Happiness @ Work

Source: HBR, Jul 2015

  • Happiness doesn’t necessarily lead to increased productivity
  • Happiness could damage your relationship with your boss.  In her study of a media company, Susanne Ekmann found that those who expected work to make them happy would often become emotionally needy. They wanted their managers to provide them with a steady stream of recognition and emotional reassurance. And when not receiving the expected emotional response (which was often), these employees felt neglected and started overreacting.
  • It could make losing your job that much more devastating. If we expect the workplace to provide happiness and meaning in our life, we become dangerously dependent on it.
  • Happiness could make you selfish.
  • It could also make you lonely.

So why, contrary to all of this evidence, do we continue to hold on to the belief that happiness can improve a workplace?

The answer, according to one study, comes down to aesthetics and ideology. Happiness is a convenient idea that looks good on paper (the aesthetic part). But it’s also an idea that helps us shy away from more serious issues at work, such as conflicts and workplace politics (the ideological part).

When we assume that happy workers are better workers, we can sweep more uncomfortable questions under the carpet, especially since happiness is often seen as a choice. It becomes a convenient way of dealing with negative attitudes, party poopers, miserable bastards, and other unwanted characters in corporate life.

Invoking happiness, in all its ambiguity, is an excellent way of getting away with controversial decisions, such as letting people go. As Barbara Ehrenreich points out in her book Bright-Sided, positive messages about happiness have proved particularly popular in times of crisis and mass layoffs.

Happiness, of course, is a great thing to experience, but nothing that can be willed into existence. And maybe the less we seek to actively pursue happiness through our jobs, the more likely we will be to actually experience a sense of joy in them — a joy which is spontaneous and pleasurable, and not constructed and oppressive. But most importantly, we will be better equipped to cope with work in a sober manner. To see is for what it is. And not as we — whether executives, employees, or dancing motivational seminar leaders — pretend that it is.


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