News & Insights

Read and share Parliament Hill insights and news on the tips, trends, and key developments we’ve identified for benefit management and member satisfaction.

World Happiness – we think it’d be a great idea

The World Happiness Report has spent the past decade researching the quality of life and overall happiness of countries around the world. But what can we learn from their latest report? Dr Mark Pegg takes a look at the Index to see if it sheds any light on the things that make members, and the staff who support them, feel happy.

‘Money doesn’t buy you happiness.’ ‘We were poor, but we were happy.’ Happiness is much more important to us when times are hard, but it’s not easy to define since ‘one person’s joy is another’s sorrow.’

Perhaps surprisingly, it was the United Nations who decided to take on the challenge and create a World Happiness Index - in 2022 it celebrated its 10th year. Let’s look at the Index to see if it passes the reality test and, more importantly, if it sheds any light on things that make staff and members feel happy?

Every year a global happiness survey is undertaken by Gallup - respondents rate their lives in several categories on a scale where their best possible life scores 10, and the worst 0. Areas covered include income, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption. Countries that consistently feature in the top 10 tend to be smaller nations, with Nordic countries scoring highly: Finland currently is in top place. The UK usually features in the top twenty. Long-suffering citizens of Afghanistan will be unsurprised to learn they rated last out of 146 nations.

Frankly, the Index’s definition of happiness feels like it was designed by an unholy committee of economists and management consultants using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (psychological, safety, social affiliation, esteem and self-actualisation) and Herzberg’s motivation and hygiene factors. They are important, but it’s back to basics - do we have enough to live on, have we got a roof over our heads, do we have friends, are we feeling safe and free? For your staff and your members this means the Index is more useful as a baseline in deep background, playing some mood music. Is the nation feeling happier, do people feel life is getting better for them and their families? If the Index sets the bar each year, does it really get to grips with the culture that influences mood and behaviour? What makes people in Scandinavia and the Baltic states happy will probably not work the same way in the UK, and what works in London might not work in Leeds or Cardiff or Edinburgh.

The Index feels more like a level of contentment than a state of genuine happiness. And there’s more. We all know people who are happy at home and in life who are also unhappy workers. We need to complement the Index with insights from other data sources like employee satisfaction surveys. These surveys show us time and again how happiness means some very specific things: how we fit in with corporate culture, how we are managed, and the nature of the job we do.

There is a lot at stake: unhappy workers are invariably less productive, deliver poorer customer service and are less likely to stay. They tend to see the world as glass half empty, not half full and, worst case, they can create a toxic atmosphere with a negative impact on your brand and your service quality. The surveys show happy staff feel closely aligned with the work culture and believe they can contribute to it, they take pride in the organisation’s values and services where they feel able to walk the talk. Their happiness is also driven by how they are managed, having their views heard, being treated with respect, having open and honest dialogue, enjoying strong relationships and the keystone is to have rewarding and interesting work with supportive colleagues.

In business, therefore, a range of indicators can give us some guidance on the elusive state of happiness and the appetite this brings for benefits as part of maintaining a happy workforce with happy members. If workers are unhappy, they are more likely to look for good value for money benefits on offer to cheer themselves up or, if they are feeling happier, they will be more likely to take up and use benefits, spend more, and enjoy life’s little luxuries.

Lastly, I would like to make a totally unscientific case for a belly-laugh scale and a thrill of the fairground factor. The World Happiness Index and Employee Staff Satisfaction Surveys tend to treat happiness much too seriously; happiness should surely be about having more fun. When we go in search of what makes us happy, what gives us genuine pleasure, we know we should get a rush, our dopamine, endorphins and serotonin will start flowing, our face glows, a smile begins to spread and, even better, we start to laugh. Happiness may be difficult to predict and hard to define, but we certainly know it when we’ve found it!


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