Are happy workers really more productive?
Happy workers are more productive… it’s common sense, right? This assumption that “happy = productive” underpins so many current workplace strategies, so one hopes it is correct. Businesses across the world are investing millions in their workplaces to optimise conditions and promote worker wellbeing, in the belief that this will help deliver the great corporate goal of improved productivity.
What data is this assumption actually based on? When one digs around, precious few studies clearly demonstrate the direct link between worker happiness and productivity. While evidence exists that better performing companies have happier employees, there has been much less research on whether happy employees actually contribute to better company performance. True, they may be more motivated and they may be more loyal to their benevolent employer, but that does not automatically translate into enhanced performance and productivity.
Which is why this paper by Eugenio Proto is so very interesting. It looks at various, previous studies from the fields of psychology, social sciences, economic and managerial sciences and draws some useful conclusions. Proto’s own research shows that a positive mood a rise in happiness leads to a marked increase in productivity in a paid piece-rate task, for both males and females. The study also found that the effect operates through a change in work output rather than in work quality.
The report concludes: “These findings have several implications for company practice and for research. First, if happiness in a workplace carries with it a return in terms of enhanced productivity, there are enormous implications for firms’ promotion policies and for the way they structure their internal labour markets. For example, managers could be rewarded on the basis of employees’ job satisfaction, and workers could be allowed to take a more active part in decision-making, which in general raises job satisfaction.”