Get Happy! A commercial imperative

Article published in Torque-Expo Magazine – April 2017 Edition

According to Torque’s end of year poll, looking after staff is a priority for most industry companies throughout 2017. We asked Ailsa Carson, Founder of Onsite Insights, for her insights into employee engagement and how that affects businesses bottom lines…

Who doesn’t want to enjoy going to work? There is clear evidence from decades of research that improving happiness and creating engaged and committed employees leads to increases in profit, productivity, job retention and innovation.

Gallup, one of the leaders in employee engagement surveys, claim that a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged, and claim that many companies are experiencing a crisis but aren’t even aware of it.

According to Gallup there are three types of employees (see Diagram 1). Sadly, in many organisations the percentage that could be categorised as ‘Actively Disengaged’ are sufficient to disrupt corporate strategy, and potentially damage brand value.

We can learn a lot from companies that have achieved high levels of engagement. Mars Inc, the company behind the iconic Mars Bar rate as one of the best places to work globally. The free chocolate and pet-friendly perks may be part of it, but it’s definitely more than that. Mars is a family-owned business and they reward loyalty and every employee feels valued and is thus truly engaged. Employees at Mars genuinely want to stay for life and are proud of the company they work for.

Princes Foods another great UK manufacturing company also has excellent levels of employee engagement. This can be attributed to their clarity of purpose, their openness, honesty and integrity. Employees are valued and have structured feedback and career paths. The company has good strategic deployment and great training plans for all staff. The company’s Continuous Improvement Manager has an important insight on how they have approached engagement:


At Princes we seem to constantly return to our “Change Commitment “Curve illustration (see Diagram 1). What we want is everyone following the “Green Route”, to ownership, not the “Red Route”, to compliance. The trouble is the “Green Route” takes longer and requires patience, letting people experiment, and lots of coaching and support.

Shigehiro Nakamura, my old Lean Sensei, always stressed “people own what they create”. You have to avoid imposing highly defined solutions but rather communicate the key principles and then let the teams develop their own solutions within that framework.This way, in my view, leads towards ownership and a truly “indestructible” C.I. system.




Nigel Whittingham, UK Manufacturing Director at Buhler Group – in my mind one of the UK’s most impressive manufacturing facilities – also believes that ownership must be felt at every level, you need robust structures in place and a focus on communication to effect a change in the culture:

“We have driven improvements in engagement through the implementation of a flat organisation of small teams and a structured programme of Team Leader development. The RPO programme includes structured continuous communication between hands-on Team Leaders, team members and management. The teams demonstrate an increased focus on skills and responsibility for safety, quality, delivery, costs and continuous improvement, with an open approach to performance management. Behaviour and culture change is key, as is wellbeing and sustainable job security. People need to know that they are heard, can change things and make things better.”

Henry Stewart founder of Happy, a training company based in East London, is one of the UK’s leading proponents of creating a great place to work. We asked Henry his thoughts on the subject of employee engagement and he shared with us The Happy Manifesto – a definitive bible for anyone setting out on the journey to improve engagement.

Henry’s advice:

“What people don’t like are blame cultures, micro management and being told what to do. What they do like is to do something they are good at, and be given the freedom to do it well in a no blame environment. Managers should see their role as to coach and support their development, rather than tell them what to do.”

Having visited over 400 companies world-wide I have seen both good and bad engagement. These are some of the ideas you may wish to consider when looking at employee engagement:

1.      Make ‘Happiness at work’ one of your core values – live and breathe it. You don’t need to over sell it in terms of images and materials but it needs to become part of your DNA and to do this it must be a point of discussion at as many meetings and planning sessions as possible. But it takes time and you need to ensure you avoid the Red Route (see Princes Foods Diagram – the change commitment curve).

2.      Communicate – Good companies ask the question – what makes you happy, and what is stopping you being happy, and they ask everyone. But don’t just ask, do – embrace ideas and find solutions to common problems. Talking will give you perspective on what is and what isn’t making your team happy at work.

3.      Measure Engagement & Happiness – a barometer of engagement and happiness in the workplace is useful. Just make sure you measure what is important to you as an organisation.

4.      Give autonomy & ownership – you can’t make people happy but you can make them responsible for their own happiness. If people feel that they have the power to affect change, they will.

5.      Be Authentic & Act with Humility – Every employee needs to really believe in the company purpose and direction and for most this needs to be more than just profit figures. Act ‘on and with Purpose’ – employee engagement will only happen if every manager and employee lives and breathes the principles.

6.      Love where you work – The décor definitely helps. Take for example Innocent, the renowned drinks manufacturer. A visit to Fruit Towers their offices in West London is just inspiring – chill-out zones, bunting and table tennis tables, free breakfasts and of course unlimited smoothies creates fun and makes employees live and breathe the company’s core values.

Engagement is a behavioural outcome. Ensure the desired behaviours form part of your recruitment, promotion and retention practices. By ensuring you are bringing in, rewarding and retaining those with the right behaviours you will improve engagement in the longer term.

If you would like to visit Happy, Princes Foods, Mars or a wide range of other companies that have achieved high levels of engagement please do visit our website at or email me

Useful Reference material

The Happy Manifesto – Henry Stewart (download for free from

The 10 Essential Pillars of Employee Engagement – source

Wellbeing and Employee Engagement – source