The critical role of HR in bringing the Heartbeat back into Business

There is considerable evidence that happy employees makes a tangible difference to the success of an organisation. Happy employees create together 300% more innovation (HBR), are more productive (+ 43%, Hay Group), are more enthusiastic which results in increased customer satisfaction, better sales results (+37% Shawn Actor) and higher profits (+33%, Gallup). At the same time, the costs of absenteeism drop (-66%, Forbes), staff turnover decreases (-51%, Gallup) and the chances of a burn-out are significantly reduced (-125%. HBR)!

Yet the vast majority of people – up to 87% according to Gallup research (2016) – are not truly engaged at work. Disengaged employees have a low sense of involvement with the company or organisation and do not go the extra mile that makes a real difference to an organisation or company.

The 'drivers' of Happiness at Work

Happiness is subjective. Every person experiences happiness in a different and unique way. The determining factors are different for each person but based on the work of Tony Hsieh, Dan Ariely, Shawn Achor and Alexander Kjerulf there are several ingredients  that  contribute to increasing happiness  at work:

Compassionate leadership

Clearly therefore the behavior of the leaders is a dominant factor in employee happiness. “People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses”, is a frequent heard saying. The opposite is also true: an inspiring leader creates a more engaged employee and a more engaged team. According to research by leadership development experts Dr. Brad Shuck and Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott “higher levels of engagement come from employees who work for a compassionate leader….” Leaders are key in delivering those employee experiences that drive employee happiness and engagement.

Employee Engagement also needs an HR function “with a consumer lens”

I would argue that there is an equally important role for HR to play in creating happiness at work – by offering the best possible employee experience and holding leaders accountable for the level of employee happiness and engagement. Whilst the “hard” part of  HR (policies, processes, systems and tools)  is essential and should be well structured, many HR processes (e.g. Performance and assessment systems)  are often complex, not particularly stimulating for employees and leaders and frankly even counterproductive as they do not lead to higher engagement and performance. To enable happiness at work the focus of HR activities needs to be more on the heart of the business – people rather than processes.  The HR function needs to apply a consumer lens to its contribution, i.e. creating an employee experience that mirrors the best customer experience.

The future of HR: create a compelling employee experience

The HR function should focus on creating a stimulating and engaging working environment. HR needs to focus on helping leaders deliver an employee experience that is human centered and personalized, all supported and enabled by technology. It is about co-creating an attractive employer brand – totally in line with the business purpose and brand – and supporting leaders in delivering that brand promise to potential employees during the recruitment process and to all employees in their day-to-day interactions. Turning (prospective) employees into brand/organisation advocates. It is about helping leaders creating alignment between the organisation’s goals and their people/team’s growth and performance. It is about helping leaders create a work environment where people and teams are stretched but feel safe so that they can learn and get better every day. It’s about supporting the company executive team in designing agile organisations and work processes where people are really empowered to take decisions swiftly unencumbered by unnecessary rules and regulations, where they can team-up easily with colleagues to develop solutions needed to improve the consumer experience.


I am convinced that by focusing on the “happiness” of its employees, creating a compelling work experience and creating more strategic and inspiring alignment with the business strategy, HR can genuinely bring the HeaRtbeat back in business and create more value for organisations.

Let’s make it our mission to make people smile every day!

This article is based on an award winning essay for the future award of the NVP 2015-2016

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