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THC 2.0: Who holds the reins to people happiness?
Lipi Agrawal | HRKatha | Mumbai | Wednesday, 05 April 2017

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A panel of senior members from the industry – Rajesh Padmanabhan, Rani Desai, ES Srinivas, Sandip Ghose, Mahalakshmi R and Kamal Karanth – with diverse experience and expertise opine on what happiness means in the current times and how organisations can facilitate the same.  

It’s true that happiness is individual responsibility but the question is whether organisations can facilitate the same. In the first panel discussion at The Happiness Conclave 2.0, three senior HR leaders, an academician, a sales and marketing professional sat together to discuss the same. The session was moderated by Kamal Karanth, the former MD of Kelly Services, who started his career in pharma sales. The panellists included Rajesh Padmanabhan, director, member–group council & group CHRO, Welspun; Rani Desai chief people officer, Deloitte; ES Srinivas, professor, organisational behaviour area, XLRI; Sandip Ghose, executive president, sales, marketing & logistics, Birla Corporation; Mahalakshmi R, head-HR India, Mondelez.

The thought behind this session was to get people from varied function and expertise to discuss happiness in the new workplace.

"After a bad day at work, going home and relaxing may be happiness or after a bad day at home, going to office and getting distracted may be happiness, but in reality, it is only a sense of escape."

ES Srinivas

Karanth started the session explaining how happiness can mean different things to different people, depending on their life stages and circumstances. He shared how his definition of happiness kept changing as he progressed through various kinds of jobs. For instance, in his first job he was just happy to get the salary while in his second job, the happiness was about getting the salary on time. In the third job, happiness was linked to increments and in his last job it was about getting a good night’s sleep.

What he meant was happiness cannot be defined in one way as it holds different meanings for different people, in different circumstances.

ES Srinivas, professor, organisational behaviour area, XLRI, followed next with the thought that happiness was often a misinterpreted term.

He said, “Most of the times we mistake the sense of relief for sense of happiness. After a bad day at work, going home and relaxing may be happiness or after a bad day at home, going to office and getting distracted may be happiness, but in reality, it is only a sense of escape.”

“Individuals bring their whole self into the workplace—including their physical, mental, emotional and social selves, and most importantly, their souls. It is the energy of the soul that drives happiness and that’s different for everyone. Happiness is a confluence of all of this. It is a way of life and let us live it that way through technology.”

Rajesh Padmanabhan

Citing the ‘Drowning Model’ from academics, wherein you immerse a person in water, and as he’s struggling to breathe, you give him a break to catch his breath, Srinivas said that, that particular moment will give the man maximum happiness. He shared that interestingly, some people also talk about a Love-making Model of happiness, which entails investing time in building relationships and nurturing them.

“Philosophers, academicians and psychologists have always discussed happiness, but it is encouraging to see that now corporates are talking about it too,” he quipped.

Srinivas explained another model for happiness, by the happiness expert, Martin Seligman, from the University of Pennsylvania.

He proposed three concepts ensuring happiness—pleasure (which could be about any fleeting experience or intensive experience), engagement, and finding meaning (having a purposeful existence).

Srinivas also conveyed that recently, global performance management consulting company, Gallup, highlighted five aspects of wellbeing — career, physical, financial, social and community wellbeing. About 66 per cent people across countries and corporations are happy in at least one of these areas, whereas only seven per cent are happy in all five dimensions.

Taking the discussion ahead, Karanth raised a question—“Is happiness just another overhyped corporate term we’re playing with? Don’t we just need productive employees over happy employees?”

“Happiness is an outcome of a fulfilment. As the needs, aspirations, desires and ambitions change for different generations, the meaning of happiness also changes. The baby boomers had different kinds of needs, the fulfilment of which gave them happiness, and so on.”

Rani Desai 

Sandip Ghose, executive president, sales, marketing & logistics, Birla Corporation, responded, “If happiness can, in turn, make people more productive then certainly it is of importance to organisations. However, it is also true that everyone needs to define and find happiness for their own selves.”

Ghose presented a contrarian point of view saying that, “For organisations it is very complex to define and ensure happiness, especially with multiple generations working together under one roof. Hence, it gets presumptuous when organisations try to create happiness for everyone. I am highly sceptical of words, such as ‘chief happiness officer’. We only need to provide them space where they can find or create their own happiness,” he added. He also mentioned that in addition to physical fitness, organisations need to look into ensuring the mental wellbeing of employees, and if one can give people tools to manage the same, the rest will be taken care of automatically.

