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Agenda: Spread a little happiness


HappinessIn these gloomy times it is perhaps not surprising that research suggests the majority of staff are miserable at work. So what has this to do with L&D? Far more than you may first imagine, says Nigel Paine.

The writer and presenter Robin Sharma talks about five different kinds of wealth. Only when you possess a modicum of all five can you claim to have meaning in your life and a sense of well-being. He has written books on the subject.

The first is obviously economic wealth. He argues that it is hard to feel badly off and still feel good about yourself and your life, but economic well-being is just the first criterion.

The second is relationship wealth. Having good people around you, feeling loved and respected and being able to respect and love in return.

The third is health: both physical and mental health. That really needs no explanation, as I have never met anyone who would swap places with a millionaire on a life support machine.

The fourth is having a sense of challenge, adventure and fun.

The final constituent is the feeling that you are making a contribution and an impact in your life.

Photo of Nigel Paine"Too often the focus on learning is around competence to do the job or remedial exercises to boost areas of perceived weaknesses."

Sharma is referring generally to personal wealth and well-being, but I want to take a moment to reflect on wealth at work. Why is it that 70% of staff, according to the Work Foundation, are miserable at work? And I have talked to many miserable people earning what you and I would consider to be fabulous salaries.

Money is not the key to well-being and productivity, but it is often seen as the only lever worth pulling in the workplace. X is threatening to leave, pay her a 10% salary increase! And there is a general and prevalent myth that still runs the course, that all discontent can be traced back to salary issues and can therefore be solved, if you choose to do that, by the chequebook. But, just as many Premiership teams have discovered, the chequebook does not produce a performing team, nor that essential characteristic of success: 11 players in tune and focussed together on winning. It is more complex but also more simple than that and learning has a big contribution to make here.

Where does the learning leader come in, then? Too often the focus on learning is around competence to do the job or remedial exercises to boost areas of perceived weaknesses. If we listen to Sharma, a learning leader can help move the entire workforce forward in four of those five criteria listed above.

Learning does not always occur in formal programmes of study. Most of learning at work takes place informally as we now agree. Therefore a programme of adventure and challenge for all those capable of rising to that, and that, covers most people, can help build a sense of progression and evolution in a role, even if the role itself remains unchanged.

A focus on physical health and mental dexterity will add to the energy levels and success rates in the workplace and will make a huge contribution to the amount of innovation. Finally if you help staff make an impact; redraw boundaries to allow some scope for decision-making. Build task-focussed teams, allow some collective development and ensure that process is monitored and recognised.

The learning function has a critical and more holistic role to play in building a workplace that Hamel calls; 'fit for the twentieth century and fit for human beings'. But you have to see the bigger picture and get involved in the wider issues of staff engagement. Good luck!

Nigel Paine is a former head of training and development at the BBC and now runs his own company, Nigel Paine.Com which focuses on people, learning and technology. For more information visit his website at


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