In pursuit of happiness
It's raining happiness.
Article first published in @thehindubusinessline.com click here to read original
On March 20, the world celebrated #InternationalDayOfHappiness. Earlier, one heard such days were the invention of greeting card companies. Now, I suspect these are hashtags created by social media sites to generate traffic.
Whether by coincidence or design, I was invited to speak at a Happiness Conclave last week. Just then, as if by synchronicity, the Madhya Pradesh government announced its plan to introduce a Happiness Index for the State.
At the conference, I learnt companies now have Chief Happiness Officers following the example of Google. Gallup pioneered it, but I believe many other human resource consultancy firms are helping organisations to set up metrics and measure the happiness quotient of their employees. Some companies, it seems, have gone to the extent of including happiness of their team members in the key performance indicators (KPIs) of bosses and assign up to 30 per cent of their variable pay to it.
The eminent keynote speaker kicked off the conference quoting empirical evidence that said people below 25 and above 55 were the happiest in any organisation. That set me wondering if my parents had made an error in registering my date of birth, because I am well past fifty-five and still not happy.
I quickly Googled my symptoms to find the immediate cause of unhappiness was the reported shutting down of the iconic Tunday Kebabi in Lucknow, a regular haunt, due to shortage of buffalo meat. Then I reflected, at least my boss must be a happy man that he does not have my happiness as a KRA (key result area), otherwise he would have to take responsibility for the actions of the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
But, more seriously, can we even pretend to be responsible for other people’s happiness, not just that of co-workers but also that of family and friends? At work, it might be counter-intuitive to suggest that the happiest employees are not always the most engaged. Think of some government offices where employees are happy doing nothing or the colleague who is walking on air after an exciting weekend with his girlfriend. Equally, there are people who are deeply troubled within, who give better than their best to the organisation because through that they find their sense of purpose.
It may be fashionable to argue that happiness is not just the art of living (no pun there) but also a science. But, all science cannot be reduced to mathematics. Even if the latter is true, the equations are bound to be far more complex than what Einstein formulated.
Actually, it may be argued that the ‘Theory of Relativity’ is most applicable to happiness, because, after all, it is relative and has far too many variables. First, the workplace is not homogeneous, less so today than before. Most organisations except very young startups have a wide cross-section of people spanning the range from baby-boomers to millennials. The so called “happy 55s” cannot even begin to figure out what makes the “Happy 25s” tick despite any amount of reading up or coaching. Genetics and conditioning play a major role in determining mindset. People carry a lot of their personal life to work and vice-versa, which the organisation cannot be expected to deal with. Besides, in this age of virtual corporations how do you deliver happiness remotely to employees working out of home or on the field? Not through WhatsApp, Facebook clicks or SMSs for sure.
Lest readers accuse me of lapsing into the cliché of each one having to find their own happiness, let me say organisations can do a lot to reduce the causes of unhappiness. This can be through curbing negative behaviour, encouraging constructive conflict and dissent and embracing diversity (not just gender).
Equally, making employees feel valued and empowered can do wonders for motivation. Similarly, marrying skills, competencies and interest with roles helps to keep people in the zone. While having gyms, workouts, yoga and meditation sessions is fashionable, more dollars can be set aside for the mental well-being of employees. Easy access to psychiatrists, counsellors and coaches help to unlock potential.
A bright and cheerful office with a lot of natural light is certainly a mood-booster just as clean toilets and good coffee are. But, flowers on anniversaries, cake-cutting on birthdays or rah-rah sessions during the day hardly goes beyond tokenism.
Finally, as one of my eminent co-panelists at the conclave summed up neatly, while happiness is everybody’s business, it cannot be turned into a business.