Happiness in business pays off.

March 30th, 2012

Our founding fathers declared we have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” The Dalai Lama wrote his bestseller “The Art of Happiness” over a decade ago as a handbook for achieving lasting happiness. There’s been a proliferation of business books in recent years with “Happy” or “Happiness” in the title. And the Harvard Business Review kicked off 2012 with a special double issue devoted to determining the value of happiness in the workplace. A series of articles conclude what the cover subhead declares: Employee well being drives profits.

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert confirms what many already know:

  • Happy people are more creative and more productive.
  • People are happiest when they’re appropriately challenged. (Challenged does not mean threatened.)
  • Small stuff matters. The number of good experiences one has is more a factor in happiness than how good a single experience is.

And those facts are a meaningful segue to the “Creating Sustainable Performance” article by Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath. Their lead: “Happy employees produce more than unhappy ones over the long term.”

When the duo and their research partners at the Ross School of Business’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship began studying what factors contributed to sustainable individual and organizational performance, they found a better word for happy: They preferred thriving. The thriving workforces were made up of people not just satisfied and productive, but also focused on and committed to creating the company’s future as well as their own. They were highly energized, performed better overall, reported 125% less burnout than their peers, and went to the doctor less often.

Spreitzer and Porath identified two critical components of thriving. The first is vitality, as in the sense of feeling alive, passionate and excited and whose energy is contagious. The second is learning; people who develop through new knowledge and skills are more likely to believe in their future growth.

Now while some people thrive no matter what – and you know I believe it’s possible for anyone to become a “thriver” – in seven years of research Spreitzer, Porath and their colleagues found four interrelated mechanisms necessary for a company to create a culture of thriving:

  • Provide decision-making discretion. Empower people to make decisions that affect their work. Invite employee input into decisions that would improve overall company service and performance.
  • Share information. People contribute more effectively when they understand the bigger picture. Knowing how their work fits with the company’s mission and strategy increases a sense of ownership.
  • Promote civility. In their research with Christine Pearson, a professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, the authors found that half of employees who experienced rude or disrespectful behavior at work intentionally decreased their effort and more than a third deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Clearly the Golden Rule rules in a thriving work environment.
  • Offer performance feedback. It’s critical for creating a culture that thrives. Fast, direct feedback can quickly dispel feelings of doubt and uncertainty and allows people to stay focused on work and goals.

And no matter what your role is in an organization, you can create a mindset for developing your own thriving environment, both personally and professionally. There are simple things you can do to create more positive energy and boost your vitality. Commit to meditating, exercising, getting enough sleep, spending time with the people that matter to you, volunteering. Feel good. Be happy. Thrive.




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