Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Happiness in the workplace?

Today I received an email from mental health advocacy charity Mind about their new campaign: 'Put on a Happy Face' - designed to get employers to take their responsibilities for staff welfare seriously.

According to the campaign - backed by this superb video - workplace stress costs British businesses some £26bn each year.

Managers, Mind argues, can prevent much of this by encouraging staff to address stress earlier - and to stop 'putting on a happy face' when things get too much.

Put on a happy face from Mind Charity on Vimeo.

Of course, I hope the campaign is effective, both at improving wellbeing at work and reducing the financial and social costs of workplace stress.

But, for me, the costs to businesses of failing to promote their employees happiness and wellbeing is one of the least troubling aspects of all this unhappiness.

No - I can't help thinking that work shouldn't be how we define ourselves, or measure our success, at all.

Like housing, food, companionship and freedom, I think happiness should be one of the core components of a good life - and reducing costs to business is quite incidental. where it contributes to these goals, great. Where it doesn't, I couldn't care less.

If good jobs promote happy citizens and help achieve these ends, great - but if they don't I'm not sure the job (or the business) is worth having in the first place.

Looking after employees' welfare shouldn't be about saving businesses cash, it should be a fundamental legal requirement.

The new economics foundation, a progressive think-tank, has published widely on the subject of how the economy should be more focused on boosting national happiness rather than national wealth, and has come up with a simple guide to reducing stress - and improving well-being.

Interestingly, none of its conclusions have much to do with the world of work.

So, if you're looking for a to-do list designed to improve your happiness, do give them a try:

(i) Connect - have more interaction with fellow human beings
(ii) Be active - a healthy body is a prerequisite for a healthy mind
(iii) Take notice - 'Be Curious. Take notice of the beautiful' Hey, and the ugly!
(iv) Keep learning - 'Learning encourages social interaction and increases self-esteem and feelings of competency'.
(v) Give - 'Look out as well as in'. Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Join a community group as a volunteer.

This last one calls to mind one of my favourite hippy-dippy bullshit quotes of all time, from Shantideva's 'The way of the Bodhisattva':

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself

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