The Market Value of Happiness

The Market Value of Happiness


The theory:

Gross National Happiness

In practice:

Making sense of Maslow and GNH

Abraham Maslow pioneered the pyramid of fulfilling innate human needs. Immediate physical needs like health, food and water are at the base, followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem and confidence, peaking with self actualisation of fulfillment and happiness.

Many businesses, even countries, forget that individuals and collectives have the need and desire to find emotion and inspiration in their lives and the work place.

Convert this hierarchy to one that fits the workplace, you get survival — do what you must to stay employed, success — having friends around the water cooler and being promoted, and then transformation — reaching self-actualisation of being at the top of your game and finding meaning in your work.

 Why Maslow and higher needs are important to business

A business in practice

Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality (US), experienced first-hand the impact of valuing higher needs.

In the 2000s, Conley’s San Francisco hotels were faced with the triple whammy of the dotcom crash, the 9/11 attacks, then a SARS virus outbreak, putting a serious damper on travel. While his competitors hunkered down to cost cutting by nixing incentives and staff benefits (impacting the base of the pyramid), Conley focused higher up the pyramid, entrenching happiness in his company through training, recognition and reward programmes.

The resulting loyal staff body, committed to the brand, delivered superior service and experiences to their customers. Consequently, customer loyalty skyrocketed, their employee turnover dropped to one-third of the industry average, and during that tumultuous period when other Californian hotels were closing doors, they tripled in size.

 A country in practice

If the success of one business isn’t enough to sway your skepticism, consider that the concept was pioneered and executed by an entire country. In the 1970s, the teen king of Bhutan proposed that gross national happiness (GNH) was more important than gross domestic product.

But how do you measure happiness? Together with the Prime Minister of Bhutan, they developed an alternative to GDP based on 72 metrics across seven key indicators that measure happiness and quality of life.

Bhutan was then able to create the economic, environmental, physical, mental, workplace, social and political conditions for happiness to occur. Today, dozens of countries participate in annual GNH surveys.

Matrix and metrics: GDP vs GNH

Traditional GDP is based on a metric from the industrial era, but today 64% of global GDP comes from service based businesses. That means the metrics used to measure success only apply to 36% of global businesses while intangibles like customer experience, social impact and employee fulfillment are unaccounted for.

What makes the Bhutanese so successful at happiness is that they’re not hung up on wanting what they don’t have – happiness is not the pursuit of tangible things. Instead, they foster gratitude for what they do have. This can be written as a formula – and formulas can be measured.

Expand your tool box

As a business leader, by creating the conditions for employees to self-actualise, you can influence the quality of a unit of productivity. And a happy employee creates the conditions for the happiness of a customer. Realise there is a connection between the intangible of employee happiness with creating the tangible of financial profits for your business. You can have both.

 Begin with one thing you can you start counting today that will be meaningful in your personal or work life.

To evaluate and improve your employees’ sense of meaning or your customers’ sense of emotional connection:

 Ask employees

  • Do they know the mission of your company?
  • Do they believe in the mission of your company?
  • How do they feel about how they spend their time each day?
  • Do they feel the work they do has impact?

 Ask customers

  •  Do they feel an emotional connection to your business?
  • What would they need to feel a more emotional connection?
Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.