Happiness & productivity

The very welcome increase in the publicity and subsequent awareness of critical subjects regarding personal awareness, mental health, equality and general humanity has driven forward thinking businesses and organisation to evaluate their employees ‘happiness’. 

Much has been written on this over the years of course and I was recently pointed toward an article citing a paper published by the Said Business School on the effect of happiness on productivity. It suggested that the happier the workforce the greater the productivity – its case study figures showing a 13% productivity improvement swing from unhappy to very happy. The source paper was circumspect in concluding direct causality and stayed away from making recommendations, but it certainly described a correlation between employee happiness and productivity. 

This is, of course, intuitive and there are very many organisations now investing significant energy, and finances, on ‘well-being’ programmes, which is great. What many are missing with some of these short term initiatives is that the manner of the work that people do has a dramatic effect on their happiness. 

So why do we promote happiness through initiatives, then send our employees back to jobs with variable structure and little real authority to improve them? We unwittingly ask them to complete frustrating tasks that add no value, in an environment where they are not truly respected and their talents under-utilised.

In his rightly lauded work, Edward Deming frequently advocated the idea that every employee should be able to achieve joy at work and that joy would lead to improved quality and increased performance. 

Unsurprising as Abraham Maslow’s ‘Human Motivation’ paper in 1943 described a hierarchy of needs, showing that positive human relationships are critical to achieving self fulfilment and a necessary basis on which to build self esteem – the feeling of accomplishment. 

Busyness is not productivity. I’m sure you have had incredibly busy days and left your work frustrated. I’m sure the opposite is also true, where huge joy and satisfaction has been derived from incredibly busy days. So what was the difference? – Accomplishment.

In my last articleI defined productivity as the ratio between inputted effort and outputted gain. For the lean thinkers amongst us, this is derived by the ratio of VA to NVA tasks. We know that by increasing the percentage of VA tasks we increase productivity; we also know that this increases the feeling of accomplishment.

Imagine if we, as Leaders, could foster fantastic relationships, create an environment of development and give people value adding work to do. Would this not increase happiness?

It’s true to say that many, especially those that suffer depression or social anxieties use work as a form of escapism. Recognising this is also crucially important. Although mental health is being talked about more openly now, very many suffer in silence. Wouldn’t it be great to create a positive environment for at least those 8 hours.

I do believe productivity can increase with a happier team. However, I also believe that you can improve happiness by increasing productivity through the reduction of tasks that add no value. Happiness initiatives, like pay rises, don’t work as long-term motivation.My experience shows that creating a culture that promotes close, authentic relationships while improving productivity will undoubtedly enhance happiness, which in turn reciprocates, benefiting all involved and further, that we can create that culture by changing the nature of the work.