How Corporate Culture Drives Financial Performance

When I came across a job vacancy for “Chief Happiness Officer” (CHO) about 6 years ago, I must admit this raised some doubts and questions. Should this be considered as part of a “happiness hype”? What’s the difference between that and the role of an HR manager? Where can we find CHO’s and what do they do? One thing was for sure, my curiosity was piqued, and I hope yours is too.

While exploring content on happiness at work, I learned that this job title had already existed for a while, and more importantly, that this is not some kind of trend but part of a cultural transformation driven mainly by tech companies. Google, Zappos, Airbnb, Salesforce, SAP and many others have created CHO or comparable positions specifically dedicated to maintaining and improving the employee experience and company culture. There’s no need to say that what these companies have in common is that they are successful. They value happiness and show us how employee well-being drives profits. Richard Branson’s mantra, “focus on happy employees and you will get happy clients” is also part of the wave which finds its roots in positive psychology. Martin E.P. Seligman, a well-known advocate of positive psychology, has described its core philosophy as "build what's strong" instead of "fix what's wrong.” It’s the core of successful talent management and an important pillar of happiness at the workplace.

Fostered by this new wave of information, I plunged deeper and in 2019, I followed the Masterclass “Werkgeluk deskundige” of the Happiness Bureau with Gea Peper. With her no-nonsense, evidence-based, and inspirational story, I got lots of new insights which eventually resulted in redefining my purpose: support organizations in creating a happy workplace.

So, packed with even more passion, knowledge and experience, my team and I continued on our mission in the Caribbean to improve the employee experience. A good deal of science-based research and multiple inspirational real-time experiences show us what the ROI of focusing on the well-being of your workforce could mean. Happy employees are more productive, creative, engaged, and healthier. Happiness at the workplace reduces staff turnover. It enriches relationships and improves customer satisfaction. And last but not least, it generates better leadership.

You would expect that such a message resonates, right?

Then why is it that according to the latest Gallup report only 36% of employees are engaged in the workplace? (>100.000 teams /US/sept 2020) Although I am unaware of such statistics for our Caribbean region, I am afraid our score wouldn’t be much higher based on what we see. When your employees are actively engaged in the workplace, they feel happier and really motivated to achieve your company’s goals. So can you imagine what happens if 64% of your workforce is disengaged? A study on employee engagement found that companies in the U.S. lose between $450-$550 billion each year due to disengaged workers! That’s partly because of employees’ lack of motivation or responsibility resulting in lower productivity, errors, missed deadlines, poor customer service and lower profits. It is also because disengaged employees resign and leave you with hiring and onboarding costs.

Whether this is a wake-up call for you, or you are already aware that the well-being of your team should be your top priority, I can imagine that you might find it hard to decide where to start. You might wonder what creating a happy workplace entails and what should be a priority in the process.

Such a question cannot be answered in one article, let alone in a one-size-fits-all approach, but there are some red flags that will make sense to you. And the question becomes easier to answer if we start with what creating a happy workplace does not entail. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t mean investing in lounge seating, a ping-pong table or a stand-alone teambuilding event. Nor does it require creating a development trajectory.

So what does it take?

First of all, it requires strong leadership and a purpose

In the end, your goal is to facilitate a safe environment in which everyone feels free to talk, make decisions and reflect with one another to pave the road to success. That all relates to contribution and purpose, not output. I like the way Zack Mercurio, author of “The Invisible Leader” puts it. He writes, “purposeful leaders and organizations focus obsessively on their contribution and trust the results will follow.”

As you know, trust is not something you create overnight. But if you agree that it’s an essential condition to grow, then lead by example and practice what you preach. Dare to be vulnerable, talk about your mistakes and ask for help. That will motivate your team to do the same. Although a crisis situation could require directive leadership on a temporary basis, an organization won’t thrive on old-school hierarchical structures. As long as you keep on reflecting on results in terms of traditional/financial KPI’s, you ignore important values of today’s workforce. There is plenty of research that shows us that job seekers don’t consider income or only results as top their priority. They are much more interested in the impact of their endeavors and how, together with their peers, they can add value.

In an engaging culture, another top priority should be recognition. One study on top performance motivators found that 37% of employees feel most encouraged by personal recognition. And hey, it’s a no-brainer. If we listened to our teams, we’d know this. But apparently, it’s important for us to keep being reminded because in lots of employee engagement surveys, it pops us as something that is lacking.

Something else to stay focused on is your internal and external communication. According to Trade Press Services, effective internal communications motivate 85% of employees to become more engaged in the workplace. Again, do we need research for this? If you reflect on the things you would like to do differently as a leader in the workplace, I bet most of the time it can be traced to communication and the need to be better at it.

This list is far from complete, but in the end, it all boils down to the conclusion that investing in your company culture is worth the effort. Although this Forbes research is not updated, I found it a very interesting comparison. Companies with a thriving corporate culture achieve over four times higher revenue growth!

Besides this research, just look into the organizations that survived this crisis, reinvented themselves, kept on motivating their team and came out stronger. From what I can tell, these are mostly organizations that already took their employee well-being very seriously before the pandemic.

So what I learned is that focusing on employee happiness is not just a trend. It’s ultimately a long-term investment in your corporate culture that makes your business successful! If you would like to put/keep the subject on your agenda and exchange some experiences, please let us know:

Finally, nice to know, I found a Chief Happiness Officer on our islands! Judith Oleana-Ubaghs works at Profound, a tech company based on Curaçao, operating internationally for quite some years already. Really hope she soon gets some more peers!