How Much Does Happiness in the Workplace Really Matter?

In the last few years I’ve been hearing a lot about the science of happiness or positive psychology to use the technical terminology. I’ve read books, seen videos and attended seminars on the importance of this subject in our business lives. Several years ago I saw a wonderful happiness TedTalk by Shawn Anchor and dutifully sent it around to all my team members.  Some may have even listened to it.

While learning more about this field has made me recognize the importance of happiness in the workplace, I recently realized though that I’ve been thinking of this as just a luxury for some and not really of vital to most businesses.  After all we’ve been a productive nation of workers for hundreds of years without this focus, why is this necessary now?  This thought recently came into question and I’ve now had to really consider if happiness matters at the workplace and if so, what should I do about it?

As we have been undergoing a massive reorganization in our business it is made me look again at the importance of happiness.  With reorganization comes many changes and this at the very least can cause angst with the team members most impacted by these changes.  For us, this became most apparent when I encountered a team member who became tremendously unhappy – not just with the changes in the organization but with many aspects of his life. Such a person’s unhappiness can spread like a wild fire throughout a team. The costs related to this unhappiness are then phenomenal.  The attitude becomes contagious.  Suddenly none of the changes are ever going to work, no one is doing a good job, all of the customers are unhappy and every other negative point of view is being espoused by the team.   In such an environment, not only do you lose efficiency on current projects but you lose people’s support and buy-in for the company’s vision.

Most of the time though, we’re not dealing with team members who are significantly unhappy, they are just “meh” – at neutral.  This I feel is what is encountered frequently and is generally the norm in most business situations.  When you’re dealing with a wild-fire of unhappiness, this neutral position sounds pretty awesome.  Yet, I’ve found while it certainly feels better than unhappiness, it is also a dangerous trap as it is one with which we are all most comfortable.

I had to go back and look at some of the things I’ve learned about happiness and productivity.  The statistics are pretty shocking.  Just considering the scientific evidence that has shown that intelligence, creativity and energy all rise when people are happy (not just neutral), made me see that I cannot be satisfied with neutral.  I need greater creativity from everyone in our organization, and we all can benefit from our increased intelligence and energy, both within and outside of our workplace.

When I also considered the fact that people are 31% more productive when happy than when in a neutral state, this produced a jolt to my complacency with neutral!  If I can accomplish the same things in 5 ½ hours of a work day that I would otherwise accomplish in 8 hours just from being happy – I need to be happy!  If we consider this effect over everyone in our organizations, the productivity increases are astounding.

I now see part of our jobs as managers and leaders of companies then to be encouraging people’s happiness within their roles in our organizations.  Working toward a common shared purpose that everyone believes in provides a great opportunity for everyone’s happiness.  Insuring that all of our team members realize how their role contributes to accomplishing this purpose and why it is vital to the success of our vision is part of the key to their investment in the shared purpose and their happiness in seeing the vision realized.

Terri Davis, CPA