Happiness is the best policy

The British retailer, the John Lewis Partnership has a constitutional goal – ‘the happiness of its members’.  This means that it puts the happiness of its 70,000 permanent staff at the centre of everything it does.  Is the UK Government about to follow suit and make happiness central to its efforts, and if so, what does this mean for employers?

This week it was revealed that the Government is gearing up to announce plans to start measuring the nation’s subjective wellbeing – i.e. happiness – and use the data to understand the impact of its policies.  Quite how they will achieve this will be interesting, especially as psychologists still debate the topic, but there are rumours that it will begin to do so in spring 2011 by adding some questions to the existing household survey and then publish their findings on a quarterly basis.

A similar move is being considered in France, where President Sarkozy commissioned the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz to report on the measurement of economic and social progress in a modern economy.  But the idea to replace or supplement the traditional measure of economic progress, GDP with one on GWB (General Well Being) is not new.  Indeed, for several years now the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been measuring what it calls ‘Gross National Happiness’; and it’s understood that the Canadians already measure GWB although they don’t yet use the data for policy-making.

So what has this got to do with employers?  Well, firstly, a study by Assistant Professor Nathan Bowling in the US reported that people who are unhappy in life are more likely to be unhappy in work.  And thanks to another recent study, this time by Professor Andrew Oswald at Warwickshire Business School, we also know that happy workers are good, productive workers.  Therefore any attempts by the Government to ensure that its policies enhance rather than impair a person’s happiness ought to be a good thing for business. 

But secondly, just like the John Lewis Partnership (who recently reported a 28% increase in pre-tax profits), enlightened employers won’t just reap the rewards of happy staff, they’ll also play an important role in boosting workers’ emotional wellbeing.  Here at Unison Media, we know that many of the factors that affect happiness can be fulfilled by work – and we don’t just mean fair pay and rewards.  We know, for example, that work can provide us with a sense of meaning, opportunities for goal achievement, and enable us to build close friendships – just three of the factors that facilitate wellbeing.  There are many others, and we’d be happy to share these with you because we truly believe that happiness is the best policy.

For further information:

email gill@unisonmedia.co.uk



– Link to information on the John Lewis Partnership (and to download a copy of their constitution):


– Link to news item on the Government’s plans to measure happiness:


– Links to news item on GNH in Bhutan:



– Link to the “Stiglitz commission”  i.e. Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress:


– Link to Bowling’s paper on subjective wellbeing and job satisfaction:


– Link to Oswald’s paper on happiness and productivity:  


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