A few years ago the popular UK restaurant Nando’s undertook research to find out why some of its branches were performing better than others. It found a rather fascinating correlation. The happier employees were, measured in an annual staff survey, the better the performance.
As a result, Nando’s changed its managers’ bonuses so that up to 50% was awarded according to how happy workers were in the survey. As Henry Stewart says in ‘The Happy Manifesto’, published last year, the company still wanted to maximise growth and profits, but it believed the way to achieve that “was not to target those elements but instead to target the key factor that creates profit and growth”.
It worked. In 2010, Nando’s was voted the best large business to work for in the UK in the Sunday Times’ annual list.
Stewart’s book provides a fascinating look into what makes businesses and their people more effective, and tries to breakdown the conditions needed for happier, more productive workforces.
But Stewart and Nando’s are not radicals, or avant-garde thinkers proposing links between happiness and success that nobody has yet heard of. In fact, they represent a growing number that believes caring for staff isn’t just a social necessity but an economical one too.
In the Western world at least, old fashioned work models of plutocrats standing over their workers with crack and whip have long disappeared, while 19th century ideas about workers’ rights, trade unions and equal pay have become culturally embedded in the social fabric. Today, we care about the cocoa bean farmers who produce our chocolate and the children of the third world who stitch our shoes.
However, financial crises in recent years have shone the light closer to home. There is a growing feeling that capitalism must give more back to the people who help grease the cogs of the corporate machine. An example of this is the London Living Wage (LLW), the push to increase basic minimum wage in the nation’s capital from the national rate of £6.19 an hour to £8.55 an hour. Proponents of the LLW, such as Andrew Large of the Cleaning and Support Services Association, argue that it’s not just about the increase in salary, although this does help, but the wider move to help those with basic salaries, often at the bottom of the organisational food chain, feel more valued, more respected, and ultimately happier.
In the magazine this month, you will notice a number of examples of organisations displaying a paradigm shift in attitudes concerning their staff. A story from CoreNet Global, the international association for corporate real estate professionals, on page 12, proposes a change from what it calls “two dimensional measures of cost per square foot” to “three-dimensional outcome-based metrics such as quality of life per square foot”. A statement released by the association says “the quality of work environments and work experiences is becoming a form of risk management against a reputation-driven landscape.”
Similarly in our design and fit out feature this issue, we hear from Jorgen Josefsson of Scandinavian Business Seating, who highlights the link between employee comfort and productivity. He describes how a simple thing such as ergonomic chairs can reduce pain and therefore increase interaction and efficiency.
Finally, in a special focus I speak to Jane Bristow, managing director of Sodexo’s Education business. Bristow tells me that as a facilities services provider for many schools and universities across the UK, her team’s most important job is to create the perfect environment to facilitate learning. The happier the student, the better their performance. This helps Bristow’s client win new business (new students) and therefore create greater revenue.
Employers can no longer ignore the wellbeing and psychology of staff and the results this brings if measured. Indeed, happiness might just be the biggest game changer in the 21st century workplace.
By Simon Iatrou • firstname.lastname@example.org
Extract FMJ February 2012