Happiness Is…Doing What’s Right

The new happiness movement is about employer-supported volunteerism where employees are the ones involved in doing good in their immediate communities or in the global arena.

We once lived within four hours of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side of the border. When our five children were young and living the regular family life at home, the TV was sometimes on for short stints. Writing this article triggered memories from that time of a commercial for Marineland. This was back in the mid- to late 1980s and it had a catchy jingle that started off with, “Happiness is…” and finished off the line with “Happiness is Marineland.”

Obviously, happiness is more than just a place (and I am not here to question the potential inhumane treatment of sea mammals and other animals at Marineland). However, there is an interesting shift with happiness going on in the workplace, where we are moving from happiness as well-being and feeling good, to making sure we are doing the right things.

Perhaps we have been enamored by the idea that happiness must consist of feeling positively about work, or having a strong purpose or cause in our jobs, and being genuinely satisfied with the work we do. But like the famous Peggy Lee song, we might begin to think, “Is That All There Is?” Yes, songs do seem to resonate with me!

There’s a movement afoot in a few companies, typically those that focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and those exploring new ways of incentivizing top performers. In Canada, where I live, the statistics show nearly a third of companies have policies and procedures regarding employee volunteering. They are taking happiness in a whole new direction to change it from feeling good to actually doing what is right and developing one’s skills and talents, regardless of how you may feel at any given time.

Too many companies have taken the CSR focus as purely a corporate good thing to do in society activity because it is great for business. True, companies that operate in an economically, socially, and environmentally responsible manner tend to be more successful. But that doesn’t necessarily bring happiness or make employees feel happy about themselves. Being socially responsible sometimes can be so operational in nature that we can lose sight of the human connection. And employees will feel less engaged or connected to the contributions their company makes. Their employer may look good in the sustainability report but not have much of an employee footprint.

Essentially, the new happiness movement is about employer-supported volunteerism where employees are the ones involved in doing good in their immediate communities or in the global arena. This is where companies permit volunteerism by encouraging employees to give their time to community causes. This can be done on company time or supported through the company giving money or resources, often matching the time employees donate. The bottom line is employees want to be able to do good things that are right.

The benefits are tremendous. Not only does research show that 80 percent of employer-supported volunteers believe group volunteering strengthens relationship with colleagues, it also helps develop talents and learning of new skills. And the recipients of the employee volunteerism often are tearfully grateful and form friendships with employees that can last a lifetime.

Incentive travel companies are emerging in the wake of this identified need to do good by providing volunteerism away from home turf. This is where top performers may end up going to an exotic location as their reward but with the ultimate goal to serve others while they are away. Besides team building opportunities, these travel companies organize local projects aligned with a company’s vision and values and that challenge employees to grow and develop together.

Whether in the U.S. or another country in the world, volunteer travel offers community development projects that can lift both employees and the people they serve. Projects may include:

  • Building a home for someone in need such as done by Habitat for Humanity
  • Renovating an orphanage in another country
  • Providing IT support and connectivity to an impoverished school
  • Setting up adequate access to a clean, sustainable water source

Even if incentive travel does not exist to send people to a luxury destination along with a worthy cause, companies need to draw upon happiness being more about doing good, by incorporating various policies and procedures to enable employees to make a difference.

Often, formal support mechanisms need to be set up to allow employees to change their work hours in order to group people together to work on a community project. Some companies have permitted volunteerism by giving paid time off to perform these volunteer duties or use of workplace facilities where needed. And where companies are small and resources are tight, at bare minimum, leaders need to acknowledge the contributions of their employees by formally recognizing the good that is being done.

Leaders and L&D professionals will have an increasing responsibility now and in the future to help employees be happy at work. Loyalty to employers will continue to decline as we witness average tenure sink lower than in days gone by. Perhaps looking at happiness as being more about doing good than simply how employees feel will give us the direction we need to help motivate employees to be happy for the long term. 

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit www.Rideau.com.

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: http://AuthenticRecognition.com. For more information, e-mail him at RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit www.Rideau.com.