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How tech can drive employee happiness in the future of work

Research shows that happy employees are also productive ones.

Allie Nawrat

employee happiness
Credit: Korneeva Maha via Twenty20.

Unleash Your PeopleThere is a clear business case for employers focusing on employee happiness — how can tech help?

  • Research shows happy workers are productive workers.
  • The pandemic has had a detrimental effect on employee happiness due to a lack of connection between colleagues.
  • We take a look at how technology can foster employee happiness in the hybrid future of work.

Happy workers are productive workers. That’s simply a fact.

For instance, a 2019 study by University of Oxford’s Said Business school found that workers were 13% more productive when they are happy.

The research was based on BT call center workers over a six-month period; Said Business School professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve commented: “We found that when workers are happier, they work faster by making more calls per hour worked and, importantly, convert more calls to sales.”

Research by Stanford University stated that if a company pays an employee $65,000 a year, that person being unhappy in their role would cost the business $75 per week in lost productivity. So for 10 unhappy employees earning the same $65,000 salary, that would total $750 a week or $39,000 per year.

Happy employees also take fewer sick days and are likely to stay in their jobs longer, which, in turn saves companies a significant amount of money.

In addition, companies known for having happy employees and a good working culture attract more and better talent. Their reputation precedes them and people want to work for them, meaning talent acquisition teams have to spend less money on advertising roles.

Ultimately, there is a clear business case for focusing on ensuring employees are happy at work.

COVID-19, Remote working, and happiness

Unfortunately, the pandemic has been a huge catalyst for unhappiness. As a result of social distancing and lockdowns, there has been a significant drop in human connection – the number one predictor of human happiness, according to happiness consultant and founder of Arrive at Happy Tia Graham.

Linked to this, stress and burnout are at all-time high as people are not just working from home – they are also, effectively, living at work. According to a Frontiers study, the reduction in work-life balance as a result of the pandemic was closely associated with emotional exhaustion and unhappiness.

In terms of the workplace, Graham explains that “a lot of happiness at work comes from team communication” and belonging.

But creating a sense of workplace belonging is significantly harder to do with a distributed workforce.

Companies inevitably and understandably leaned on technology. While employees are using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other video conferencing software for work purposes, Graham notes that companies should also use the same platforms for group extra-curricular activities, like wine tastings or exercise classes.

Graham also highlighted how some companies she works with have embraced gamification and virtual escape rooms to “get people laughing and connecting” as a team – and importantly not just talking about work and deadlines.

These activities, which are much more engaging than just drinks on Zoom on a Friday – and aim to go some way in terms of replacing social events and retreats companies organized pre-pandemic – allow employers to foster belonging and expand the company culture into the virtual world.

Emeraude Escape, a virtual escape room company, argues in a recent report that gamification gives employees the chance to escape from back-to-back conference calls and to break up their daily grind.

Instead of sitting awkwardly on an unstructured whole company or department Zoom call where everyone is talking over each other, these activities go some way to providing the casual socialization everyone has sorely missed over the last year.

[Read more: 6 mental wellbeing apps to beat employee burnout for good.]

What DOES the future look like?

It increasingly seems unlikely that there will be a return to the way work used to be. Very few people seem keen to go back to exhausting themselves commuting into the office five days a week, when they have proven they can do their job well – if not better – from home.

On the flip side, it’s clear that full-time remote working is also not the ideal solution for many. Instead, the future of work looks to be hybrid where employees can mix up their time between the office and remote locations.

[Read more: Want to retain staff? Don’t force them to return to the office]

While it is clear that employers have taken employee wellbeing and happiness more seriously over the past year, hybrid working presents a new huge challenge for workplace culture.

Leaders and managers are used to either having everyone in the office with them or everyone being at home. But now they are grappling with having some people in the office a lot, and others only in a little. This adds a whole new level of complexity when it comes to creating a sense of belonging.

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman noted in a CNBC interview that it was crucial that the those working from home do not become “second class citizens”.

Technology can help bridge the gap

Graham notes that leadership needs to bridge the gap between remote and in-office workers, and ensure no-one feels excluded.

So she suggests that every time an employer organizes an event – whether it is a guest speaker, a yoga class, or just after-work drinks in the office – that it should all be done in a way that means those at home can take part, such as, for example, live-streaming the event virtually.

In the pandemic, companies found ways to carry out these types of events when everyone was working virtually – it is crucial they don’t get lazy now and go back to only in-person events with those in the office.

There is also a need to use technology to replace those casual, so-called water cooler conversations.

According to Graham, managers need to take the time to carry out informal office hours with all their staff. They may be working from home – but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to share that they have a new hobby or that they’ve just bought a new house.

HR tech can help companies do this. One example is Office Vibe, which has a specific solution for remote teams allowing for one-on-one meetings. Office Vibe also encourages better employee listening, so companies ensure they know their workers’ pain points and try their best to tackle them head-on.

In addition, Graham notes employers should use more casual meetings to “make sure those working from home are [also] publicly acknowledged in front of the team”. It is very easy to congratulate and celebrate the achievements of those in the office, but it is harder to remember to do so for remote workers.

But doing this makes that employee feel valued and noticed, thereby driving that sense of belonging that is central to employee happiness, and ultimately productivity.

Another way technology can mitigate some of the complexities of hybrid working is by helping to keep people organized and up to date with company announcements. To foster that sense of belonging, those working from home need to feel like they are equally as aware of what is happening in the company as those in the office.

Beekeeper is another example mentioned by Graham – it is particularly useful for shift workers in hospitality to allow them to stay on top of announcements. Other examples include SpeakAp, which services clients like Domino’s and Ikea; and Social Chorus, which is used by the likes of Amazon, AB InBev, and GSK. These companies almost act as a replacement for old-fashioned noticeboards.

All of this tech needs to be used thoughtfully to avoid virtual fatigue. There is a need to ensure technology is making the person’s life easier and better, according to Graham; it is important to not overload employees with these initiatives and only implement those that staff are actually interested in.

The logistics of hybrid working is going to be a big learning curve for companies – however, given how well employees and businesses pivoted to remote working in a healthcare crisis, with the help of tech, the right balance can definitely be struck.

[Read more: Why workplace tech is failing employees – and what HR can do about it.]

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