The UK is becoming happier, but its workforce isn’t

16 Apr 2019 By Iain Thomson

Happiness and engagement aren’t necessarily the same thing, explains Iain Thomson – but employers can help

Last month, the seventh World Happiness Report named Finland as the happiest country in the world. While the UK didn’t make the top 10, it did manage to make it into the top 20. And as a nation, we are happier, climbing four places since 2018. 

Although this is positive news, there’s still much more to be done, since it appears that UK workers aren’t all that happy. In fact, research from Sodexo Engage found that only 12 per cent of UK employees are completely happy in their job. Worse still, 8 per cent of those questioned strongly disagreed with the statement ‘my job makes me happy’.

Stats like these are a clear sign that businesses need to be doing more for their employees. But how can employers keep their staff engaged and happy, and is it really the same thing?

Employee engagement 

Employers want their staff to be happy and to enjoy their work, but more often than not, businesses view happiness and engagement as the same thing. The truth is, being happy doesn’t always mean being engaged and productive. 

Happiness is an emotion that is hard to manage and measure. Engagement, on the other hand, is what drives a company forward; it’s what encourages employees to rise to the challenge and go the extra mile each and every day. 

If an employee is engaged, they’re also much more likely to stick around and advocate for the company too. In fact, businesses with highly engaged employees receive 100 per cent more job applicants – so not only does it do wonders for retention, but it also helps to draw in new staff too.

What makes us unhappy? 

From credit cards to overdrafts and from mortgages to student loans, debt is a huge problem for many. In the UK, the average personal debt is now close to £30k, so good money management has never been more of an important topic for employees. 

After all, what goes on outside of work has a clear and definite impact on employees’ productivity and happiness at work, and that includes any financial woes. The good news is that employers are in a unique position to offer support in this area – anything from managing the day-to-day costs of living, such as annual season tickets, to providing employees with external expert financial advice. Making sure that employees don’t form unhealthy working habits, such as working long hours or weekends, can also help relieve job-related stress.

Boosting engagement with purpose and recognition

Businesses can do a lot to make their employees’ lives easier outside of work, but they can also make the workplace more attractive too, by putting a recognition strategy in place. Clever employers know that they need to keep their people engaged at work, since getting it right means that people will stick around and bring huge benefits to the business as a whole. 

Giving employees a true sense of purpose by having ownership of projects, letting them run with ideas and see their work through is a great first step, as this can have a tremendous effect on boosting engagement. Also don’t underestimate the power of saying thank you for a job well done – high ‘recognition culture’ organisations have been found to have 30 per cent lower voluntary turnover. Social recognition and praise also have a big role to play in employee engagement.

Happiness isn’t something that employers can regulate, but employee engagement is well within their control. Striking the right note between support and helping employees to find meaning, belonging and purpose will not only make staff feel happy and engaged as individuals, but will also ensure the business sees the benefits too.  

Iain Thomson is director of incentives and recognition at Sodexo Engage

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