Throwing some light on generational differences or similarities and what it means to find happiness, Rani Desai, chief people officer, Deloitte, said, “Happiness is an outcome of a fulfilment. As the needs, aspirations, desires and ambitions change for different generations, the meaning of happiness also changes. The baby boomers had different kinds of needs, the fulfilment of which gave them happiness, and so on.”

(L-R - Rani Desai, Rajesh Padmanabhan, ES Srinivas, Mahalakshmi R, Sandip Ghose & Kamal Karanth)

Desai also shared that giving the current generation—living in abundance—the fulfilment to meet with their motivators and desires will ensure engaged employees, and the same has been true across generations.

Drawing attention to the aspect of technology in the workplace and its impact on happiness, Rajesh Padmanabhan, director, member–group council & group CHRO, Welspun, said, “I wouldn’t say technology is intrusive, but it is inclusive. Having said that, we’re packing so much into machines that not just manufacturing robotics, we will soon experience service robotics too, and may be in the next few years, while we talk, we will have a robot sitting beside us asking ‘what’s in it for me along with you all?’”

“If happiness can, in turn, make people more productive then certainly it is of importance to organisations. However, it is also true that everyone needs to define and find happiness for their own selves.”

Sandip Ghose

He further explained that for real happiness, few elements that come into play are, mysteries, adventure, surprise and anxiety buckets. While organisations still talk about career paths, work–life balance, and so on, there are people who have sacrificed their careers for a life they wanted. Hence, there’s not a singular standard approach to happiness, as it has to be customised to individuals.

Concluding his thoughts, Padmanabhan said, “Individuals bring their whole self into the workplace—including their physical, mental, emotional and social selves, and most importantly, their souls. It is the energy of the soul that drives happiness and that’s different for everyone. Happiness is a confluence of all of this. It is a way of life and let us live it that way through technology.”

Progressing the discussion, Karanth asked if happiness in the workplace is the responsibility of the HR or the CEO or otherwise. Responding to this, Mahalakshmi R, head-HR India, Mondelez, said, “Happiness is rapidly becoming an industry and it may not serve us well if we externalise happiness. What organisations can do is to provide an enabling environment. However the choice to be happy is always intrinsic and each of us own our own happiness "”

“Happiness is rapidly becoming an industry and it may not serve us well if we externalise happiness. What organisations can do is to provide an enabling environment. However, the choice to be happy is always intrinsic and each of us own our own happiness.”

Mahalakshmi R

She also shared that today people are getting closer to what makes them happy, and if they don’t find it in their workplace, they do not depend on their organisations anymore; they immediately switch. “Ability to take risks, identify their flow and do something that gives them a feeling of timelessness has become important to people,” she added.

In line with that, she explained, “Happiness is very subjective, and the only thing that organisations can do is to see if they can create a space for everyone to chase their happiness. At Mondelez, we really encourage people to be reflective through a framework called ‘Me, Us and It’. We create an ecosystem for people to share, discuss and find fulfilment in things that they are interested in.”

The discussion concluded with everyone concurring on the belief that although organisations are responsible for enabling employees to seek happiness, it has to be each one’s responsibility. The networks, peer groups, leaders and co-workers together create an ecosystem in the workplace that allows each one to find meaning in what they do, and in turn, discover their own happiness in the workplace.

(Sodexo, Art of Living Corporate Programs, XLRI, NHRDN Pune, NHRDN Mumbai, XoxoDay and Kommune are partners for The Happiness Conclave).

© 2016 HR Katha
Last modified on Wednesday, 12 April 2017

2 comments

  • Comment Link E S SRINIVAS Friday, 07 April 2017 posted by E S SRINIVAS

    Several progressive organizations (including few from India) are recognizing the importance and designing interventions based on insights from research in psychology and neuroscience.

  • Comment Link Dr. Ajay Gupta Wednesday, 05 April 2017 posted by Dr. Ajay Gupta

    Happiness is much researched and discussed concept but its application is far from imagination. While reading the comments of many speakers and experts, I was interested to see what they have done in their area of influence to create happiness to their workplace. This will showcase others as how happiness can be created at workplaces. Such talks are always appealing and people are more interested as how one can be happy. Unfortunately, I found comments generic and idealistic talks in nature. In fact, I would like to know the opinion of experts it they have created happiness to their people and working culture.

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