Measuring workplace happiness … it makes good business sense

Published April 29, 2015

I recently read an article in the Ottawa Citizen that ranked Ottawa among the top 10 happiest out of 33 metropolitan areas across the country. The survey asked 340,000 people across Canada to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of one to 10. When ranked globally in the 2013 World Happiness Report, Ottawa’s happiness comes out higher than any individual country, including Canada. The Report is a measure of happiness published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network following the organization’s 2011 resolution inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help guide their public policies.

What does this have to do with sport organizations?

Since 2008 I have been fascinated with workplace culture issues, in particular the focus of sport leaders on creating thriving environments for employees and volunteers. The idea is simple. People who feel motivated and inspired will often outperform those that don’t. I have a box full of research articles that validate this. Sport leaders understand how this applies on the field of play with athletes and coaches but too few organizations I would argue, are taking this idea and applying it to how they intentionally manage their organization’s culture.

Turns out I’m not alone in thinking this way. Since 2007, close to 300 sport leaders have participated in just under 40 risk management workshops that I have facilitated on behalf of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport’s Risk Management Project. Of all the risks identified by sport leaders over the past seven years ‘not spending enough time on culture’ ranks among the top five risks affecting their organization’s performance. The risk treatment solutions that people have discussed include spending more time understanding what employees value; embedding workplace recognition programs to highlight and reward going above and beyond; mentoring opportunities; flexible hours; enhancing communications systems so employees don’t feel that they have to be on call, all the time; no limit vacation policies (I knew that would get your attention… check out Netflix’s approach to corporate culture); programs that align with corporate values; and customizing compensation packages.

I’m also noticing that more sport leaders are calling my colleagues and me for advice on workplace wellness strategies to more proactively deal with issues including stress, lack of productivity, conflict, and termination. Of note, one client is having me work with their organization to develop a workplace culture survey assessment that will measure how satisfied the employees are with their culture. Another client recently had me offer Integral CoachingTM services to an employee that they had just released. Their termination package included three coaching conversations and resulted in the employee feeling better about the experience. This employee has since moved on to another organization and is grateful to the previous employer for the care and respect they showed during this difficult period. I’ve also been recently asked to develop a workplace values assessment to identify how aligned employees are with their organization’s values. This survey draws from a study I co-authored with Professors Joanne MacLean (Dean of Health Sciences at the University of Fraser Valley) and Shannon Kerwin (Assistant Professor in the Department of Sport Management at Brock University) and was published in the Journal of Applied Sport Management in 2014. The case study examined the nature of employee involvement in the development of values, how values were enacted and communicated, and the impact on the organization’s performance. Here’s what one employee had to say about the impact that the values had on how she felt about her sport organization: “Our particular core values I really love because I think they help us define not only what we’re going to communicate, but almost more importantly, how we are going to communicate it. So I think those organizational values are the primary driving force of how we do business every day. It doesn’t matter how complex the activity is that we are working on or how many millions of dollars might be at stake … these five words (values) direct us and I think help us achieve success.”

Here’s an intriguing idea to mull over. Leading experts across fields – economics, psychology, survey analysis, national statistics, health, public policy and more – describe how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations … and I would argue the progress of organizations. While the World Happiness Report reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness, organizational assessments (such as the ones describes above) can provide sport leaders with the knowledge they need to enhance their workplace culture. Both in my opinion reflect a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness as criteria for government policy and organizational effectiveness. Here’s my attempt at translating the six variables into an organizational measurement tool for sport leaders:

Money: Are people being paid fair compensation for the work they do? In general, people in a sound economic situation will show more satisfaction with their life.

Health: Are we providing opportunities at work for employees to engage in healthy activities? The StatsCan study found that healthier people were happier people.

Support: Do we provide mentoring opportunities for our employees so they feel supported? Having someone to rely on in times of trouble leads to a happier living. A healthy social life is key to living a satisfying life.

Trust: What are we doing to create a working environment where employees trust each other? Research indicates that when people trust who they are working with, their satisfaction increases.

Generosity: How are we demonstrating that we care about others as an organization? Organizations that intentionally give back to others increase the happiness level within their environments.

Freedom: How are we encouraging our employees to make ethical decisions, all the time, on behalf of the organization? Freedom to make key life decisions, feeling safe to express oneself and pursue one’s dreams increases the happiness factor.

For sport leaders interested in exploring this idea further, drop me a line at I’d be happy to connect.

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