CEO Blog: The certainty of happiness

Considering the current economic uncertainty, I am consoling myself this month with another quote from Benjamin Franklin, “there is nothing more certain than taxes and death”. For every day that passes, the current level of uncertainty remains, with each new day bringing yet more confusion about what might be the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

At a recent lunch with the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, it was therefore refreshing to hear business leaders confirm their response to this was to seek to control what they could and to ‘get on with the job’. Notwithstanding this pragmatic response, we know that uncertainty leads to a lack of confidence which usual results in a lack of action – in this case a forecast continued slowing down of investment in the UK.

Whilst influencing the EU or UK Government’s approach to Brexit is beyond most people’s reach, the current situation has caused me to reflect on the certainty that is delivered though employee ownership.

The certainty that all employees hold shared responsibility for the business through their stake, leading to more collaboration that puts the business first, not themselves as was the case with shareholders at Carillion.

The certainty that through a culture of engagement and representation, every opinion and voice is listened too, leading to better decision making and buy in and fairer outcomes – so little chance of the excessive pay seen at Shell being approved for one of two leaders.

And the certainty that these businesses manage risks as they think about the long term health of the business – the opposite of the risk fuelled contracts of Interserve.

When I speak to employee owners across the country, I inevitably have a clear sense that they know what is happening in the business and hence have a high level of certainty about both their own and the businesses future. This comes from an ownership culture that delivers high levels of transparency and employee engagement and an ownership structure that enables a shared stake.

And whilst my next comment is not scientifically evidenced, it seems to me that this level of certainty has a positive impact on how employees feel, and hence the levels of happiness at work they experience.

Whilst some might view happiness at work as irrelevant or a misnomer – it is proven to lead to good work which makes better business – for the individual, for the business and for regional communities. In the 2017 report Good Work: the Taylor Review of modern working practices states: “While having employment is itself vital to people’s health and well-being, the quality of people’s work is also a major factor in helping people to stay healthy and happy, something which benefits them and serves the wider public interest.”

And the evidence from other sources backs up the fact that employee well-being has positive outputs both socially and economically; it’s good for business as engaged employees are up to 11% more productive ; a ‘happy’ workforce is positive for your brand and customer experience and is used successfully as a growth strategy; and engaged, happy employees have less stress and less sickness resulting in better outcomes for individuals and society, especially less impact on our health services.

So employee owned businesses, through greater certainty are supporting happier workplaces.

Given this fact, its maybe not surprising therefore to hear that this year’s planned EO Day celebrations will focus on how employee ownership is delivering happiness, and especially more smiles! (At this point I should use an emoji for the first time in a business feature ?!!)

Specifically, to celebrate the EOA at 40, we are partnering with EOA member, and previous UK Employee Ownership Public Service Mutual of the Year Award winner, Community Dental Services CiC to help raise £40,000 to fund toothbrushing packs for 4,000 children in the UK through the Give a Healthy Smile EOA 40th Anniversary Appeal.

In our own 40th year, I am delighted that for the first time our annual celebration will also be directly supporting a very worth appeal; allowing all of the brilliant EO businesses across the UK to get involved in not only having some fun, and showcasing EO, but also doing some real good. And to do it with a huge smile too!

Is happiness a certainty? Of course it isn’t – but if there is one business model that provides more certainty than most and hence greater certainty of developing happier workplaces, it is the employee owned business community.

You can find out more about this innovative campaign.