Happiness at Work

by julia.hanigsberg | November 4th, 2013

In a Globe and Mail column, citing a recent poll that indicated only 13% of those surveyed were engaged at work, Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) asked the important questions why and what can employers do about it?

Putting People First

At Ryerson we have developed an approach we call People First (or #People1st when I tweet about it!). I’ve already written a couple of blogs on this topic. The phrase was initially adopted in our Master Plan to represent prioritizing people in development of our physical campus. People First is now well-established as the umbrella principle for decision-making about key elements of campus life for students, faculty and staff alike.

What are some examples?

  • As Jessa Chupik (@humanehr), Ryerson’s manager of recruitment, retention and employment equity said in Eichler’s column: “We tend to make broad generalizations about Gen Y, X … about what makes them happy in the workplace.  Instead, we should be asking employees for their opinions or input into how to improve the culture and happiness of an organization.” That’s precisely what our People First survey did and we are both probing the results and implementing changes that respond to them.
  • Currently focus groups are refining the survey data and “Conversations With” Assistant Vice President/Vice Provost Denise O’Neil Green (@diversity_blog) are enabling members of equity-seeking groups to share their experience of working at Ryerson.
  • Establishing an Employee Assistance Plan was a key People First initiative, as was our more recent reimagination of food at Ryerson (@RUEats) to better meet the needs of students and employees alike to support a more sustainable food system.
  • Our Ryerson Awards Night and new array of awards and recognition is another key achievement of People First.
  • Deploying the Soapbox app has allowed over 9,000 students to get their ideas for making Ryerson a better place in front of university decision-makers.
  • Our researchers portal helps to take some of the friction out of administration of research for faculty.
  • We measure student engagement through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and those scores are included in the University’s key performance measures (KPIs) that it reports on annually to the Board of Governors (see the last 5 years results here: http://www.ryerson.ca/upo/reports/undergrad/nsse/)

The Happiness Project…At Work?

Is it shallow to care so much about happiness? Taking action to improve one’s happiness can motivate important life changes and have positive impact on family and community (see best-selling author Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project). Our acute concern (obsession?) with work-life “balance” (one of my most hated phrases) may be utterly misguided: if each part of the equation makes you happy maybe you won’t be as concerned with the (in my view futile) teeter-totter of balance? In addition, there is widely reported evidence to suggest that happier employees positively impact the bottom line.

But beyond the numbers there is a value-based rationale for caring about employee happiness. I’d argue that we don’t make student engagement a strategic priority at Ryerson because we want to be the most applied to university in Ontario, but rather that we are the most applied to university (first choice applicants to available spaces) BECAUSE we put student engagement (happiness) first. Of the Ryerson Administration & Finance team’s 8 values 6 directly contribute to People First (user focus; collaboration; respect; integrity; equity, diversity and inclusion; communication). Why? Because we believe that caring about all Ryersonians (the #ramily!), at work, learning, and while engaging in research, scholarship and creative activity underpins who we are: an edgy, urban, engaged university where we challenge all community members to make their mark through innovation, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and social innovation.

The “Real” Bottom Line

Choose to work somewhere that is motivated by your happiness. Do your part to create happiness around you at work and at home. What will you do today to build up the happiness quotient for you and those around you?

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