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“Happiness At Work: How can Happiness At Work be further stimulated and what role can trade unions play?”

Copenhagen, 18 September 2015 -
Who thinks of trade unions, does not immediately think of happiness at work. Instead, unions are often in the news with discontent like protests, demonstrations and strikes for higher wages or pensions. Trade unions are quite materialistically oriented on salary and wage-increase and only after this of course on the secondary employment conditions such as safety and health, and work environment as a basis for employee satisfaction. Trade unions seldom or never speak about happiness at work.

Yet there was a European seminar in Copenhagen, Denmark with the theme "Happiness at work" last week. The seminar was sponsored by the European Commission through the European Centre for Workers’ Questions - EZA and organized by the Danish Confederation of Trade - KRIFA and the World Organization of Workers - WOW. The program featured a variety of speakers from different European countries that shed light on the topic from different angles.Professor Jan van Peteghem of the University of Leuven, Belgium, laid a solid foundation for the seminar with his review of literature and research on job satisfaction. A for trade unions interesting note was the conclusion that there is just to some extent a direct link between wage and job satisfaction. Once a certain wage-level has been reached than the happiness curve flattens rapidly. A higher wage does not necessarily contribute to more job satisfaction. Apparently, there are also important other factors that determine job satisfaction.

CNV board member Willem Jelle Berg of the Dutch trade union confederation CNV then spoke about the experiences with this theme. For the CNV, which was founded about 100 years ago, work has always meant more than just making money. People need recognition and respect for their work, they look for professional pride, they want individual responsibility, and they search for the opportunity for personal development. Work is the way by which you participate in the community, from your family until your neighbourhood, from your city to your country and eventually the world community. An unemployed person quickly feels useless or redundant. Incidentally, work also means volunteering, caring for his family and household work. The CNV has campaigned against factors that stand in the way of happiness at work, such as bullying at work and the ever-increasing stress at work as a result of globalization.

KRIFA president Søren Fibiger Olesen confirms that for KRIFA as a Christian trade union "job satisfaction" is a central theme. KRIFA wants to help increase the happiness of employees at their workplace. But the question is how to do this in practice? To get an answer on this question, KRIFA, together with two renowned Danish research institutions, launched an extensive investigation. The goal was the composition of a job satisfaction index 2015. The how, what and where of the research was explained at the seminar by the KRIFA communications consultant Mikkel Hundborg. In plain language, he told the participants about the design of the study, the different variants that play a role in happiness at work, the research literature and the (statistical) elaboration of the data. The results of the research are published in a brochure entitled “Job Satisfaction Index 2015: What drives job satisfaction?”

In the study, six factors are identified that affect happiness at work: the purpose of your work, leadership, influence, achievements, the work-life balance and colleagues. I think all of us recognize those factors and finds them appropriate also to him or herself. The trick is to measure to what extent these factors weigh on the total package. A few results are interesting to mention here.

First, participants were asked what factors they found for themselves important for happiness at work. In order of importance: purpose of the work, colleagues, influence outcomes, achievements, leadership and the balance between life and work. After analysing the questions asked, this ranking proved to be wrong. Indeed, the most important factor for happiness at work is the purpose of work. 

“The belief that your work has purpose has a strong positive correlation with job satisfaction. In fact, the study shows it is the factor that affects well-being at work the  most.”

Based on the results of the research, leadership appeared to be the number two important factor and not, as was said earlier, colleagues. 

“Leadership significantly affects job satisfaction – and far more than employees realize.”

Workers want a pat on the back from their boss and does he listen to you? The following factors weighing on the balance happiness at work in order of importance (three to five): a balance between work and life, influence and results of your work (achievements). Surprising was that the behaviour of colleagues eventually appeared as the last one of importance for the total score on satisfaction.

The outcome of the workshops was that some European trade unions have not yet arrived to put this item on their policy agenda for their members, for employers and governments. Some participants, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, suggested that for their country happiness at work is a luxury because of lack of jobs (unemployment), low wages and poor working conditions. Governments and employers even do not take health and safety as an equally serious question. Because of globalisation employers want, above all, to minimize labour costs.

Also, the answer to this is that health and safety issues were not always important for the trade union movement, but forced by circumstances these were put on the trade union agenda. Now safety and health at the workplace is regulated by legislation and each employer must closely watch the health and safety of its employees. Additionally, satisfied employees are more productive and more creative, allowing the company to produce more than other companies and function better. In short, also from a cost-benefit point of view, for the employer happiness at work is a good thing. But even without these positive sides an employer must consider that employees are much more than just money.

The Austrian psychologist and occupational safety engineer Heimo Pilko told us about practical possibilities in a company to manage the socio-psychological risks of a job. How urgently such control is required, was recently tragically demonstrated by the suicide accident caused by a co-pilot of the airline Germanwings. To understand and decrease the stress risks at work with a potentially negative socio-psychological impact, an evaluation scheme has been developed, on basis of which it can be judged by the employer and employee how great these risks are.

How far can you go with the promotion of happiness at work? Arletta Bentzen, Chief Happiness Officer has no doubts that happiness at work will increasingly become more important for responsible business. The company where she works for at national and international level, focusses on possible techniques to increase happiness at work. She looks to the personal emotions of the employees, the mutual interaction between employees and the interaction between board, management and employees. On the website of one can find tips and instructions for increasing happiness at work. 

There is still plenty of work to be done, but the fact that Happiness at work is put on the agenda of companies more and more shows its importance and necessity.

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