Last November, David Cameron said it was “high time we admitted” that economic assessments alone were “an incomplete way of measuring a country’s progress.” He announced a new measurement would be introduced this April, one which would reveal the nation’s well-being – in other words, how happy and healthy we all feel.
Critics immediately described the announcement as “wooly” and an attempt to deflect opinion away from the state of the economy. But Mr Cameron responded by claiming that when people are happy and healthy they tend to be more productive, spend more, cost less and therefore contribute more towards economic success.
Last year a study published by Warwick Business School revealed that when people are unhappy at work they can be 10% less productive than the average worker. Conversely, high-spirits raised productivity by 12% (1). Health also has a big impact on productivity, and not just through absence rates. An Australian study in 2005 found that healthy workers were almost three times more productive than their unhealthy colleagues (2).
So there are clear benefits, not only for our nation, but for employers to improve levels of happiness, health and well-being at work. But how can you tell how happy and healthy your workforce is?
An interesting new study from NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) could help here. NEBOSH’s research among more than 1,000 working people across the UK has produced a “happiness benchmark” for employers.
NEBOSH found that 60% of UK workers are happy at work, with 10% describing themselves as “extremely happy” when doing their job. At the same time, 84% of those questioned said they were happy in their lives away from work, with 20% feeling “extremely happy” when not working.
“I hope this is useful data for employers, particularly HR managers,” said NEBOSH Chief Executive, Teresa Budworth. “By simply asking their own staff how happy they feel at work, employers can compare their findings against our representative sample of UK workers.
“I believe employers should aim for 84% of happy employees or higher. Such as result would suggest staff are just as happy, if not more happy at work than they are in their everyday lives.”
Of course assessing happiness at work, is only one step towards improving it. Something HR managers should note from NEBOSH’s research is that happiness at work does not appear to be linked to job type or pay-level. NEBOSH found that 61% of higher managerial and professional workers are happy at work, as are 61% of semi and unskilled manual workers.
“Ours is not the first study to show that financial incentives do not motivate employees in the long-term,” said Teresa. “The key to better productivity and staff retention is a friendly, relaxed working environment and making employees feel valued and respected.”
One area that employers could target to improve happiness, according to Teresa Budworth, is people’s health and well-being. The NEBOSH study found that almost a quarter (22%) of UK workers were unhappy with their general health and well-being.
According to official figures, almost half a million workers in Britain suffer from work-related stress. Overall, around 30 million working days are lost each year in the UK through ill health. Despite this, NEBOSH found that only 1 in five (21%) people have been given information, guidance or training at work on ways to avoid stress, while just 13% have been offered advice on exercise or healthy diet by their employer.
“Health and happiness at work are closely linked,” said Teresa. “And improving both can have a significant impact on work performance. I hope more employers will follow the Government’s lead by measuring people’s well-being and seeing it as a key indicator of success.”
NEBOSH has produced a report summarising its research findings. The report, entitled ‘Happiness, Health and Well-being at Work’ can be downloaded from the NEBOSH website
(2) Research commissioned by Medibank Private (2005) – see http://www.theworkfoundation.com/assets/docs/publications/216_Bupa_report.pdf
Poll conducted by ICM among 1,153 working people between 6th and 9th of January 2011. Further information, including regional breakdown and report Happiness, Health and Well-being at Work, available on request. See contact information below.
NEBOSH is an independent examining board and awarding body with charitable status. It offers a comprehensive range of globally-recognised, vocationally-related qualifications designed to meet the health, safety, environmental and risk management needs of all places of work in both the private and public sectors.