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Human Resources
Jan 15, 2015

Does Happiness Equal Productivity?

Sponsored Content provided by Dave Hoff - Chief Operating Officer and Executive VP of Leadership Development, EASI Consult

For many years, work was something you did to earn money to afford all the fun things you wanted to do when you weren’t at work. Work was a four-letter word. Work was something that was difficult, as in “hard work.” People dreamed of winning the lottery so they wouldn’t have to “work” any more – at least not for a boss. People lived for 5 p.m., particularly on Fridays. Sunday evenings meant the imminent beginning of another week of work.

Over time and for many employees, work shifted from something that was physical and menial to jobs that were more “white collar” and knowledge-based. At some organizations, management began to put effort into their employees’ work environments. There came to be a realization that workers took their capabilities (their knowledge) home with them every night. If an employee left an organization to join another organization, then that knowledge and know-how left with them.

There also was a realization that salaried employees could choose to work past 5 p.m. This came to be known as discretionary effort. The thinking behind discretionary effort goes like this: I know that my job requires me to do the things included in my job description, and to work on those things between certain hours on Monday through Friday. But I can choose to put in additional time (at no extra compensation as a salaried employee) because I like my job and get satisfaction from it.

Companies, of course, said, “How can we get some of that?” This thinking led to the creation of job satisfaction surveys and the realization that satisfaction can be measured. If we can measure what it “is” against what we would “like it to be,” then we can make changes in the workplace to make it more like the ideal. The theory was that if satisfaction was higher, employees would exercise more discretionary effort and productivity would be higher. The idea of job satisfaction, while important to productivity, seems to have run its course and been replaced by employee engagement.

What is the difference between employee satisfaction and engagement? Nancy Hatch Woodward in the October 2014 issue of HR Magazine in an article entitled, “Come On, Get Happy” discussed the differences. Of course, there are some similarities. Both satisfaction and engagement are tied to opportunities to use your skills and abilities, and also your relationship with your supervisor. So what are the differences? Satisfaction looks at things like pay, job security and benefits. Engagement looks at the relationship with co-workers, the work itself, and the ability to contribute to the organization’s business goals. In my opinion, employee engagement focuses more on what Abraham H. Maslow described in his hierarchy of needs as things related to self-actualization. Again referring to Maslow, employee satisfaction involves lower-level things such as safety and security.

So where does happiness come in? Happiness became more widely talked about as a result of a course on positive psychology that was taught by Tal Ben-Shahar at Harvard University. A number of other colleges followed suit by offering courses on happiness. Shahar’s definition of happiness in HR Magazine is “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning” that comes from someone finding his or her life to be purposeful. Since then, researchers have tried to measure happiness. The challenge is that while you can measure it at a point in time, happiness is a momentary thing and less enduring than engagement.

Dr. Teresa Amabile, also quoted in the HR Magazine article, is director of research at Harvard. Amabile says if you are trying to create happiness in the workplace, you need to focus on four things:

  1. Help facilitate progress. Reduce or eliminate obstacles to a person’s work.
  2. Provide goals, meaning and autonomy. Tell people what you want and why it is important, and then get out of their way.
  3. Make the most of mistakes. Figure out what went wrong and what you can learn from it.
  4. Spread recognition. Everyone wants to feel like they are contributing, so share the wealth.
The last thing that Woodward says in her article is that you probably should select for happiness. In the world of selection, some characteristics one is looking for in a candidate can be trained, while other items are difficult, if not impossible, to teach and should be selected for. Supervisory skills can be learned. Demonstrating interpersonal sensitivity, attention to detail, or happiness are capabilities that should be selected for.

So is there a business reason to care about this thing called happiness? There was a study done by Andrew J. Oswald, Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgroi entitled, “Happiness and Productivity.” The study found that there is a 12 percent increase in productivity that comes from happiness. In addition, Gallup did a study in 2013 on the state of the global workforce. Its focus was employee engagement/disengagement (a cousin to happiness); Gallup found disengagement had a cost of $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity. So there clearly is a relationship between happiness and productivity. More happiness leads to greater productivity, which leads to greater profitability. Clearly more work needs to be done in this area, but it is work worth doing.

EASI·Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI Consult’s specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI Consult, visit, email [email protected] or call 800.922.EASI.

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