I recently came across an article  (via Guy Kawasaki on Twitter) about how employers can boost the happiness of their employees.   The article is a Q&A between Matthew May and Gretchen Ruben.  Mr. May is a design/innovation strategist and author, and Ms. Ruben is the author of The Happiness Project, a memoir of  her year spent defining happiness.

The entire Q&A is fascinating, but I was particularly impressed by these passages:

Q: Why do happy people do better at work?

A: People like being around happier people much more than less-happy people. Happy people are perceived to be more friendly, warm, and even more physically attractive. Also, research shows that happy people tend to be more cooperative, less self-absorbed, and to be able to offer the empathy needed in close relationships. They’re more willing to help other people—say, by sharing information or pitching in to help a colleague. Then, because they’ve helped others, others tend to help them.

Q: So the big question is: how can employers help make their employees happier?

A: The research is clear: people’s happiness is affected by their sense of control over their lives. Being able to do your own work in your own way, or to influence your environment, gives a big boost in satisfaction. So employers can look for ways to amplify employees’ sense of control over their work, schedule, and environment.

Q: Any specifics?

A: Sure. Take commuting. Bad commutes are a major source of unhappiness. People feel frustrated, powerless and stressed. Employers can consider whether telecommuting or staggered start/end times for work might be practicable, to allow people to avoid rush hours.

Or take issues like wasted time and tight deadlines. According to one study, the factor that most upset people’s daily moods was having tight work deadlines. One way to free up work time to meet deadlines is to stop having long, inefficient meetings.

Years before I became a Portland freelance writer, I worked alongside my share of unhappy people at various workplaces (and I’ll be honest, I’ve fallen under the “unhappy” rubric myself).  It can be draining, particularly when the Grumpy Gus is in your department.

Unfortunately, some employers are “tone deaf” when it comes to policies that indirectly promote employee unhappiness.  They may believe the problem lies with the employee and point to a non-complaining employee as evidence that the policy works just fine.  They often don’t realize that the non-complainer fears for his/her job and doesn’t want to rock the boat.

Considering the sluggishness of the economic recovery, employers who have held onto their valued employees would do well to solicit employee opinions and do simple things that cost nothing (allowing employees more freedom to direct their work, for instance) or little (letting folks with long commutes go home early).  After all, these people are also your stakeholders and keeping them motivated should be your top priority.

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