Strengthening organisational happiness in SA: Navigating economic challenges with resilience

While indicators of our collective prosperity have skyrocketed, most global happiness indicators are trending downwards. Picture by Madison Oren/unsplash

While indicators of our collective prosperity have skyrocketed, most global happiness indicators are trending downwards. Picture by Madison Oren/unsplash

Published Dec 29, 2023


By Louis Fourie

In just a few hundred years, humanity has progressed from donkey carts to hypercars, from Galileo’s crude instruments to the James Webb Space Telescope, and from the printing press to quantum computing. Yet, we remain perplexed by our ancient quest for the simplest thing - true happiness.

While indicators of our collective prosperity have skyrocketed, most global happiness indicators are trending downwards.

This prompts a crucial question: Should modern organisations, both private and public, concern themselves with the happiness of people in their care?

Without a doubt, these are the types of questions any caring organisation should ask itself.

Happiness, at its core, is a deeply personal experience. It is a quiet and soft way of living in peace with oneself and the world around. More than anything, it's a way of being with life just as it is, with all its imperfections, beauty, and mystery. It is rooted in inner peace and joy. Therefore, any effort to improve happiness is primarily an inside job.

Barring dysfunctional environments and major calamitous events, our surroundings have surprisingly little effect on our overall happiness. Happiness mostly resides in how we choose to interpret life and the personal happiness habits we build into our daily routines.

So, if happiness is such a private affair, is organisational happiness worth discussing, or is it a mere consequence of the collective personal happiness levels of the people in the organisation?

For the organisation that sees its people as more than a resource, for those who realise how inadequate terms like human capital are to refer to humans, it is natural to deeply care about the happiness of its people. In fact, some leading organisations have turned happiness into an operational objective, and a growing body of research confirms that organisations promoting behaviours and conditions conducive to personal happiness reap benefits far beyond their initial expectations.

True happiness is accompanied by a deeper level of maturity, and mature people accept full responsibility for every aspect of their lives. They tend to gravitate away from corporate culture killers like gossip and blame. They find ways to compromise on issues of mere personal preference and style, thereby bypassing many causes of conflict within an organisation.

Happier people are more engaged and productive, without any additional stress or expensive interventions. They treat those around them better, leading to increased levels of customer and stakeholder satisfaction. The infectiousness of happiness trends towards attracting the right kind of talent during the recruitment process, saving man-hours and money on correcting ill-fitting appointments.

As the calendar turns to January, organisations in South Africa face the unique challenges and opportunities that come with the end of the year. This period, often marked by economic fluctuations and what is colloquially known as 'Januworry stress', calls for a renewed focus on cultivating happiness within our workplaces. It is a time when the collective spirit of resilience and optimism becomes more crucial than ever.

Despite the external economic pressures, it is important to remember that true organisational happiness stems from within, from the culture we nurture and the values we uphold.

Entering the new year, organisations have the chance to set a positive tone, even amidst economic uncertainties.

This period offers a valuable opportunity for organisations to reinforce their commitment to employee well-being and happiness. By focusing on internal strengths, fostering a supportive environment, and encouraging positive mindsets, we can navigate these challenging times together, turning potential stressors into catalysts for growth and unity within our organisations.

Pro-actively tending to organisational happiness is exponentially cheaper and easier than dealing with the consequences of misery and unhappiness.

An authentic organisational focus on happiness complements a healthy dynamic, high-performing culture and in no way detracts from long-term bottom-line performance – quite the contrary.

By elevating our organisational awareness of what happiness is and how it works, we can start investing in promoting conditions and behaviours that are more conducive to improved personal happiness. A few slight shifts in perspectives and behaviours, coupled with well-considered investments in some tools and supportive practices, can lead to outsized improvements over time. Individual happiness cannot help but spill over into a more productive, more profitable, and ultimately happier way of doing what we do.

Let us build organisational cultures that allow authentic personal happiness the opportunity to grow and flourish amongst all our stakeholders while we keep doing well on all our traditional measures of success.

After all, there are few sights in this world as inspiring as a happy person, living a content and productive life.

Louis Fourie is an independent advisor and well-known in the field of life guidance and personal mentorship to professional people and business leaders in South Africa. Louis holds a master’s degree in economics and a Diploma in Higher Education from the then RAU (University of Johannesburg).