A happy, laid-back workplace is more likely to turn a profit.
Real-world and experimental studies have both pointed to a connection between improved employee happiness and increased productivity, according to a 2017 report from researchers at the University of Warwick in the U.K. and published in the “IZA — Journal of European Labor,” which is part of the IZA — Institute of Labor Economics think-tank in Bonn, Germany. The report assessed various studies examining the link between positive emotions and workers’ performance.
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In one experiment, people were asked to perform math problems after viewing a comedy video. Productivity among those who watched the video was roughly 10% higher than a control group that performed similar problems without the positive stimulus at the outset. Another looked at how events that cause unhappiness, such as a loss or illness in the family, affect productivity. The results: People who reported a negative life event had 10% less productivity than their peers.
The report’s findings help to illustrate how the relationship between happiness and productivity has evolutionary roots, said Jennifer Moss, co-founder of Plasticity Labs, a company that uses analytics to evaluate workplace happiness. “We go into this state of fight or flight when we’re stressed out,” Moss said. “When we’re in a state of stress, we can’t be productive.”
And Americans have reason to be stressed, according to a 2016 study, Europeans worked on average 19% fewer hours than U.S. workers. And even though the number of full-time employees has shrunk since the financial crisis began in 2007, the average number of hours worked each week has held steady at 47 according to Gallup, making the 40-hour workweek something of a misnomer.
Workers’ happiness becomes all the more important in an environment where most people are working more, said Brandon Smith, founder of The Workplace Therapist, an Atlanta-based workplace consulting company. He described emotions in the as contagious: “They’re not like a yawn; they’re like a virus.” Given how happiness and frustration alike spread quickly through the workplace, managers must be on high alert. “Happiness allows you to have more endurance,” he said. “You need that fuel to be able to run the marathon.”
While measuring workers’ satisfaction and well-being is important, productivity may not be the best — or, at least, the only — metric, said Ed Frauenheim, director of research and content at Great Place to Work, a consulting firm that produces rankings of employers based on workplace environments. At a time when robotics technology is automating more tasks at work, productivity is quickly becoming an outdated gauge of employee performance.
Frauenheim points to less measurable qualities like passion, creativity and collaboration. “Human potential is a bigger deal,” he said. “That doesn’t come out of just punching more widgets out of a machine.”