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Make 2015 a Happy One

Celeste Olivier
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Human Capital – this is how many organisations today refer to what they call their ‘most valuable asset’, the people. By definition, human capital is seen as the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value.


Understanding that it’s the people in our organisations who produce the economic value for our organisations it is then not surprising that we refer to our employees as human capital. While humans have the ability to create the economic value and produce what is required in the workplace they also come with an entire set of unique challenges. This frustration was something Henry Ford struggled with when he questioned: “Why is it that I always get the whole person when what I really want is a pair of hands”? Seeing that we cannot just get the pair of hands we need to know that in order to get the best out of our employees we need to engage them as whole beings.

Organisational attitudes stipulating that they pay employees to do a job and therefore the employees need to perform irrespective of what is happening in and around them cannot be sustainable. For years it was often stated that a happy employee will be a productive employee. And while many organisations heard this, it was not really something that was taken to heart. Purely because companies felt it was not their job to ensure employees’ happiness.

However, the link between employee happiness and productivity can no longer be ignored. Research conducted by Professor Andrew Oswald, Dr Eugene Proto and Dr Daniel Sgroi (2014) provided evidence that happiness makes people more productive. These economists found that happiness made people approximately 12% more productive. Productivity and happiness therefore seems to go hand-in-hand.
Productivity ultimately has a massive impact on your organisation’s bottom line and the more unhappy employees are, the less productive they will become. Research by Gallup discovered that 70% of the American workforce disengaged on the job, leading to an estimated loss of $550 billion from the economy.

Inevitably if organisations don’t start caring about the happiness of their employees they will feel it on the bottom line. Keeping employees happy and productive requires open communication, regular recognition of achievements and constructive feedback according to staffing employment agency Adecco. It is therefore more than just generous salaries and flexible vacation policies that impacts on employee happiness.

According to Graham Winfrey (7 Keys to Creating the Best Work Environment) organisations can adopt a couple of simple measures to increase the general happiness of employees. He suggests the following:

1.    Be Flexible
It is estimated that 1 in 4 employees experience high levels of conflict between work and family life. Offering employees flexibility by allowing them to work flexi hours or providing them with the option to work remotely will have a positive impact on their work experience.

2.    Communicate
In general it appears that employees are not satisfied with the level of information they receive from their workplaces. Besides keeping employees in the loop frequent communication also reminds employees that they are part of a team.
Adopting an open door policy will allow for:

  • An open flow of communication
  • Accessibility
  • Closer working relationships
  • Fast access to information

3.    Recognise Success
According to Winfrey only 24% of employees are satisfied with the level of recognition they receive. While companies still use the top 5 forms of recognition awards (certificates, cash, gift certificates, food and company merchandise), 70% of employees felt that meaningful recognition had no monetary value.

Providing engaging work environments, status based recognition and fun can be more beneficial than tangible rewards.

4.     Offering Development Opportunities
Only 39% of people feel that there are sufficient internal career opportunities in their workplace. Companies can provide professional development by:

  • Offering on-the-job training
  • Reimbursing for continued education and training
  • Creating opportunities for employees to connect and network
  • Establishing a graduate scheme to fast track promising alumni
  • Adopting a mentorship programme

5.    Build Trust
90% of workers felt that the most valued attributes in workplace relationships are: honesty, trust and fairness. Trust can actively be fostered by:

  • Proactively building interpersonal trust by regularly meeting with individual team members to chat about personal and professional lives.
  • Communicating with predictability


6.    Give and Receive Feedback
Effective feedback lets employees know how they are meeting their goals. Ensure that feedback is:

  • Timely – address issues when they arise
  • Focus on the future – avoid too much criticism of the past

7.    Provide a Sense of Purpose
Employees who are able to find meaning and purpose within their roles are according to Winfrey healthier, happier and more productive. Explain to employees exactly where they fit into the company and how they contribute to the success of the organisation.


Celéste Olivier is the EAP manager at Kaelo Consulting. She has a BA in social work from the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg) and an MA in occupational social work from the University of the Witwatersrand.


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