or a flow-through.
The science behind caring about happiness
We instinctively felt that if our people were happy then it would follow that our customers would be happy. I’ve spent the last decade or so researching happiness and, as it turns out, the science backs up this gut feeling.
I want to start by telling you about my favourite happiness study.
In 2012 Michael West and Jeremy Dawson published a paper with The Kings Fund that still shocks me nearly a decade later! Their study aimed to look into a link between employee engagement and job performance. They looked at a range of metrics to measure performance. These included things that are quite specific to the healthcare industry, such as mortality, but also some that are relevant to other industries, such as safety measures and patient (or customer) satisfaction. They even looked at some that are arguably relevant to every employee – absenteeism and turnover.
West and Dawson proved that there were many clear associations between happiness and workplace performance. Strikingly, the data showed that an improvement in employee engagement of one standard deviation led to a decrease in patient mortality of 2.4%. This means if there were two hospitals, and everything else was exactly the same but one had happy staff and the other had unhappy staff, more people would die in the second hospital!
The benefits of caring about happiness
I can already hear some people saying We run organisations, we don’t run hospitals.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen the impact focusing on happiness has had on companies I’ve worked at, and with. These days we measure the happiness of hundreds of thousands of employees across 90 countries. I’ve seen countless data points that highlight how focusing on culture and happiness has changed businesses and changed lives.
Plus, studies have linked happiness to increased success in a range of business settings. To give you a flavour, here are some hard-hitting facts:
Happy employees are 13% more productive. (Oxford University Said Business School)
Happy employees take 10x fewer sick days. (Wall Street Journal)
Happy companies performed better on the stock market by 2.3-3.8%. (Grow the Pie)
In fact, this research took me so far that I’ve written a whole book on the subject. You can get Freedom to be Happy: A business case for happiness on Amazon, and at bookstores including Waterstones and Blackwells. In the book, I go into more detail about the science of happiness, and how you can create a business case for why you should invest in happiness in your organisation.