What’s most important in your job? Is it security? Money? Career prospects? Or is it, as the American Declaration of Independence says, the pursuit of happiness that makes you get out of bed every morning?
Happiness is happening this year. David Cameron believes a statistical measure of the nation’s wellbeing should be as important as GDP. Eminent economists such as Joseph Stiglitz are among those recommending governments include sustainability and wellbeing when ascertaining societal growth.
The first phase of the UK’s attempt to quantify happiness has now been unveiled by the Office of National Statistics, which has been given £2m to develop data to gauge wellbeing. ONS added four questions to its general household survey and announced in December that three-quarters of people rated themselves as seven out of 10 in terms of how satisfied they were in life.
The survey asked a number of additional questions including satisfaction with work. This is where employers should be concerned after satisfaction with ‘financial situation’ (6.2 out of 10), satisfaction with ‘work situation’ scored the lowest - 6.7 out of 10. And when it came to satisfaction with work-life balance it was even lower, with an average of 6.4. But in a time of austerity, does it really matter? Is a happiness index an expensive, politically motivated piece of twaddle? Certainly, Cameron’s determination to push happiness through has resulted in mirth, scepticism and even disgust on various forums.
Employers do not exist to create happiness. Work is a contract - in its simplest form, voluntary labour for a fair wage. And yet there are convincing arguments for the benefits of engaging and motivating staff for caring about the wellbeing of employees. In the 21st century these arguments are stronger than ever, as knowledge and innovation-based economies depend on discretionary creative input, not traditional manpower.
Systematically measuring happiness is not easy, but other countries, notably France and Canada, are doing it too. Putting the findings at the heart of policy making is, however, a global first. It may not work, but if it generates anything meaningful it may be the start of regarding a nation’s health, growth and success as being based on more than just production.