26 January, 2017

Happy offices make a difference to 'the bottom line'

Dubai Hills Mall

Dubai Hills Mall

How SMEs can motivate their employees by rethinking the workplace – and make a tangible difference to the bottom line.

26 January 2017

With the UAE government launching a Ministry of happiness last year, positivity is high up on the agenda in the region. The difference employee happiness can make to business organisations can be measured in increased productivity but also increased brand recognition.

Happiness boosts productivity

The financial benefits of happiness are tangible. In the UK, The Social Market foundation conducted a unique experiment to measure its impact on productivity. The organisation randomly selected individuals and made them happier either through the use of a short (10 minute) comedy clip or through the provision of drinks and snacks. These individuals were about 12% more productive as a result. More importantly, the study found that there was a causal link between unhappiness and decreased productivity that had a lasting effect of about two years. “Private sector firms cannot ignore potential productivity gains in the current economic climate, and this might help public sector departments to offset the negative impact of spending cuts said the author of the report, Daniel Sgroi, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at Warwick University in the UK. “Having scientific support for generating happiness-productivity cycles within the workforce should also help managers to justify work-practices aimed at boosting happiness on productivity grounds,” he added.

Upbeat workplaces

Khurram Qureshi is the founder of Happiness Labs, a Dubai-based start-up that helps companies create upbeat workplaces and increase productivity. “Many companies do not think employees affect the bottom line but they do,” he insisted, citing a report by research company Gallup which showed that unhappy workers cost US businesses between US$450 and US$550bln a year in lost productivity due to absences and sick leaves. “Sick leaves add up. Customers who can’t reach an organisation become unsatisfied. It can damage your brand, affect your business directly,” Qureshi warns.

So what can SMEs do to be happier places? Khurram Qureshi has identified three key areas. First is office design. It sounds obvious but SMEs should ensure their offices are simply nice places to work in, with enough space and light, proper temperatures etc.  "You may be the world’s ‘happiest’ brand like Tic Tac or McDonalds if your employees have to work in a dark, sweltering hot or freezing cold place they are unlikely to stay”. Second is communication with digital tools. “So how the management communicates. I strongly advise using digital solutions to enhance communication, like using videos for training rather than tedious manuals". Qureshi strongly advocates the use of social media. "Every employee has a mobile phone, so even SMEs with a lack of resources can build their own brand on social media. Social networks are a place where businesses can easily communicate their performance targets, increasing transparency and visibility, wish an employee a happy birthday or even have the CEO tweeting. And the beauty is, this goes across to the customer," he remarks. Being communicative is very important, because employees need recognition to be happy, he says. Finally, focus on wellness, the creation of sports or health programmes for employees helps improve their health and makes them feel better physically and mentally.

Businesses influenced by “tech culture”

The happiness consultant argues that lack of modern technology and proper training will also lead to younger employees quitting their jobs because Millennials - “the Connected Tribe” - will not hesitate to leave the organisations they work for if their needs are not being met. This is a risk SMEs simply cannot take. Amid the global war for talent, they need to develop a positive image to attract the new generation of employees. 

The world’s largest tech companies are an inspiration. At their headquarters the dress code is relaxed, the food and drinks are free and recreation opportunities abound, from pool tables to games consoles or yoga. AirBnB employees can bring their dogs to the office and Facebook staff get up to US$20,000 worth of family planning benefits. Google meanwhile will take care of your laundry.

This new work culture is spreading to other industries including smaller organisations like SMEs which are now trying to offer more creative and stimulating environments. Loft-style space, flexible, open-plan, co-working environments, cafeterias and informal meeting areas to reflect the café culture of the Millennials are a big trend. Didn’t Apple founder, Steve Jobs, famously say: “ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, they happen in corridors”?

© Accelerate SME 2017