Mark Price, a former minister and managing director of Waitrose, has challenged retailers to prioritise workplace happiness in order to boost productivity and profit.

Speaking at the ACS Summit in Birmingham yesterday, Lord Price argued that workplace happiness was vital for business sustainability and the future of capitalism itself.

He cited research revealing that businesses with happy workplaces achieve 20% higher productivity and profit than average, as well as lower staff turnover and sickness.

“If you have really happy and engaged people they’ll be more productive and loyal and your business will be more sustainable long term,” he said.

“Those of us who believe in capitalism must make the case for a happier workforce.”

He said “we should care more than ever” about workplace happiness, in light of growing public concerns about the inadequate state of public services, the divide between rich and poor, the next generation’s ability to buy houses and job security, among others. Such anxieties resulted in the vote for Brexit in the UK and for president Donald Trump in the US, he added.

Lord Price, who has written a book entitled Fairness for All: Unlocking the power of employee engagement, outlined six steps to high employee engagement: reward and recognition; information; empowerment; well being; sense of pride; and job satisfaction.

Highlighting the importance of ‘reward and recognition’, he said employees are told on average they are doing a good job just three times a year. In retail specifically, ‘being heard’ was a key area for development, he added.

Elsewhere, Hidenori Tsunematsu, CSR manager of Japanese c-store chain FamilyMart, discussed how the business was adapting to the country’s ageing society. FamilyMart services for the elderly included diet management products, a home delivery business that included a health check for customers, and dementia training for staff. In addition, new store layouts focused on high-tech toilets and communal eating areas.

On technology, the executive editor of Wired magazine, Jeremy White, said the next level of digital assistance software was on its way. Viv, a Samsung product created by the developers of Siri, responds to highly detailed questions such as ‘where is the nearest place in town to buy bleach’.

He also stressed the importance of adopting a tailored social media strategy. “A tremendous amount of companies have a social media strategy without knowing why. If you tailor what you want to do with it, you can be very successful,” White added.

He lauded the Eat 17 store in Bishop’s Stortford for generating high footfall on a Sunday by using social media to promote its Sunday opening hours.