South African employees have an above average ‘Happiness at Work (H@W)’ rating, according to data from the iOpener Institute for People and Performance. South African employees are particularly positive about the impact and meaning of their work.

They are however less positive about job security and resilience, but even these scores are marginally above average.

“South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world,” says Katie Demain, consultant at Stoke, which represents the iOpener Institute in South Africa. “So it makes sense that those who are gainfully employed are grateful to be so and make the most of the opportunity. And those who are not employed or employable have a very different outlook on and experience of life.”

The iOpener Institute has compiled a global database of more than 14 000 employees, measuring the various factors that make up their Happiness at Work. Around 1 000 South Africans responded to the survey. The iOpener Institute’s questionnaire, the iPPQ, measures five components of Happiness at Work:

* Contribution – the effort an individual or team makes;

* Conviction – short-term motivation;

* Culture – a feeling of fit at work;

* Commitment – long-term engagement; and

* Confidence – the belief in one’s abilities.

“South Africans score above average on all five components,” says Tracey Proudfoot, director at Stoke, “with the highest being Commitment (6.24 out of 10), indicating a strong long-term engagement with their work. South African workers score lowest on Contribution (5.47 out of 10), meaning they feel less positive about the effort they make, but they still score above average globally in this regard.”

The three items on which South African workers score highest are feelings of doing something worthwhile (6.91 out of 10), having a positive impact on the world (6.75 out of 10), and liking their job (6.65 out of 10). This suggests a strong ability to find meaning in their careers.

Three items in which South African workers score lowest are resilience (5.12 out of 10), respect for one’s boss (5.30 out of 10), and feelings of job security (5.32 out of 10). These scores are all still slightly above average, but fall behind other contributors to South African employees’ Happiness at Work levels.

“H@W specifically is very tangible subject,” says Demain. “We know from our six years of worldwide research that there are 25 tangible items that make people happier or unhappier at work that also predict their performance and success. We can also see that those who are in formal employment in South Africa have a sense of being privileged and that they more readily take personal responsibility for their own success.

“South Africans have a ‘can do’ attitude, and combine this with ‘job-crafting’ which is about making their positions suit their preferences instead of resigning from that position,” she adds. “Their work ethic is well known globally and, as a nationality, South Africans are a resilient collective of people who manage organisational change and people dynamics at work quite well. Common traits that can be found in South African employees are that they are entrepreneurial and able to cope with overcoming daily challenges and difficulties.”

General happiness disposition is known to precede and predict success at work. And those who are recruited by organisations tend to be the happier of the candidates. Although, in terms of general Happiness (as contrasted with the niche subject of Happiness at Work), South Africa only ranks 90th in the UN’s first World Happiness Report (compiled by the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University) comprising 156 countries.

“General happiness of a nation is not just about personal wealth; it’s about political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption,” Demain adds. “The ranking matches the UN’s Human Development Index, which rates countries by life expectancy, adult literacy and living standards.

“So, South Africans are happier at work than other nationalities,” adds Proudfoot. “And now that we can demonstrate this unprecedented understanding of the link between happiness at work and performance, we are excited to help organisational leaders put this knowledge into practice.

“Safeguarding and further leveraging this happiness attribute will stand their organisation in good stead for growth into the future and help them build a competitive edge. After all, an Employer Brand is strongly identified with the ‘on the street gossip’ about happiness levels of its employees. So having a happy workforce is a strong pull to attract the next generation of talent to the organisation.”