“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul” Democritus (460-370BC)
There appears to be a lot of unhappy people out there. Distrust of the Hong Kong Government seems to be at an all-time high, the Chief Executive’s honeymoon period is more like nightmare, the Occupy Central protesters are being dragged kicking and screaming from underneath HSBC and hunger strikers have forced a humiliating U-turn on national education. What does this mean for Hong Kong and business?
Many accept that people work better when they are happy, in companies as well as nations. But how do we measure happiness? Traditionally, countries have used Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers as the main measure of national success. In which case, does that make the United States the happiest country in the world?
Is this representative of individual fulfillment? Wouldn’t it be better to measure GDP per capita? In which case, Qatar is the happiest place on Earth, according to World Bank 2011 figures, and Hong Kong ranks just above the United States in equal 6th place with Brunei!
But there is obviously more to life that monetary income. First published in 1990, the Human Development Index (HDI) measures other aspects of quality of life such as health and longevity, knowledge, as well as income. The 2011 report puts Norway at the top of the list (as for the last four years), with the United States 4th and Hong Kong 13th.
Singapore, incidentally, only comes 26th, two places above the UK. But does this tell the whole story either? Knowledge in the HDI, for instance, only gauges the adult literacy rate and school enrollment.
The easy-to-mock Gross National Happiness of Bhutan provides an interesting and surprisingly in-depth alternative to measuring well-being as a total average per capita value of the following 7 aspects of ‘wellness’ – economic, environmental, physical, mental, workplace, social and political. ‘Workplace Wellness’, for example, uses direct surveys and statistical measurements of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits to provide a score.
As business people we could all ask ourselves how we measure Workplace Wellness in our own companies. Are there other factors beyond the traditional annual report indicators that might suggest that our businesses are healthy and happy?
Certainly, the Hong Kong Productivity Council thinks so. In partnership with the Promoting Happiness Index Foundation and Lingnan University they launched the “Hong Kong Happiness-at-work Index” earlier this year which found that 63.9% of respondents felt happy at work.
It concluded that, as well as the usual HR activities to keep employees physically and mentally stimulated, trust between the management and workers, fairness, good communication, efficiency and corporate governance were essential to improving workplace satisfaction. It has also been my observation that employees enjoy working in companies that have a clear vision with which they can identify, and that are confident and consistent in their brand identity.
Identity and self-esteem are closely linked (at least in every self-help book I have secretly browsed in bookshops). We need to ask ourselves as companies who we are. We need to know what we do well as business people and value it. And I think that goes for countries too. Whilst the protests against national education we see on the streets of Hong Kong may appear disruptive, they may just be the awakening of a greater sense of self-esteem and self-worth. And that may well make Hong Kong happier in the long run.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Chris White is Managing Director at Winkle-picker Ltd and Your Curator.