Do not focus on making your employees happy

August 24, 2017

The American Declaration of Independence famously speaks of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Within the Employee Engagement world, it is consistently reported that a happy workforce leads to a successful company. Companies with happy employees outperform the competition by 20%. This is a great statistic and companies should, of course, be seeking to create a working environment where their employees feel happy, but is placing the emphasis on happiness alone misguided?

Many companies already use a variety of tactics to improve the wellbeing of employees. Flexible working hours, a games room, social events, key insurances, and of course the regularly sought after salary increase are common in businesses of all sizes. These efforts can be effective in making your employees happy, but the trouble is that they only provide an adrenalin shot, then that happy feeling quickly fades.

The danger is that happiness can lead to stagnation. For example, you may have an employee whose current happiness is defined by how many hours they can kill wasting time on their phone without anyone noticing. It’s unlikely that this happiness will be long lived, but nevertheless, it creates an undesirable position for a company to be in. Of course, it must also be noted that there are a number of external influences that a company cannot affect, the death of an employee family member being one such example.

Improve Employee Engagement

For most people, happiness can be something of a bumpy road. Some of us hit a few more potholes than others, but it’s normally those who have clarity of the direction they’re heading who are likely to dust themselves down and get back on the right track faster.

So if you want a happy workforce, it’s time you focused on the ‘controllables’. Happiness is a by-product of many elements and in reality, the American Declaration of Independence would be better placed as Life, Happiness and the Pursuit of Liberty. Why? Liberty is defined as ‘the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions’. If your employees can achieve this, they will be well on the way to being happy.

So what are the ‘controllables’? We have identified purpose or meaning, emotional security, recognition, and positive connections as being fundamental controllables for a happy workforce.

Purpose (meaning)

  • A recent study conducted by a team led by Dr Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at University of North Carolina, examined self-reported levels of happiness and meaning, and the results were alarming: a whopping 75% of subject participants scored high on levels of happiness, but low on levels of meaning.
  • A recent New York Times survey, which reached more than 12,000 employees across a broad range of companies and industries, found that 50% of those questioned report a lack a level of meaning and significance at work.
  • Employees who have meaning don’t just stick around longer; they also report 1.7 times higher job satisfaction, and are 1.4 times more engaged at work.
  • A Stanford research project, asked nearly 400 Americans whether they thought their lives were happy, meaningful, or both. The project found that respondents’ understanding of each term, in part, was based around how each relates to social interactions. Happiness is associated with being a “taker,” focusing on what one gets from others. Meaningfulness, in contrast, comes from being a “giver” and suspending one’s desires in return for a fair amount of self-sacrifice.
  • In fact, researchers conducting a longitudinal studyfound that people who demonstrate a sense of purpose in their lives have a 15% lower risk of premature death.
  • “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically…but it would make no sense, it would be without meaning as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.” Albert Einstein on the limitations of scientific description.

Improve Employee Engagement


Having a ‘purpose’ for most is not normally a dramatic ‘bolt from the sky’ inspirational event. Individuals quite often lack purpose purely because there is a disconnect between ‘what’ the individual is doing in their work, and ‘why’ they are doing it.  

Hold a brainstorming session with your team and ask them to suggest all the different ways that their job could have a positive impact on people’s lives. Once completed, find ways to imbed these suggestions into their daily working lives.


Emotional Security

  • Scientists have found that when we’re in a group of people who all have something in common, the ‘herd mentality’ or sense of belonging causes a rise in our levels of the happiness hormone serotonin.
  • People tend to experience the highest rise in levels of the hormone most responsible for the fight or flight response (cortisol) occurs from various types of threat, be it to our person, our sense of social acceptance, our self esteem and social status.

Employees perform best when they feel they’re in a safe environment so developing a culture where employees are able to speak about their problems is imperative. For example, one of our Core Values are CB Benefits is: 

Openness. We have an open and honest work environment where all subjects, be it personal, or operational, are open for discussion through the right channels. It’s important that our employees never hesitate to speak about a problem that they are experiencing for fear of the response from their colleagues or our clients.


  • When asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents replied “give recognition”
  • 70% of employees feel that gamification would not be a positive addition to recognition
  • 69% of employees would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciatedImprove Employee Engagement
  • Only 14% of organisations provide managers with the necessary tools for rewards and recognition
  • 41% of companies that use peer-to-peer recognition have seen positive increases in customer satisfaction
  • Companies with recognition programs that are highly effective at improving employee engagement have 31% lower voluntary turnover

Improve Employee Engagement


Recognition is one of the easiest things for senior management to do well.   As individuals we like certainty, but also variation. It’s important to deliver recognition with both of these in mind:

  • Certainty – Have clear, realistic Key Performance Indicators, and reward individuals or the team collectively for meeting their targets.
  • Variation – Be spontaneous. If individuals or the team has done well, treat them. Maybe a voucher, or taking the team out for a few drinks.

Lastly, don’t just reward the best performers, also reward individuals for development and improvement.

Positive Connections

  • A new study conducted on a large population (more than 800 people) found that stress did not predict mortality in those who helped others, but it did in those who did not.
  • Another telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure, whereas strong social connections lead to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity.
  • Kindness makes us happier. On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as a ‘Helper’s High’. In fact, people who perform a single kind act a day for ten days have reported experiencing a significant increase in overall happiness when compared to those who don’t.
  • It has also been noted that kindness can have a physical effect. Witnessing, performing, and being on the receiving end of kind acts can lead to calmness, relaxation, less headaches, eased pain, lower blood pressure and increased energy levels.

Improve Employee Engagement

TOP TIP! Organise social and team events out of the office. Not all your team members will have the same interests or will be at the same stage of their life so make sure individuals don’t always feel excluded.

Timed team activities during working hours can be a great stress relief. At CB Benefits, we hold a quiz every Friday, which creates a lot of laughter and banter.

If you commit to building a culture that integrates all of the above at your company, you are going to see dramatic effects on your staff happiness, and your company success. Trust, support and believe in your employees and they will replay you tenfold.

So how do you get started?

One of the best ways to begin improving the happiness of your staff is to conduct a comprehensive Employee Engagement Survey. These surveys provide the opportunity to find out the current health of your employee engagement and the general level of employee happiness in your company.

One of the big problems with the majority of Employee Engagement Surveys is that they focus on what ‘you the company’ are doing for your employees rather than obtaining a clear picture of what employees are doing for themselves. Knowing what employees are doing is essential, as ‘you can lead a horse to water but can’t make them drink.’

Our Employee Engagement Surveys cover all key areas. This includes an understanding of your employees’ habitual and emotional behaviours. This understanding will be essential to creating a culture within your organisation that exceeds that of your competitors.

We usually charge £2995 for our survey, but for a short time only (and exclusively for our readers) we are offering it at the reduced fee of £1445.

We manage the whole survey process from start to finish. This includes:

  • An initial consultation with you
  • Surveying your employees
  • Results reported directly to you
  • A workable proposal of the areas and strategies for improving your engagement

Don’t wait until your star employee hands in their notice, book our survey today and help your employees perform better with improved employee engagement.