How to measure a happy business

Tshering Tobgay, prime minister of Bhutan, is about to test whether the country’s efforts to measure happiness can work for businesses, too


Does money make you happy? Conventional wisdom says that after achieving a basic living standard, which varies by country and by region, more money does not result in proportionately greater happiness. In 2018 Bhutan is introducing an ambitious initiative to offer a more visionary answer to this perennial question.

For more than six decades Bhutan has followed a development policy inspired by the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Now we aim to steer companies, too, away from a focus on short-term benefits and towards long-term values that will nurture responsible and sustainable businesses.

GNH promotes society’s happiness through a balanced, sustainable, inclusive and equitable development model. Our next step is to bring the private sector under the GNH framework. The idea is to make businesses simultaneously accountable to their shareholders, customers, employees, the community and to the environment.

We intend to do this by introducing a GNH Certification Tool for Business, drawn from the GNH Index that has shaped Bhutanese public policy. The tool comprises a set of indicators, grouped under nine domains of GNH that cover the impact on workers, consumers, local communities and the company itself. Information on four of these domains (psychological well-being, health, time use and education) will be collected from the company’s employees. To assess their psychological well-being, for example, employees will be asked questions on job satisfaction, occupational stress, employee engagement, workplace discrimination and emotional experiences. For the other five domains (community vitality, cultural diversity, good governance, ecological diversity and living standards), information will be sourced from the company.

Going beyond CSR

What is different about a GNH certification, given that numerous assessment tools have been developed as businesses adopt sophisticated policies on corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Most CSR efforts are risk-management or public-relations strategies, limited to donating time and money, or confined to a specific business. The GNH tool represents a fundamental rethink of the corporate model of doing business. And we intend to apply it nationwide to all businesses. It takes the measurement process beyond CSR, just as GNH takes the measurement of human development beyond GDP. The certification categorises entire businesses in the way that the International Organisation for Standardisation does products. The criteria will inject GNH values into business models and ensure that society is safe from the negative impacts of a company’s operations, products and services. This investment in societal happiness will be rewarded with incentives like tax breaks.

More than 200 participants from over 30 countries have signed up for the launch of the certification tool at a “GNH for Business Conference” in November 2017, in my country’s capital, Thimphu. Like the GNH concept that has now been adopted by numerous agencies in several countries, the conference brings together like-minded companies with progressive interests. With innovative marketing throughout 2018, the tool will be introduced to companies within and beyond Bhutan.

The “GNH brand” represented by the certification will set new standards for businesses. A survey of 540 employees and 41 companies in September 2017 found that virtually all Bhutanese companies could fail to secure a future “GNH certification”. Just as elsewhere, Bhutanese businesses are working to pursue the narrow interests of their owners and shareholders. Not surprisingly, some refused to undergo the certification process.

Certifiably good

After the launch of the tool in November 2017, the formal certification process will be done through external assessment. This will include direct observations, evidence gathering, and field interviews with workers and companies. At the end of the assessment the auditors will deliver a report, on the basis of which a GNH certification will be provided—assuming that minimum standards are met. The certification process will be voluntary, and will be open to any company that is serious about integrating GNH values into its business model.

The adoption of GNH by the private sector will have a greater impact than public policy, which tends to be mired in bureaucracy and politics. As the average employed person, aged between 18 and 65, spends 94,080 hours at work—that is, 35% of his or her waking day—the reality is that businesses and society are interdependent.

That is the real vision of Bhutan’s GNH for businesses: ensuring a prosperous and happy society.

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