Regardless of the size of a business, or the industry it's in, healthy, happy, high performing employees and teams are vital to its success. With healthy, happy, people and teams in place, businesses grow faster and become more profitable. They experience industry-leading levels of service and innovation, competitively low levels of lost revenue through employee turnover, sickness and safety incidents. Moreover, leadership and management teams spend less time firefighting and more time leading and managing. Moving towards the vision of the company shifts from feeling like a daily uphill battle to an exciting, collaborative journey. All of this is possible, with any business, of any size, and in any industry.
There has never been a better time in human history for businesses to prosper by helping their employees become healthy, happy and high performing. There are, of course, many new challenges that individuals, teams and businesses face in the new technologically advanced age in which we live. My reason for creating Better Happy is to help leaders and managers understand the new landscape, understand the opportunities at hand, and grasp them. All businesses, regardless of industry or size have the capacity to make the world a better place. Better Happy exists to ensure that poor health and happiness levels don't hinder a business, team or individual from achieving all that they are capable of. Or more accurately, Better Happy exists to enable successful change in this way.
The cynic within you might argue that other factors play a more influential role in the success or failure of a team and business. For example, we might argue that 'Yes, high functioning employees and teams are important, but they aren't as important as having the right product or service, or market demand'... If we were to go back in time just 100 years, I would at least partially agree with you for reasons we shall explore shortly. But in todays fast paced, technologically driven world, I disagree. In todays and tomorrows world, all businesses need to be innovative in order to survive and thrive. It doesn't matter if you are a large corporation with over 10,000 staff or a small business with less than 30 staff, you need innovation. When people hear innovation, they often conjure mental images of fancy new technology and robots, but innovation simply means being creative to improve existing processes or solutions. In todays world, a small accountancy firm needs innovation as much as a tech giant. Innovation is achieved by and through people... healthy, happy, engaged people.
Business leaders understand this. In 2012, venture capitalist and best-selling author, Peter Thiel invested a reported $150m dollars into the still young Airbnb. After making the investment, Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky showed Thiel around their headquarters and asked him, "What is the single most important piece of advice you can give to us?".
Thiel’s response: "Don't fuck up the culture."
The one piece of advice Thiel chose to attach to a business investment of $150m was about the culture and the people. Nothing about the business model. Nothing about the profit margins. Nothing about the company structure. Why? Because Thiel understood that the success Airbnb was (and continues) achieving was due to a positive culture that supported healthy, happy, high performing teams - and that's the component that takes care of everything else.
If all businesses were fully aware of this and able to make it happen, Better Happy wouldn't exist. Although many managers, leaders and business owners are aware of this, not so many know how to make it happen. The evidence of this is all around us. Employee engagement levels (people enjoying and being emotionally committed to their jobs) are around 50% or less. Sick days cost the UK economy over £100bn annually and 75% of all UK employees report suffering burnout. Businesses should contribute not just to the lives of their customers but their employees, leadership teams and owners as well. A contribution doesn’t end at a pay cheque (although this is of course important!) but belonging, meaning, value, purpose and growth. People should look forward to their work, be energised by their work and feel that their lives are enhanced because of it. So why isn't this more widely the case? By understanding why, we place ourselves in a good position to start doing something about it and set ourselves apart from the rest.
Firstly, we need to understand how our society has changed, dramatically. The times in which we live are the fastest-changing times humans have ever experienced during our entire existence on this planet. If you were to write human history into a 1000-page book, it would read exactly the same for the first 999 pages. We lived in small communities, hunted and foraged for food, etc. Then on page 1000, everything goes crazy. Agriculture, civilisation, industry, planes, automobiles, technology, modern medicine, internet all happens on page 1000. Take that further and we see that the way in which we live and do business today is drastically different to just 50 years ago. Of all of these changes, there are two that have the biggest influence on businesses:
1) The marketplace and economy
2) People’s lifestyles and health
Less than 100 years ago, innovation was slow. Businesses achieved success by grabbing a large share of a slow-moving market. Once the business set its foot in this market, all it had to do was set up systems. Technological innovation was very slow, so production methods didn't change much. There was no internet or high-speed communication, therefore most businesses didn't have to worry about competition from abroad. Businesses also didn't need much innovation. They relied on people needing jobs then giving them repetitive tasks and employing managers to maintain maximum output.
Technology has widened the polarities of extremes. It has provided businesses with the ability to scale to levels never witnessed before through global markets. It has also made it easier for anyone to start a business, therefore widening the competition pool leading to many businesses struggling more than ever before. The same is true for health. We now have the opportunity to be healthier and happier than ever before, but we can also struggle with our health more than ever before. A note here. Living longer is not necessarily a sign of good health. Although we are living longer and have, in developed countries mostly rid ourselves of diseases of poverty (malnutrition etc) we now experience diseases of affluence (obesity, heart disease, poor mental health etc). For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, being healthy wasn't a choice. The environment dictated it. For a human today living in a developed country like the UK, being healthy can seem like an art. The environment in which we all live now actively discourages good health. This explains why over 60% of our population is overweight or obese and why at least 25% of our population suffer from mental health illnesses.
So, what does this mean for businesses? It means that the old way of doing things no longer works. People have a wide choice of jobs available to them and often enough security to not pressure them into taking a job they don't like. It means businesses need to shift away from the old styles of leadership and management (‘we say, you do’) towards creating collaborative and engaging environments that attract people and drive innovation.
It also means that businesses have a win-win opportunity when it comes to health. Businesses of the past didn't have to care about employee health. General health levels weren't as low as they are today, and employees were needed to carry out repetitive tasks that can be done to a high standard even with poor health. Today as we have highlighted, businesses need healthy staff to be collaborative and innovative. People are also generally suffering more with their health. But people also live in a time where with the right support, they can experience better health and life satisfaction superior to ever before in human history.
The businesses that understand this new landscape will adapt. They will focus on creating collaborative and innovative cultures that attract and stimulate people. They will create environments and training that support their people to be healthy alongside their jobs. As a result of this, they will achieve a host of benefits that not only make their teams and businesses great places to work, but also become industry leaders.
Humans have a natural hierarchy of needs famously hypothesised by Abraham Maslow in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. After safety and security, humans crave connection, esteem and personal development to be the best they can be. Historically, humans found much of these needs through their tribes, communities and religions. Over the past 20 years, due to technology and other factors, most people have completely moved away from all of these previous factors. Hence, businesses and teams are now, for many, the main place where they can fulfil most of their psychological desires. So many people view employee engagement and wellbeing as a challenge to be solved. I hope that this article has shown you that it is an opportunity to be seized.
In my next article, we'll explore how to overcome the next most substantial barrier that businesses encounter when trying to take advantage of this opportunity - time.
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