Corporate happiness means big business


Companies with a clearly defined purpose that engage their employees also boost productivity and profits. The bottom line is that it pays to have happy employees.

“Unhappy employees outnumber happy ones by two to one worldwide,” declared a recent Forbes magazine headline. An October 2013 Gallup poll of 230,000 employees in 142 countries found that the vast majority of workers – about 87 per cent – were not engaged to their jobs (read: passionate and motivated).

As Forbes put it, those unhappy workers have checked out on all levels. Of the checked-out 87 per cent, 24 per cent are “actively disengaged” which means that they not only strongly dislike their jobs, but they act out and undermine their co-workers as well.

The happiness hypothesis 

Päivi Topinoja-Aranko is one of the co-founders of Human@Work, a company that was started in 2011 with the mission of helping to make working life happier in Finland.
“Traditionally work has been viewed by the post-war generation as something that was necessary, a duty. The idea of being happy at work is somewhat foreign, or at the very least, a new idea to many Finns,” says Topinoja-Aranko, an award winning marketing communications veteran.
Human@Work offers practical tools to help companies and individuals find and hone their purpose and improve employee engagement.
“Recently, we’ve been helping companies with the ‘why’ which is crucial for companies and not always clear to the employees,” says Topinoja-Aranko, citing the academic research about what determines a person’s outlook on life: 50 per cent is genetic, 10 per cent is situational, and 40 per cent is based on attitude. This malleable 40 per cent is where Human@Work comes in.

Behind the headlines 

In Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace survey, worker engagement in Western Europe was below 20 per cent.

Recent labor trends in Finland – often held up as one of the best places in the world to live and work – have seen numerous companies making significant staff redundancies and outsourcing work to save costs. This phenomenon has left many people with a strong sense of malaise. 

As in other parts of the world, many sectors of the economy ranging from forestry to the media have undergone massive changes owing to technology and the competitive demands of the global economy.

Change begins with every single employee

At the Helsinki headquarters of one of Finland’s leading commercial broadcast media companies, MTV (not to be confused with the international music television conglomerate), Pirjo Tiainen heads human resources development and strategic planning, while Jorma Härkönen is a senior vice president. The two began collaborating with Human@Work in November 2013.
“They helped us coach our management and sales departments about what’s behind our new mission, what our larger purpose is, and how understanding these things affects every stage of work here at MTV,” says Tiainen.
Before the digital media revolution, large broadcast media and publishing companies operated with a level of  hierarchy and had a number of positions in which people could work quite independently and did not need to concern themselves with the bigger picture. Härkönen says that this structure has changed dramatically. 
“Old conventions are constantly being challenged,” says Härkönen. “Our new way of working is together – we need to have a collective, crystal-clear vision of what our goals are and how we’re going to achieve them.”
Härkönen points out that one of the most important skills at the workplace – regardless of position – is teamwork. “By leaps and bounds, working together has become essential in the last couple of years. A company must have a flexible organisational structure and every single employee is key to the process,” he says. “This is a rapidly changing, competitive field – you can’t sit still and retain your competitive edge.”
If there is one common factor uniting happy and successful companies, it is the focus on the individual employee. Human@Work calls it the new ROI, which stands for the “return of the human being” as opposed to “return on investment.”
“Now human capital is seen as essential to the success of a company,” Topinoja-Aranko says.

Top 5 reasons people enjoy their jobs

  1. They have good bosses.
  2. They feel passionate and motivated.
  3. There are appropriate challenges.
  4. They feel appreciated.
  5. Their values align with those of the company.
Text by Katja Pantzar
Photo by iStock
A longer version of this article was published in Finnair's Blue Wings magazine (February 2014).


Published February 17, 2014

Category: Corporate Responsibility