Opinion: Does your job make you happy?
- Raghunathan’s idea that employees should be happier at work to be more successful is one that companies are slowly accepting
- In 2015, a report by industry body Assocham found that 42.5% of the employees they surveyed suffered from depression or anxiety
A moment of weakness last year resulted in a regular dose of happiness delivered via email. When I signed up for author and professor Raj Raghunathan’s “A Life Of Happiness And Fulfilment"course on the online learning platform Coursera, I got a ringside view of the life of a cheery evangelist. Next month he will be in Bengaluru for a workshop on employee happiness and mental wellness—an idea that is finally gaining ground here.
I dropped out of the course (too much happiness), but I remained on Raghunathan’s mailing list. One week he is at the University of Texas’ Austin campus, giving a TED talk about raising happy teenagers; another week he is encouraging people to download his Happiness Accelerator app, designed with the help of experts from the Happiness Academy in Bulgaria.
Raghunathan offered to treat students to dinner if we met him in Goiânia, Brazil, while he was on a three-day work trip and threw in a free copy of his book—in Portuguese or English—as an incentive. He vacationed at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo and hiked up Mt Kinabalu. I know all this because he loves to share.
He zips from San Jose in Costa Ricato Bangkok in Thailand, asking his favourite question—also the title of his 2016 book—at every stop: If you are so smart, why aren’t you happy?
He analyses whether the same traits that drive your career success could also be keeping you from being a happier person. When a student raised it, Raghunathan provided a thoughtful answer to that age-old query about whether money makes you happier. In short, it usually comes down to two factors, he believes: how money affects your values and your personality, and how you spend your money.
Raghunathan’s idea that employees should be happier at work to be more successful is one that companies are slowly accepting, if only to improve their performance. Last year, one study by research and advisory firm RedSeer Consulting pegged the Bengaluru IT sector’s annual productivity loss from unhappy, physically inactive and unfit employees at $3.5 billion (around ₹24,150 crore now).
“While happiness is the state we want to achieve, nobody can dismiss the size and nature of the problem we already have," says Chandrashekar T.V., co-founder and CEO of MeeHappy, the startup that has invited Raghunathan to India.
Chandrashekar’s business card offers a marketing pitch that appeals to companies which continue to focus only on profitability: Healthy, happy employees can improve your bottom line and reduce your attrition rates.
A mature organization realizes you cannot separate the personal and professional selves of your employees, says Chandrashekar, adding that “keep your household problems at home" is no longer an appropriate response from a supervisor. And yes, it’s okay to take leave if you are not in the mood to come to work.
Like a clutch of companies, MeeHappy works on mental wellness at the workplace through an app that employees can download as a starting point for help. Their personal information stays confidential and the employer only receives the aggregated data of her office.
In 2015, a report by industry body Assocham found that 42.5% of the employees they surveyed suffered from depression or anxiety. Some 38.5% slept less than 6 hours because of stressful targets at work, more than half said they didn’t exercise at all. One in 20 Indians is depressed, according to the National Mental Health Survey, 2016.
“The other thing that plays out at the workplace is low self-esteem. The benchmark is suddenly not marks any more. Workplace success has very little to do with academics; you need skills like problem-solving, leadership, teamwork," says Maullika Sharma, director of global clinical infrastructure at Workplace Options, a firm which focuses on employees’ physical and emotional well-being.
Sharma adds that happiness instruction probably provides the same inputs as counselling. “It’s just a more acceptable term." Large organizations need to be especially wary of low morale, she believes, and must help employees tackle all those big existential questions: How do I feel good about myself? How am I contributing? What is my role here?
The findings of a small survey (of about 800 people) conducted by White Swan Foundation, an online database for information about mental illness which has partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans), serves to highlight why companies need to focus on employee mental wellness: More than one in two have a mental health issue and two in three know of someone at the workplace with a mental health issue, yet most employees never talk about mental health at the workplace and never receive any kind of support. A third don’t approach anyone when they are in distress. White Swan recently launched its own workplace mental health programme to bridge this gap.
Chandrashekar says he’s a living example of mistakes and corrections. He was always immersed in work, often cancelling family trips to Goa for that last-minute meeting. He once drew an Excel sheet on the spot for a salesman who was offering him a membership in a timeshare, which explained why it wasn’t cost-effective for him to buy planned holidays. He has been guilty of reprimanding people for leaving work too early and bringing their personal problems to office but all that changed after a major heart attack in 2013—he was 37.
Now he makes adjustments in his professional life to suit his personal engagements. He even got a membership in that timeshare. When we meet, he is planning a trip to Bhutan on his Enfield 650 (purchased in his new life), where he will speak to government officials about GNH (gross national happiness) and why it matters more than GDP (gross domestic product).
Here’s to Haffa, as Raghunathan would say. That’s Happiness And Fulfilment For All, in case you still haven’t got it.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.
She tweets at@priyaramani