Is "Happiness" the Key to Great Job Performance?

Or are loyalty, motivation and engagement driven by other factors? Find out what you should be focusing on to get the best from employees:

Recently, a study from the University of Warwick revealed that happy employees are 12% more productive than average while unhappy employees were 10% less productive than average. Numbers like this, combined with the prevailing notion that "happy" employees are loyal employees, has led many organizations to focus on making their employees happier.

Should happiness really be the goal, however?

What Is "Happiness," Anyway?

The problem with focusing on making employees happy is simple: everyone defines happiness differently. For some people, happiness is achieved simply by holding down a steady job with a solid paycheck. Others need much, much more in order to describe themselves as "happy" with their jobs. Furthermore, a few bad days could destroy someone's feelings about their job. Trying to be everything to every employee at all times is a recipe for failure.

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Progress vs. Happiness

A recent article from used research to show that happiness is a result of focus and productivity, not the end result as implied by the Warwick study. This conclusion was reached by Amabile and Kramer in their "Progress Principle."

This Principle states that the biggest motivation for employees is the ability to make consistent, meaningful progress on the job. When employees are continually learning new things, taking on new responsibilities and making meaningful contributions to the team and the organization, the result is increased happiness.

The ability to achieve this progress requires some basic foundations:

  • Providing fair compensation
  • Providing every employee with a clear description of their role
  • Setting clearly defined goals
  • Empowering employees to do the work to achieve those goals
  • Removing barriers and red tape
  • Working with supportive managers

These are clear fundamentals that are much easier to execute than attempting to achieve the vague -- and unattainable -- goal of "making employees happy." All of these factors are within an employer's control, and when reading through the list, it becomes clear just how these factors would contribute to progress, development and productivity.

Making Progress on Meaningful Work

In their research, Amabile and Kramer acknowledge that every employee has good days and bad days. Nobody can be happy every single day of their working life. However, they discovered the factor that tends to create a "good" or "bad" day was always the ability to make progress on meaningful work.

Now we find ourselves in a situation in which we must define "meaningful." This doesn't mean employees must feel like they are saving lives. According to MIT researchers, meaningfulness -- like happiness -- is defined differently by different people. However, when subjects described what makes work meaningful to them, it incorporated five important factors:

  1. They felt they were doing meaningful work when they were impacting others.
  2. Meaningfulness can be found in difficult situations.
  3. Meaningfulness is usually episodic, rather than sustained.
  4. People realize they are doing meaningful work after the fact, rather than when they are actively involved in it.
  5. Managers and third parties matter very little when someone feels they have done something meaningful; the value is assigned by the individual.

Based on these factors, meaningfulness can be derived from a host of tasks and activities. When employees are tuned in to the ways in which their work has an impact on their team, on other departments, on customers and on the organization as a whole, it's easier to feel the work they do has meaning and value.

It is worth noting that this study addresses "meaningless" work, as well. While meaningfulness is something individuals discover on their own, meaninglessness is often driven by management. Work was described as meaningless when leaders take employees for granted, assign "busywork," treat people unfairly, or cause employees to compromise their values.

When you connect the dots, the picture becomes clear. Providing people with the opportunity to progress in meaningful work is all about establishing a culture that empowers the individual to do his or her best work, every day.

Keep your core employees focused on meaningful work by offloading time-consuming, low-priority tasks to trained temporary employees from Davis Staffing. Talk to us today to access the support your team needs.

Happiness Is Not a Chicken-Egg Conundrum

Prevailing wisdom has taught us that happy employees are productive employees. However, it makes little sense to chase after something as indefinable as "happiness." A much wiser use of resources is to focus instead on progress, a factor that is well within the organization's control.

When the company creates an environment that shows employees exactly how they fit into the big picture and how their everyday tasks help achieve group and organizational goals, you've got a recipe for success. Empowered employees who are clear on their goals and their role have the freedom and the tools to derive meaning from their work and to progress in that work over time. The result? Happy, and yes, productive employees.