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How important is workplace happiness? Ask JD Sports

How important is workplace happiness? Ask JD Sports

In a Channel 4 report, working practices were revealed at a JD Sports distribution centre that would make a Victorian workhouse owner shudder. Workers at the retailer’s Rochdale warehouse can apparently be sacked after three minor misdemeanours. Offences include sitting down, chewing gum, being late or having a mobile phone.

The report also claimed that employees are not paid while they queue to get inside the Kingsway distribution centre and that workers on zero-hours contracts are sometimes sent home if JD Sports determines that there is not enough for them to do. Workers at the centre claimed conditions were ‘worse than a prison’.

The company denied the claims in a stock exchange statement and said it was “deeply disappointed and concerned by the footage broadcast by Channel 4”. It did however launch an investigation ‘into the implementation of policies at the facility’.

Whether the report is truly an accurate reflection of working practices in the company or not is academic. The damage has been done to the JD Sports brand. As far as public perception and the stock market is concerned, JD Sports is not a happy ship. Share prices dropped by seven percent in the wake of the report.

The retailer is not alone. It joins other companies which have recently been named and shamed for having apparently regressive, and sometimes oppressive working practices and environments.

A recent Sunday Times report claimed that workers at an Amazon distribution centre could be dismissed for taking four days off, even if they had a sick note from a doctor. The US company was forced to defend itself after damaging revelations prompted accusations of employee exploitation. It faced condemnation from politicians after at least one member of staff was found to be living in a tent beside one of its warehouses. And under a policy which echoes that of Sports Direct, Amazon staff were ‘docked’ points for taking time off sick. One employee was allegedly penalised for spending time in hospital with a kidney infection.

Amazon issued a defence and stated it ‘provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits’.

“We are proud to have been able to create several thousand new permanent roles in our UK fulfilment centres over the last five years. One of the reasons we've been able to attract so many people to join us is that we offer great jobs and a positive work environment with opportunities for growth,” said a spokesperson.

But again, the damage to reputation was already done.

Sports Direct is another retailer forced to defend itself against accusations of unhappy working practices. It admitted to “potentially oppressive” working practices and pledged to use fewer zero hours contracts after coming under fire from MPs earlier this year. Its share price has fallen nearly 50 per cent so far in 2016.

Each of these examples starkly illustrate the damaging effects that ignoring employee welfare and happiness can have. Not only is brand reputation damaged, share price is effected too.

In the context of these high-profile stories where unhappy employees have resulted in quantifiable detrimental effects to business, it is completely puzzling to hear businesses voice an aversion to the idea of workplace happiness. Particularly when investment in happy workplaces pays dividends. Happy workers are more productive, engaged and take less time off sick. This is irrefutable. Each of the finalists in the recent Laughology Happiness Awards invested in workplace happiness and it has paid dividends. They report business growth, loyalty, lower staff turnover and lower rates of absenteeism.

The advantages of putting happiness at the heart of an organisation are obvious, as are the disadvantages of ignoring it. JD Sports, Amazon and Sports Direct have discovered this at their cost. Sadly, and frustratingly, in many businesses happiness remains a dirty word. Rather than understand it as a tool for productivity, workplace happiness is often erroneously viewed as a frivolity.

As CIPD’s Gill White recently told us: “We have a way to go yet for it to be an acceptable word to discuss at work, which is madness when you think that we are all very conscious that love, relationships, friendships and happiness are absolutely what we seek and thrive on in our normal lives and yet somehow we are meant to leave those things at the door when we move into corporate lives.

“The UK is fudging it and using words like wellbeing, engagement and resilience instead. They all boil down to similar things, like treating people well and caring for the people that you work with. I would love to get to a place where people understand the value of a positive relationship with the work they do.”

Thankfully things are gradually changing and at Laughology we continue to spread the word and prove the benefits of happiness in businesses, organisations and schools. We’ve never been busier. In 2016 Laughology delivered workshops and learning programmes to over 150 organisations across Europe helping to make real differences to workplace culture and in 2017 we will continue to grow and promote the importance and benefits of happiness. More and more organisations are coming to understand that happy people are better people. The first ever Laughology Happiness awards in 2016 gave us at Laughology HQ the opportunity to see what the best and brightest businesses are doing at the cutting edge of the learning and development to help their people flourish and be happy.

Here’s just some of what we learnt:

Changing work habits and priorities will encourage the most forward-thinking, competitive businesses to create value-led workplaces where people will chose to work.

The leaders of tomorrow – the Millennial generation – base their work decisions on more than money. Values and ethics are just as important. Employers need to introduce ground-up measures that build loyalty and engagement, rather than single, transactional gimmicks.

As awards judge Gill White, Capability and Career Development Director at CIPD, explains: “Millennials vote with their feet. They will move if their values are compromised. They will move if they are not feeling developed. They will coalesce around the organisations that are getting it right. They will start to redefine their requirements of work.”

Our winners got it right because they

• Develop a culture from the ground up

• Promote autonomy

• Communicate your organisation strategy, values and goals

• Promote positive communication

• Encourage constructive feedback, value it and acknowledge it in a positive way

• Develop positive relationships and actions

• Give everyone a voice

• Prioritise personal and career development

• Put support structures in place to help people do their jobs

• Create a positive environment, both physically and emotionally

This year’s awards will be announced soon – keep an eye out and remember to nominate your organisation and people

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Are organisations and companies just paying lip service?
Join some of the most interesting and respected voices in positive psychology for our Our Big Chat about…Thinking outside the tick box, inaugural webinar. Our two and half hour interactive event will look at the best mental health strategies for organisations, identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Dave McPartlin:

Dave is the Headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School.
Creating the right environment for people and communities to flourish

Sunita Hirani

Sunita is one of the BBC’s key equality, diversity and inclusivity experts.
Why inclusion is essential for mental wellbeing

Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Cary is one the world’s most influential voices in occupational health and wellbeing.
Enhancing Mental Wellbeing at Work. Evidence based strategies for creating a wellbeing culture at work.

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