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The price of happiness

What happens when people are happy in their work? Or rather, what happens when too many people are too happy in their work?

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It’s a key tenet for many employers that they try to ensure employees are content, because the happier staff are, the less likely they are to move. That’s great if you’re the employer with the happy worker, but not so great if you’re an organisation trying to recruit someone in a market where there are shortages of qualified people.

In a world where certain skills are in short supply, it behoves companies to try to ensure the people they have with those skills are as happy as possible so they are less tempted to look elsewhere.

But if you’re the unfortunate business trying to find one of those people with a rare skill, how do you entice them into jumping ship? How can you promise them that they will be more happy or content if they join your company? How do you even start trying to make that quantifiable? Do you take everything the other employer offers and then add more on top? What counts as “more” in this instance?

Part of an employee’s happiness may be the work environment, some of it may be the short commute, the flexible hours, his or her personal dynamic with the rest of the people in the company, the relationship with the management team, the company ethos. Given that it’s just not possible for any business to replicate an employee’s complete experience in another company, it’s close to impossible to guarantee they will be more happy if they join your business.

Of course, there’s always money. More of it can help focus the mind and provide an incentive for someone to leave. Career development is another good motivating factor. The only drawback is that if you employ those two factors in your armoury, you’ll need to be able to deliver on them.

Keeping employees happy becomes more significant when there’s a shortage of potential replacements. That usually coincides with a time of prosperity when the economy is performing well. Things can change if there’s a downturn or crash. When that happens and businesses start shedding jobs, an employee’s happiness in a job becomes secondary to keeping it.

That shouldn’t give companies licence to make things harder for their workers just because they know there are few, if any, alternatives for their employees. Being too heavy-handed might work while the downturn is happening, but it won’t guarantee loyalty and could provide an extra spur to people to leave for somewhere they will be happier when things start to pick up.

It might be difficult to put a price on happiness, but the price of unhappiness can be very steep if a company loses its most valuable people to another business. Happiness is important. As Ken Dodd put it way back when: “Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess.”

This was last published in January 2018

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