International Day of Happiness 2019: Happier together – the value of a purposeful workplace

The World Happiness Report, which ranks countries by their happiness levels, placed South Africa at 104 out of 156 countries in 2018, and at 106 in 2019. 

By Elaine Porter, Director: People, Culture & Engagement, WSP in Africa.

While there are many factors contributing to a country’s happiness score, it is worth considering how corporate employers in South Africa can contribute to the happiness of our employees, and the communities in which we operate.

For WSP in Africa, the focus has been on creating and sustaining a purposeful workplace for our people. As engineers and scientists, our work affects the communities in which we deliver projects by its very nature. Whether designing a bridge that enables communities to travel safely across a river, or a water management plan for an industrial operation to ensure its sustainability; our work affects African communities every day.

This may seem like enough to ensure that people at WSP have a sense of purpose and meaning and are therefore happy. But we are not immune to the negative effects of stress, financial pressure, long hours, fatigue and many other factors that can lead to unhappiness in the workplace. 

The theme for the UN’s International Day of Happiness this year is ‘Happier together’ – a theme we find rather fitting at WSP. Creating a purposeful organisation, for us, means striving to help our people stay resilient under these pressures by creating a supportive community both in our daily work, and outside of it. Living up to our guiding principles is key to achieving this sense of belonging - and adding to our people’s overall happiness. 

Fostering collaboration

A core value at WSP, enabling collaboration amongst our people is an important driver in creating happiness together. Our Professional Growth Network – PiGeoN – is one such initiative. PiGeoN provides our young professionals with a platform from which to share knowledge, network outside of their discipline streams, and learn from more senior engineers and scientists. Its success lies in its organic nature – allowing our young professionals to shape the platform around their needs, with the full support of our executive and business support structures. 

PiGeoN embodies key principles of the purposeful workplace – allowing people to act autonomously, give expression to their passion at work, and form connections with likeminded people who share their passion. At the same time, the platform makes it easier and more fun for our highly experienced Baby Boomer and Gen X professionals to share their knowledge and experience with Millennials and Gen Zers who are growing their careers.

Our people are our reputation

Technical expertise is what sets us apart from our competitors, not only for our clients but also for our people and prospective employees. 

Our people pride themselves on their technical capabilities, and in creating a purposeful organisation we have developed a highly successful Candidacy Programme for our engineers to help them achieve professional registration with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA). Professional registration is an important milestone towards fulfilling one’s purpose as an engineer - and we consider it our duty, as employer, to support our young professionals on this journey and enable their success.

Local relevance, international scale

Passion for communities goes beyond the engineering and environmental projects we deliver for our clients, to a desire to do charitable work in our communities. In South Africa in particular, getting involved in community development helps us to remain locally relevant. To make it easy for our people to access opportunities to volunteer - and put their scarce skills to work in underprivileged communities - we have implemented an Employee Volunteer Programme in partnership with For Good

The For Good platform helps our people find charitable organisations that need their support – from actual construction or environmental projects to education in maths and science to encourage the next generation of budding engineers and scientists. In less than 6-months, more than 20% of our people have signed up to engage with this programme. From our side, we allow our people to participate in volunteer activities during working hours, as teambuilding activities and otherwise. 

Linking purpose to happiness at work

These programmes speak directly to three of our five guiding principles as a responsible and responsive corporate - and demonstrate our belief that a purposeful organisation is an authentic one that lives up to its values every day. We believe that being part of an authentic organisation contributes to our people’s happiness, and by actively driving a culture that aligns to our values and theirs, we help our people achieve happiness together.