Monday, February 12, 2007

Don't worry, be happy


It seems once a year popular psychology magazines devote a cover story to the science of happiness. I know a person who is a joyologist; a term she has coined and uses without irony. Pat Armistead has devoted her working life to helping organisations make the profitable connection between happy employees and productivity. She discussed her ideas on the Radio New Zealand National this afternoon. And it all makes perfectly good sense and you should listen to it.

As with everything there are counterpoints and context needs to be considered.
I was born in Scotland, so I'm not given to wanton happiness. Or, perhaps it is important to separate the two pieces of data. It may not be because I am Scottish that I can appear blank - or even glum to the untrained eye. It may simply be that I am simply 'being'. That's right; Scottish buddhism. I don't require it of myself or others to seek rapture. I can be mindful of suffering equally as I can of beauty. It's not so hard.

And then there is research from the United States that upends the convention that happy, satisfied employees are good for business. Jing Zhou - professor of management at Rice University in Houston – has performed a meta analysis of over 100 previous studies about the relationship between happiness and productivity.

Misery-guts employees can be a force for good within an organization. It's open season on perpetually peppy employees. They may be over-rated.

It is a long-held assumption that high levels of job satisfaction contribute positively to organizational effectiveness. Zhou calls that an "intuitively appealing link."; but after exhaustive meta analysis of over 100 studies the conclusion is that a relationship between job satisfaction and effectiveness does not exist. Perceptions and are not supported by the data.

Happy, co-operative people are fine if the company wants people to do exactly what they are told; great for routine tasks... But these days tasks are complex. What counts is the ability to think for yourself.

Zhou also sampled 149 employees and found those with high job dissatisfaction exhibited the highest creativity. They become creative when they're dissatisfied with something and try to find a solution to it.

Bad-mood employees can work as change agents within a company because they see problems. Those who are very happy and content, the people who are always satisfied with their jobs; satisfied with their work environment; happy with everything; don't see problems. So they don't try to find new ideas to solve problems.

Miserable employees may come up with new and better ways of doing things.

Miserable does not mean clinically depressed people... The source that triggers the bad mood, is probably that people were not happy with how things are run in the workplace. If companies are sensitive to that and capture that negative energy early they can probably channel that into an effort to find a good idea, a new idea to solve problems.

A lot of managers resist this idea. Often leaders act on conventional wisdom, not on what is right.

Of course it is false logic to suggest that bad moods necessarily lead to creativity in the workplace.


But is does imply that we need a new mindset. According to Zhou we need to realise that creativity is not just a job for R and D people. It's a job for everyone... Once the top management has this mindset, then they can do things such as encouraging people to provide feedback, provide a culture that will support innovation and provide the climate where people... try to make a change for the better.


So…you see, it's all how you frame things, context is everything.

I'm happy with that.

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