_kwench_happiness_driver_blogPostThe latest topic of interest at B-schools interestingly has little to do with finance or advanced operations management and has more to do with the ‘well-being’ of the workforce in companies. ‘Human Flourishing’ or ‘Subjective Well-being’ as some of the Prof’s put it, but ‘Happiness’ to most of us.

Research is now showing that contrary to the popular belief – ‘pressure drives productivity’, it is happiness at the workplace that makes good business sense. Happy employees, it turns out, tend to be healthier, more creative at finding solutions to problems and generally more productive.

In a 2010 study titled, ‘Causal impact of employee work perceptions on the bottom line of organizations’, James Harter of the Gallup organization and his co-researchers, found that a lower-job satisfaction foreshadowed a poorer bottom line performance of the company. Teresa Amabile of HBS and Steven Kramer an independent researcher collected over 12,000 diary entries from over 230 professionals across 7 companies and the results were shocking. In one-third of those entries, the employee was demotivated, unhappy or both! Their research showed that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do

Happiness is not about people walking around with smiles all day (though that can be a actual side-effect if your workplace is filled with happy people). It’s more about them wanting to get out of bed and wanting to come to work. Think about it – Working adults spend the largest chunk of their waking hours in the workplace or doing work and thus it becomes important that they find this time to be enjoyable rather than a chore. Gallup estimates that the cost of disengagement is over $300 billion in just the US! This brings me (again) to the the point I keep repeating – the cost of achieving a sense of pride and accomplishment among the workforce is minimal. There really is no excuse for having a disengaged workforce. In the knowledge economy, peer recognition and acknowledgement of a job-well-done by superiors goes a long way. A simple “Good Job” note praising your team, put up on your social intranet where everyone can see it can make a difference to the bottom line – it really is that easy.

In an article in the Financial Times (The pursuit of happiness in the workplace), Della Bradshaw points out how the intermingling of experts from economics and psychology is bringing out new insights that is changing our understanding of what drives employees to do better. Academia is now providing solid research to back up the new wave of organizational change.Now we know what is needed and technology solutions like SaaS based Social Intranets and Collaboration Platforms are making it a snap for HR to facilitate engagement and appreciation. (Related post: SaaS and Cloud Computing: Driving HR Transformation)

The FT article also has some excellent tips for managers on how to develop a strong engagement culture at work.

  • Never underestimate the value of relationships, says Prof Dutton. “The more you build conditions for people to build high-quality connections, the more you will increase happiness.”
  • Adopt a strength-based management development programme, says Prof Newman. “When we’re constantly having people work on their weaknesses, it doesn’t feel good.”
  • Encourage managers to respect the work-life balance of their employees, says Prof Scollon. “The happiest people are the people with strong social relationships.”

Teresa and Steven point out that 95% of managers they asked to rank five employee motivators, failed to recognize that ‘progress in meaningful work is the primary motivator, well ahead of traditional incentives like raises and bonuses’. Leaders need to step up and set a culture of engagement and recognition in their organizations. Companies that do not provide the catalysts for employee motivation are bound to fall behind in today’s competitive marketplace. The choice is simple. Engage or die.

References and Acknowledgements

The complete FT article (The pursuit of happiness in the workplace) by Della Bradshaw is here, The NYTimes article (Do Happier People work harder?) by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer is here, Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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