Happiness as a company driving force

In episode 257 of the Simpsons, the most intellectually gifted character, Lisa, “demonstrates” that “as intelligence increases, happiness decreases” but, as the Australian economist Justin Wolfers showed, it is not quite as simple as that.

The most educated people tend to earn higher wages, they possess a more diversified vocabulary and, consequently, are more likely to experience a variety of feelings and communicate them.

Ignorance does not guarantee happiness; in fact the reverse is true.

Why take an interest in happiness?
As Aristotle said, “Happiness is the supreme Good. It is the unconditional purpose of human existence.”

Being happy is not limited to feeling good: research shows that it is also good for health, productivity and goodwill! Happiness is linked to what we feel but it goes beyond a simple state of mind. We are emotional beings and we experience a wide spectrum of feelings on a daily basis. Negative feelings — such as fear and anger — help us to flee danger and defend ourselves. Positive feelings — such as pleasure and hope — help us to connect with others and build our capacity to survive the worst circumstances.

Most important, perhaps, is the fact that happy people are more inclined to contribute positively to society. They are more likely to vote, commit to voluntary work and participate in public activities.

If you are reading this, you have probably read other articles on happiness at work. Most present a list of things that make us happy: transparency of communication, trust, empowerment, recognition, clarity, wages, control, belonging, interest, meaning — most often associated with an amusing idea such as free sodas, a happy hour or taking your parrot to the office.

“Individuals differ enormously in terms of what makes them happy — for some, competition, victory and riches are great sources of happiness; for others, competence and socialisation are more important,” says the American psychologist Steven Reiss.

His argument: happiness is not a generic solution.

From a quantitative research point of view, behaviourists have identified 23 sources of motivation at work, from Creativity to Impact and Development of others to Wages. Their conclusion is as follows: if you wish to be “happy” at your work and perform at full capacity, it is essential to dig deeper and understand a few of these sources of motivation.

7 ways to stimulate happiness, validated by science

  • See the fruit of our work make us more productive.
  • The less we feel appreciated for our work, the more money we want to do it.
  • The more a project is difficult, the prouder we feel in accomplishing it.
  • Knowing that our work helps others stimulates intrinsic motivation.
  • The promise of helping others makes us more inclined to obey the rules.
  • Positive reinforcement concerning our abilities increases performance.
  • Images that generate positive feelings increase concentration.

Happiness as a business strategy

Happiness’s big brother, well-being, is a concept that was incorporated into economic science a long time ago. Unlike happiness, which is often received with scepticism when evoked in terms of “measure,” well-being is easier to analyse. Initially, subjective well-being was seen as difficult to measure but when we want to, we can.

The examples are numerous in terms of business strategy. For example, Amazon offers its employees working in warehouses $5,000 if they decide to resign. Strange as it may seem, there is a logical reason behind this initiative.

The CEO, Jeff Bezos, describes his HR strategy: “In the long run, an employee who stays although he doesn’t want to is neither good for him nor for the company […] The objective is to encourage our associates to reflect on what they really want.”

Employees’ commitment may seem superfluous in a difficult economic context but it may make a difference to the survival of companies. In a study conducted in 2010, Gallup’s director of well-being at work, James Harter and his colleagues, showed that a low level of satisfaction was the precursor to low financial performance. When people cease to care about their job and their employers, they are increasingly absent, produce less and the quality of work suffers.

The research shows that an inner life at work has a profound impact on the creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality

of employees. They are more likely to have new ideas when they feel happy. Popular wisdom suggests that pressure improves performance — our data, however, shows that performance is improved when associates are happy to be involved in what they are doing.

Managers can make sure that people are happy to be involved at work. This does not necessarily generate any extra costs. The well-being of associates depends, for the most part, on the ability and will of managers to facilitate the accomplishment of associates — by removing obstaclesproviding assistance and acknowledging the effort.

Adults spend the majority of their waking hours at work. Work should revive rather than kill the human spirit. Promoting the well-being of associates is not only ethical, it is economically smart.

Favouring a positive inner life requires from leaders that they articulate the meaning they give to work in order to reach all associates in the organisation.

– Daniel Lacombe, Senior Consultant, Sage Consulting

Sources : Freakonomics, The Guardian, Inc.com, TED.com, The New York Times.