How happy employees can boost your bottom line – 5 Happiness strategy stories

Today, more young professionals are making alternative choices to the standard roles assumed by their parents’ generation. As a result, the landscape of work has changed dramatically for this generation, and for generations to follow.


It’s simple. We want more from our jobs than just a salary. We also want to be happy in the place we spend 70% of our waking hours.

This may be surprising, but for small business owners and start-ups, this is actually really great news. Even if we’re not a multi-national company, we can still compete for talent by offering a happier workplace than our big business counterparts.

So how do you create a fun culture and put happiness at the core of your small business? Here are five examples of companies that are focusing on employee happiness and reaping the benefits;

1. Virgin

In a global announcement, the CEO of Virgin, Richard Branson, shared his desire to place people at the centre of everything they do at Virgin. The decision originated from a desire to make all Virgin staff even happier by allowing them to “be themselves and to bring their whole personality to their role.”

Research suggests that being your authentic self at work is a key component to happiness, productivity and engagement. If you’re a small business owner or start-up, this is good news. Imagine, just by hiring for culture fit and embracing authenticity, you can increase productivity in your staff? Sounds like a win-win.

It’s working for Virgin. With Gallup ranking only 29% of us claiming a positive view of airlines, Virgin has a 96% favourability on TripAdvisor. The airline is happily celebrating its 30th year with a £14.4m pre-tax profit this year and on track to hit £100m by 2018.

2. Coreworx

Coreworx is a project management software company based in Canada, that typically carries a portfolio of projects valued at over $950 billion across more than 40 countries. Their story is one that I mention frequently because it debunks many of the happiness myths out there.

Happiness strategies are not about blissing out our employees and turning them into happy zombies. Rather, it’s about managing conflict versus avoiding it, rebounding from stressful events, building resilience, speeding up the feedback loop and working on our psychological fitness.

Ray Simonson, Coreworx CEO, cares deeply about his people and authentically wants to improve their experience at work. To ensure he was clued in to how his employees were feeling, Ray decided to inquire about their happiness levels.

By asking the right questions, Ray learned that his employees were extremely nervous about the economic downturn in their region. Every day, people all around them were being laid off and it was making them feel uncertain about their future. As a result, he improved his communication and limited the unease felt across his workforce.

The results?

  1. Increased productivity – less speculating about job security
  2. $37,500 saved per employee for highly technical hires, difficult to replace and train
  3. Overall sales increased

Data gathering and insights are key to a successful happiness strategy because it handles change in a scientific and factual way.

Having gut instinct is still critical to strong leadership, but data provides psychological safety to those who lack trust. With start-ups confronting a whopping 93% failure rate, gathering data and asking the right questions can give your start-up a chance to succeed.

3. Unilever

Headquartered in London, the 140-year-old consumer goods company is one of the world’s most desirable places to work. The company draws around 2 million job applicants annually, mostly due to its reputation as a place to work with purpose and a vision to “make cleanliness commonplace”.Happiness in the workplace - business benefits

Unilever’s core strategy focuses on having a positive impact on the environment and public health, something their CEO believes is how they attract and retain the best talent in the world.

In 2014, the company saw a 65%, year-over-year, rise in job applications from American college students and engagement in their current employees rose 12%.

Once again, data and insights help Unilever measure and report its progress against their goals. By 2020, they aim to “help more than a billion people across the globe improve their health and well-being” while doubling the size of their business.

4. SAP

SAP is the world’s largest business software company – founded in 1972 and headquartered in Walldorf, Germany. Just last year they received 72 employer awards and feature on multiple, “best places to work” lists every year. They are recognized for supporting volunteerism, most recently with an extended sabbatical program.

SAP believes that employees using their professional skills to help a non-profit can be highly gratifying. This belief is supported by a survey by the United Health Group, 96 percent of people who volunteered over the last 12 months said volunteering enriches their sense of purpose.

For small businesses and start-ups, volunteerism is a simple way to develop healthy bonds amongst your staff and increase company loyalty, with the added value of building positive brand awareness.

5. Waitrose

Waitrose is recognised for following in the footsteps of giants like Starbucks, who radically shifted the way benefits were distributed to both full and part time employees.

In addition to the already robust benefits plan, Waitrose employees get access to a gym at their head office, annual allowances for ticket subsidy and leisure learning. The partnership with John Lewis also subsidises activities like sailing and horse-riding.

Waitrose staff have high retention rates because of the many opportunities for upward mobility. They are a strengths-based company that moves employees across and up if that feels like a better fit.

They also support “intrapreneurialism” through their Agency Launchpad, which helps employees launch start-ups related to their industry.

Focusing on happiness boosts staff and profits

The above case studies are just a few of examples of how authentically caring about happiness in the workplace leads to improved employee experience and increased revenues.

Most remarkably, it gives our people a reason to wake up excited for work. For any start-up or small business, “happiness at work” is a mantra worth considering.

About the author

Jennifer Moss is the founder of Plasticity Labs, a technology company on a mission to give 1 billion people the tools to be happier and higher performing. She is also the author of a new book, Unlocking Happiness at Work, which contains many more activities to increase happiness at work and in life. It is out now, published by Kogan Page, priced £14.99.

More on starting and running your own business

ByteStart is packed with help and tips on all aspects of starting and running a small business. Check out some of our most popular guides;

Starting Up

Leading a business

Motivating your staff

Employing staff

Funding your business

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