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In Business
Thursday 8.30-9.00pm,
Sunday 9.30-10.00pm (rpt)
Programme details 
19 June 2008
Listen to this programme in full
Peter Day
Happy Go Lucky

Peter Day goes in search of happiness at work. Is this something companies can create, and does it make business sense to try?
About this programme by Peter Day

It is 20 years this month since I started doing In Business. We don’t seem to be marking this occasion, but it is a milestone that makes you think: half a working life doing exactly the same job is hardly what the life coaches would recommend.

But it chimes well with this week’s In Business, which is all about corporate happiness, alias job satisfaction.
A British professor at the Wharton Business School in Philadelphia has done some research appearing to indicate that US corporations with the happiest employees have a financial performance notably better than lower ranked companies.

This is either blindingly obvious or a great mystery, and investors seeking more than merely quantitative data on which to base their decisions are getting interested in these league tables of Best Companies to Work For.

The real question seems to be: Is happiness in the workplace (that may be so beneficial to a company) created by healthcare and staff karaoke sessions and subsidised canteens, or is it deeper than that?

Two sample Best Companies I visited cascaded training and flexible working and sheer respect on their workforce. The central heating installers Heat in Belfast came out number one on the most recent Sunday Times list; strenuously taking their workers seriously enables them to get a heating system installed in a single day.

Britannia Building Society, based in Leek in Staffordshire, is also well up the Best Companies list, but of course it has remained a mutual society, “owned” by its members. It has quite a different attitude to its savers/borrowers than the privatised societies, now banks, have.

It was poignant to hear from Britannia in the same week that Bradford and Bingley revealed its big troubles, so soon after Northern Rock. Working for a mutual building society defines your job rather more precisely and constantly than working for a bank run by a hidden few top dogs taking big unseen risks in uncharted financial markets.

Stands to reason there’s a chance the job will be more rewarding in the mutual.

Surely the trick of job satisfaction is to try to make the business units small enough to keep workers’ ideas and ambitions aligned to the purpose of the company?

That sounds straightforward. But Henry Ford’s pernicious mass production ideas were adopted so widely by so many other industries that the disconnection between work and purpose was institutionalised for most of the 20th century in most sorts of employment.

Now companies have to rediscover how to make work work.

Meanwhile, new research from “Management Today” seems to show that despite falling behind on most kinds of executive pay compared with other countries, the UK still leads the world on the rewards paid to human relations directors.

Nice to know that someone is happy.

John Morgan

Resource and Communications Director, Heat

Alex Edmans
Assistant Professor of Finance at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Julie Hudson
Analyst, UBS

Jane Henry
Head of Centre for Human Resources and Change Management, Open University Business School

Alexander Kjerulf
Business consultant and ‘Chief Happiness Officer’

Tim Franklin
Managing Director of Member Services, Britannia Building Society

Stephen Overell
Associate Director, The Work Foundation
About In Business

We try to make ear-grabbing programmes about the whole world of work, public and private, from vast corporations to modest volunteers.

In Business is all about change. New ways of work and new technologies are challenging most of the assumptions by which organisations have been run for the last 100 years. We try to report on ideas coming over the horizon, just before they start being talked about. We hope it is an exhilarating ride.
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