Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness. In one of those life-isn’t-fair results, it turns out that the happy outperform the less happy.
Having spent over twenty years in a variety of workplaces, I’m aware that what matters most to employers is whether their staff can solve problems effectively, work well in teams, and perform their jobs well. This is fair enough considering it is, afterall, the reason that people are employed and paid in the first place. But for a variety of reasons, not all employers understand (or even accept) the linkage between having happy employees and the achievement of the aforementioned objectives. While this is understandable given the world we live in, I have a feeling this is about to change and I’ll tell you why in a moment.
But before I explain why staff happiness is important to business, I’ll clarify what I actually mean when I talk about ‘happiness’. Some people react negatively when you mention happiness in relation to the workplace because they think you mean a slightly irritating fake jocularity best signified by a bright yellow smiley face or a false arm hanging out of a filing cabinet. People often think of this kind of happiness as flaky, disruptive, unfocussed and unproductive. But what I mean when we talk about being happy is simply having the skills and mindset to enjoy a positive mood most of the time. It’s not about cracking jokes constantly, or forever doing pranks on others. Although there is a place for humour in the workplace and this should be allowed and encouraged, it is possible to go overboard.
What I am talking about is that which Robert Holden describes as ‘unreasonable’ happiness – a joy or happiness that is within us and allows us to be happy for no reason. It is being content, confident without being arrogant, generally optimistic, and having love for ourselves and others. This is what a happy person feels and displays most of the time, and when people are like this they perform well at work. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The first part of the story is about how our brains work. Research shows that when our brains are positive they outperform our brains compared to when they are negative, neutral or stressed. As a result, when we are positive we have greater energy, are more resilient, work on projects for longer, and see more possibilities. To illustrate, doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis make more accurate diagnoses, much faster, than those in a more neutral mood. People who are happier are more innovative and creative as well. As it turns out, our brains are actually created to perform at their best when they are happy and positive.
- Related to this, when we are happy our productivity increases. Research undertaken by the Social Research Foundation concluded that on average, people who are made happier through an intervention are 12% more productive than members of a control group, predominantly because they work harder. On the flipside, a second piece of research found that issues such as family bereavement not only (understandably) reduced a persons happiness levels, but resulted in a downturn in productivity. So at a time when productivity in Australia is struggling to improve, a 12% increase in productivity will be a massive boost to any business. Staff happiness is ignored at a businesses peril.
- The significance of happy workers becomes even more pronounced when we consider that people who are happier also relate better to others, having more relationships and stronger relationships. Research also shows that when people are happy at work they are better collaborators, are more likely to work to common goals, and are more innovative.
- Most importantly, when we are happier we are also healthier, which means we all enjoy our life more, as well as potentially reducing costs for the employer.
So what’s the bottom line about all this? Well your bottom line is that if you want to perform well at work, and want your organisation to perform well, it is important to embrace happiness at work and find ways to develop it. Happiness and positivity are good for everyone at work, they can be enhanced easily, and they make great business sense as well.
What do you think of this topic? Could your workplace benefit from a bit more positivity? Let me know your thoughts!
 Robert Holden, Be Happy (2009), Griffin Books, p.26.
 Sarah Green, ‘Why a Happy Brain Performs Better’, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2010/11/why-a-happy-brain-performs-bet
 Shawn Achor (2010), The Happiness Advantage, Virgin books, p.47.
 Teresa Aubele, Susan Reynolds, ‘Happy Brain, Happy Life’, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201108/happy-brain-happy-life
 Daniel Sgroi, ‘Happiness and productivity: Understanding the happy-productive worker’, Social Market Foundation, October 2015.
 Ed Diener, Martin Seligman, ‘Very Happy People’, Psychological Science, January 2002, vol. 13, no.1. pp 81-84. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9280.00415
 Martin Zwilling, ‘How To Increase Productivity By Employee Happiness’, www.forbes.com/sites/martinzwilling/2014/12/02/how-to-squeeze-productivity-from-employee-happiness/#622dbf251de5
 Research shows for instance, that health issues such as cardiovascular disease are lower in people who are happy, while happier people also live significantly longer. See Salynn Boyles, ‘Study: Happiness good for the heart’, www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20100217/study-happiness-good-heart#1; Jennifer Warner, ‘Happy people live longer?, www.webmd.com/balance/news/20111031/happy-people-live-longer