“Happy people work harder.” At first glance this may seem obvious: If an employee is happy at work, they are more likely to care about their work product and the results of the company they work for. As a result, wouldn’t they be more likely to work harder, work better together in teams and generally be more productive?
While this may or may not be true, chasing employee happiness is a quest common to so many employers. It is a fleeting emotion influenced by a variety of factors. “This is why organizations focus on employee engagement. It’s influenced by aspects that are within their control,” Vivian A. Woo, a senior people science analyst at Culture Amp, said. Woo asserts that employee engagement is more stable than happiness and has been shown to be linked to many organizational outcomes, like turnover, performance and customer satisfaction.
When employees reported low levels of job satisfaction, it foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance for their employer, according to a 2010 study. When people are apathetic toward their job or employers, they become unreliable and produce less, or their work quality suffers. So much so that Gallup estimates actively disengaged workers cost US employers $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity annually.
On the flip side, the same 2010 study found employees are far more likely to be more creative, productive and have new ideas on days when they feel happier. Conventional wisdom has been that pressure enhances performance, but data suggests employees perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do. This was further substantiated by recent research out of Oxford University published just this month that found “a strong causal effect of happiness on labor productivity.”
While happiness fluctuates, companies can’t afford to ignore it completely or view engagement as the end-all, be-all solution. Jeff Schwartz, principal at Deloitte Consulting, puts it succinctly in Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report. He asserts that “organizations need to shift from the traditional employee experience to a new category we call ‘human experience,’ where relationships are enduring, learning is continuous, and work has meaning centered around human identity.”
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It’s a two-way street to ensure employees are engaged in helping the company achieve its goals. While happiness means different things to different people, start by ensuring each individual employee understands the impact of their work, and demonstrate, whether it’s through career development or mentoring initiatives, that the company is invested in their career goals and growth.
When employees feel empowered by and supported in their work, they are more likely to take more risks. On the contrary, those who are not happy at work are more likely to play it safe, because it’s the easy thing to do, or they fear making mistakes.
A version of this article was originally published on wforce.org.