Happy and productive workers

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Matt was really happy when he went to work last Friday. He and his wife had just found out she was pregnant. He was thrilled. He told everyone, but he didn’t get much work done.

Then, there’s Vic. Vic was easily the most unhappy worker I’ve ever known, but he always did good work. Once I asked him why. “I won’t let the bastards beat me,” he said.

Are happy workers productive workers? The academics have rolled out their heavy artillery on both sides of that one. A lot of companies have bought the idea that if they make their workers happy, they’ll become more productive.

Usually, when they do that they load up on the hygiene factors. They look at salary and benefits and ping pong tables and perks. But the reality is that hygiene factors don’t make people happy. People get used to that new salary pretty quick. After they spend the bonus, they still have to go back to work.

If you’re thinking about productivity, that’s where you have to look. You have to look at what it’s like to go to work.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan have been telling us about this for twenty years. They identified three factors that really matter. They’re Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence.

People are more likely to be happy when they have control

People want to make as many decisions as possible about how they’ll work. Give them autonomy and they’re more likely to be happy. They’re also more likely to be productive.

People are more likely to be happy when they work with people they like

We are social beings. One almost sure sign of an engaged team is easy laughter. People in a comfortable and supportive work group are more likely to be happy. They’re also more likely to be productive.

People are more likely to be happy when they’re making progress

People want to be competent. They want to grow and master their work. People who are making progress are more likely to be happy. They’re also more likely to be productive.

The joy is in the doing

For people who are happy and productive, the joy is in the doing. And it’s local. It’s their own team, their group, their buddies.

Invest in bosses

If you’re prepared to invest a bundle in balloons and BS, this will be bad news. You can sing and you can dance and you can spend that bundle. But the happiness that drives productivity is the happiness that grows from the intrinsic rewards of doing good work with people you like.

If you’re going to take that same bundle and invest it in selecting, training, and supporting the best bosses you can, this will be good news. We don’t know a lot for sure about this motivation and productivity thing, but we know that for most people, most of the time, a good boss is the prime driver of both happiness and productivity at work.

Boss’s Bottom Line

You can be the most important driver of why people are both happy and productive at work.

Resources on Happiness at Work

The Chief Happiness Office Blog (Alexander Kjerulf)

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Resources on Being the Kind of Boss that Helps Others be Happy and Productive

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work and What Does by Susan Fowler

The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

Good Boss, Bad Boss by Bob Sutton

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Dana   |   25 Mar 2017   |   Reply

There seems to be confusion about the difference between employees being engaged and employees being happy. Those perks like ping pong tables make them happy but it doesn’t make them better workers. To really get the best from employees they have to be engaged, as you’ve identified, by having autonomy and being challenged intellectually.

Wally Bock   |   30 Mar 2017   |   Reply

True, Dana, plus the affect of the ping pong tables and such wear off pretty quickly. Thanks for adding to the conversation.