Employee happiness or wellbeing?

I'm involved in a head office move project. A lot of people are not thrilled about the move for various reasons that include concerns about threats to job security, loss of status (as people lose 'their' offices and space becomes shared,) need to learn new skills, change in culture, changes in communication norms, ability to make the change, shifts in influence and control, changes to commute route. Each of these concerns is also an opportunity – but somehow the opportunities get drowned out by the noise of the concerns. People don't think they're going to be 'happy' in the new space.

So I was interested to read a piece in the World Future Society email update on the economics and politics of well-being. This relates that:

A new survey will examine the need to look "Beyond GDP" in determining national well-being. The survey, conducted by GlobeScan, will be funded by Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil). The new survey is not a 'happiness survey' because as the Ethical Markets Media representative sugggests

'Happiness' measures [are concerning]as an alternative to GDP, because [they] can become politicized. Among the pitfalls of "Gross National Happiness" … is the inherent subjectivity of happiness.

A population surveyed may report high levels of happiness for many reasons. Some cultures seem to produce happier people than other cultures. [And] a community can report high levels of happiness while in danger from undiscovered contaminants in their water supply or radiation levels in their homes due to spent wastes mixed with cement in their construction.

Taking the view that employee 'happiness' is not what the client is after in the move, but that employee 'wellbeing' is a necessary aspiration I was pleased to learn that

A Kansas State University researcher says employers should be concerned about the well-being of their employees because it could be the underlying factor to success.

Thomas Wright, Jon Wefald Leadership Chair in Business Administration and professor of management at K-State, has found that when employees have high levels of psychological well-being and job satisfaction, they perform better and are less likely to leave their job — making happiness a valuable tool for maximizing organizational outcomes.

Happiness is a broad and subjective word, but a person's well-being includes the presence of positive emotions, like joy and interest, and the absence of negative emotions, like apathy and sadness, Wright said.

Wright said psychologically well employees consistently exhibit higher job performance, with significant correlations in the 0.30 to 0.50 range. Not only are these findings statistically significant, they are practically relevant as well, he said. A correlation of 0.30 between well-being and performance indicates that roughly 10 percent of the variance in job performance is associated with differences in well-being, while a correlation of 0.50 points to a substantial 25 percent of the variance.

In some of Wright's academic and consulting work, he has used a form of utility analysis to determine the level of actual savings tied to employee well-being. For example, in a sample of management personnel with average salaries in the $65,000 range, he found that being psychologically distressed could cost the organization roughly $75 a week per person in lost productivity. With 10 employees that translates to $750 per week in performance variance; for 100 employees the numbers are $7,500 per week or $390,000 per year.

An excessive negative focus in the workplace could be harmful, such as in performance evaluations where negatives like what an employee failed to do are the focus of concentration, he said. When properly implemented in the workplace environment, positive emotions can enhance employee perceptions of finding meaning in their work.

In addition, studies have shown that being psychologically well has many benefits for the individual, Wright said. Employees with high well-being tend to be superior decision makers, demonstrate better interpersonal behaviors and receive higher pay, he said. His recent research also indicates that psychologically well individuals are more likely to demonstrate better cardiovascular health.

Wright said happiness is not only a responsibility to ourselves, but also to our co-workers, who often rely on us to be steadfast and supportive. In addition, Employee well-being affects the organization overall. Studies have shown that after controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, job tenure and educational attainment level, psychological well-being still is significantly related to job performance, according to Wright.

The move then, behooves the client organization to pay attention to the psychological well-being of the employees. It is not enough to get staff and their stuff from A to B the organization's movers have to do it in a empathetic way that addresses concerns and presents the real opportunities.

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