Are we happy now? Measuring forestry happiness provides some surprising answers

In a world where economic success is (largely) measured by consumption growth – gross domestic product being the logical example – it is refreshing to find alternative measures of success. One of those: sense of well-being, has been measured recently in a key forestry region. It may not be the much-vaunted Bhutanese ‘gross national happiness’ index, but it could just be a journey on that path.

Happiness itself is, of course, very much a relative term. It means different things to different people. Monty Python famously commented on this in the “We were so poor” skit. This starts in the best of circumstances with the sipping of a fine French wine before progressing through a series of ever diminishing events. 

Along the way, savouring a cup of tea, one of the combatants comments “You were lucky, we never used to have a cup. We used to drink out of a rolled-up newspaper”. The comeback being “The best we could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth”. This in turn leads to the observation that “My old dad used to say to me money doesn’t buy happiness. ‘E was right, I was happier then, and I had nothing.”

More recently, consideration of happiness or well-being in our workplaces and communities has become increasingly important. A report for the FWPA begins this exploration. The ‘Forest industry workforce – socio-economic wellbeing and community contributions’ report from Jacki Schirmer, Mel Mylek and Anders Magnusson at University of Canberra addresses these issues.

The literature tells us a person’s workplace can make a large contribution to personal wellbeing. This is a positive feedback loop. If a workplace contributes positively to a person’s wellbeing, they are likely to have greater productivity, lower stress and absenteeism and increased job satisfaction.  Furthermore, a workforce that has high wellbeing is also better able to positively contribute to the community in which it resides.

The aim of the study was to see how forestry and wood products manufacturing compared to the rest of the community. The good news is we are not too different to the broader communities in which we operate,  and in some areas we rate higher.

A useful summary from the report is contained in the attached table.

summary table

Of particular note is satisfaction with standard of living, which was higher for the forest sector. The report suggests this was linked to generally higher wages and more full-time work compared to the broader community. This was offset by slightly lower score for future security.

Another interesting measure of wellbeing can be seen in non-work factors such as; feeling welcome, spending time with friends and family, getting involved in the community and volunteering. All of these were on par (some slightly higher some slightly lower) with the broader community. For instance, survey participants indicating they regularly volunteer was 34% for forest industry workers. This was slightly behind the Green Triangle community at 38% and slightly ahead of the broader community at 31%.

This report provides a good starting point for understanding wellbeing and the interconnection with the communities we serve. This is an emerging area of research, providing a good story to tell, but also plenty of opportunity to consider how we measure the real contribution our businesses and workplaces make to the people who work in them and the communities with which we are associated. 

The full report can be downloaded here