Why Organizations Care about Employee “Happiness”

“Command-and-control” managers of the past might have scoffed at current business research on happiness.
Under their spans-of-control, employees ought to have been happy to have a job from which they derived an income.
This view has been supplanted by widespread recognition that desirable outcomes like innovative problem solving, flexible decision making, and workplace productivity are associated with employees’ positive mood.

GallupResearch by the Gallup Organization offers further justification in its finding that disgruntled employees disengage and cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year in lost productivity.

Therefore, organizations can increase financial performance by improving operational efficiency in the many processes involving people.

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade of the Wharton School of Business contributed to the investigation of happiness’s impact on organizational productivity.
She found that positive moods prompt “more flexible decision-making, wider search behavior and greater analytic precision,” which enable the organization to take considered risks.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

On the other coast, Jennifer Aaker, award-winning professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, links workplace happiness and a sense of meaning.

She asserts that having a meaningful impact on the world is a strong predictor of happiness and that it’s possible to cultivate mindfulness and awareness of meaning in work and personal activities.
This cultivated awareness, she said, influences people’s subjective well-being and may positively affect that of others in a contagion effect.

Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt

New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist in the Stern School of Business, takes a more philosophical view of happiness.
He redefines “wisdom” – other might say “leadership” or “self-management” – as the ability to adapt, shape the environment, and know when to move to new environments.

His moral and ethical framework includes high-level philosophical “virtues” associated with a sense of well-being and shared across cultures:

  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

The Happiness HypothesisHaidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom , specified contributors to well-being:

  • Strong marriages
  • Physical touch
  • Meaningful relationships
  • Religious affiliation
  • Autonomy
  • Meaningful engagement in work
  • Contributing to a community through voluntary effort

Engineering organizations analyze issues according to “Is-Is Not.
Using this approach, Jonathan Haidt’s research offered some surprising happiness detractors or “is-nots”:

  • Persistent noise
  • Long commutes
  • Lack of situational and person control
  • Shame
  • Dysfunctional relationships
Matthias Mehl

Matthias Mehl

Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona offered an additional contributor to happiness: Interpersonal dialog.
He found that volunteers who engaged in a meaningful conversation create shared meaning, strengthened their connections, and reported feeling happy.

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht’s The Happiness Myth, offers a framework for types and levels of happiness:

  • Good day, awareness, savoring, and gratitude for the fortunate conditions of one’s life
  • Good life, engaging in meaningful and challenging tasks that help provide a material quality of life and doing one’s best in any endeavor
  • Peak, choosing experiences that inspire awe and a sense of the eternal, connect to families and communities.

The Happiness MythShe cites familiar recommendations to:

  • Cultivate self-knowledge
  • Develop a clear view of one’s worth
  • Moderate desires
  • Appreciate mortality and time limits
  • Try new things
  • Increase involvement with others and the community.

Organizational policies can contribute to employees’ sense of well-being through establishing:

  • Opportunities for career movement and development
  • Regular acknowledgement and praise for a job well done
  • Focus on well-being as individuals through health and work/life integration programs

The payoffs to organizations include increased productivity, innovation and engagement.

-*How have you seen efforts to increase organizational “happiness” result in improved employee engagement, productivity, or decision-making?

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©Kathryn Welds


6 thoughts on “Why Organizations Care about Employee “Happiness”

  1. Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson

    Hi Kathryn, loved the “having a meaningful impact at work” as a predictor of happiness. You expect this “meaningful impact” to be from the work itself and when that’s that case, that’s great. Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, it’s not. “Meaningful impact” can also be redefined to the support network that you develop at work and for some, to volunteer activities at work. Thanks for the reminder that “meaningful impact” is a multi-faceted thing. Loved the comment to about persistent noise. Interesting to know employees happiness in open workspaces vs offices and how that differs. Jennifer

    1. kathrynwelds Post author

      Thank you for highlighting the importance of meaning at work, Jennifer. Your earlier review of Clayton Christensen’s* How Will You Measure Your Life?, *cited Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation:

      the distinction between *hygiene* factors (if not done right, will cause us to be dissatisfied) and *motivation* factors (challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth). Meaningful work is a leading motivator, and though Herzberg didn’t find as important a role by work relationships, this social support was a top predictor of work satisfaction, motivation and retention in Marcus Buckingham’s poll data in *First, Break All The Rules*. Thank you for mentioning that meaningful impact at work can often be derived from providing social support for colleagues.

      Though open-plan offices offer substantial cost-savings, the assumed benefits of collaboration may not be realized. More than a decade ago, Bill Gates asserted that the creative work of Microsoft engineers required the quiet and privacy of individual offices. This may be an impractical luxury for many organizations, but it is worth considering that different work demands require different environmental design. The trend toward “ROWE” – Results Oriented Work Environments may enable increasing numbers of employees to furnish their own work environments – at home.

      *Kathryn Welds* welds@post.harvard.edu 650 740 0763 *LinkedIn | **Blog **|**Google+ ** |Twitter@kathrynwelds **| Facebook notes *

      On Sun, Mar 10, 2013 at 6:15 PM, Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and

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