The Happiness Dividend: happiness at work pays off in the long term

 In Happiness, Insights, Realizer Blog

How can boob jobs help us understand happiness at work?

I’m used to writing about jobs. But not boob jobs. However, there is a curious link between the two, and it’s around the role of happiness at work.

Happiness researchers all over the world (typically psychologists and economists) have been busy dissecting the drivers of happiness. It turns out that our level of happiness is largely (around 50%) defined by genetic factors, with a further 10% defined by your circumstances and 40% by factors under your control. People therefore have a baseline level of happiness which they inherit. Many things which happen in life appear in the short term to threaten to change this level significantly. And yet time and again researchers find people returning surprisingly quickly to their baseline, genetically driven, level.

That’s why when I bought a new car, I lost the “thrill” after just a few days. And it’s why people who win the lottery and people who become paralysed both return more-or-less to their baseline level after a few months.

But there are a few things which reliably change your baseline level of happiness, that is things which give you a long term “happiness dividend.” One of them is having breast enhancement surgery. It’s shown in research to maintain a boost to happiness in the long term. But what if you can’t or won’t get a boob job? What else can you do to move your baseline? And how does this apply to work?


Three levels of happiness

To answer that we need to briefly define what happiness is. The best approach I’ve found is to split happiness into 3 levels.

Level 1 = Feeling happy right now, in the moment. “How happy are you right now?”

Level 2 = Life satisfaction. “How satisfied are you with your life?”

Level 3 = Purpose & Meaning. “Are you fulfilling your potential?”

When we think of happiness at work, we often think first of work parties, fun, joking around. This would be addressing level 1, but that’s only a transitory type of happiness.

Can we address levels 2 and 3 at work? Certainly we can – and should. In the 21st Century a large part of many people’s identity and fulfilment can come from their job or career. We spend so much time working that it becomes one of the biggest opportunities to achieve our potential and lead a fulfilling life.


Happiness as a motivator

Two authors have shone on a light on this area. Simon Sinek in Start With Why described evidence that companies with a strong sense of Purpose outperform others. We can hypothesize that this is mediated by increased satisfaction of their employees. And Dan Pink in Drive revealed how in 21st Century work, most people are motivated more by intrinsic factors than by external rewards. His recipe for motivation is threefold: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (this latter overlapping with Sinek’s “Why?”).

 Underpinning these insights is the idea that happiness is a motivator, a driver – more than it is a state of being or an end point. And therein lies the clue to increasing happiness at work. If you focus on increasing level 2 and 3 happiness through addressing motivation, you will achieve more and have a more engaged team.


Increasing level 2 and 3 happiness at work

Recently I was working with a CEO who explained a cultural “issue” at his company like this: “Every time someone leaves, in their leaving speech they say what amazing people we have – and that it feels like a family. But they never say anything about the work. They never say, “I did my best work here.””

Certainly, a strong predictor of level 2 and 3 happiness at work is sociability – creating strong social connections – even a feeling of family. But on its own is that enough? Probably not. If you want to create exceptional results there has to a focus on meaningful, high impact work too.

And yet, time and again, when I work with on Productivity with my clients, when we ask them at the start of a workshop, “What is Great Work to you?” they realise that they haven’t really defined it individually or collectively.

The simple version of addressing this is to do three things.

First, define Purpose. Who is it we are helping? Why do we get out of bed to come to work?

Second, create a collective understanding of what Great Work is. When are we at our best? How do we make that happen more often? How do we get rid of the obstacles?

Third, address Autonomy and Mastery.

Autonomy is about freedom and control. Research suggests that one’s sense of freedom and control over your life explains 20x more of the variation in people’s happiness than does how much they earn. This sense of freedom operates both at a macro society level (the state of your country, democracy, lack of corruption) as well as on a more personal level (I see people who are self-employed give themselves high ratings of happiness).

Mastery is about getting noticeably better at tasks which are meaningful and which you enjoy. This means learning new things, trying new approaches and getting feedback on how you’re going. It’s also linked to the positive psychology concept of Flow – the ability to get deeply absorbed in a task and produce great work. We have been working on this with clients by creating Flow Time where everyone gets to concentrate on high value work with no interruptions. This has been shown to increase satisfaction as well as productivity.


The Happiness Dividend

There is an increasingly large body of evidence that happiness at work leads to better outcomes for both the organisation and the individual. For example a study showed happier employees were 31% more productive – a huge effect if you can replicate it.

Whilst leaders can’t be directly accountable for the general life satisfaction of their teams, we believe that leaders can create the environment where people have an increased chance of being happier and more productive. We call this the Happiness Dividend. The things you do now can create a compounding impact in the short, medium and long term.

Be clear on WHY the team exists and who it helps. Define what Great Work is. Tell people where they need to go, but let them decide how to get there. Ensure they are learning new skills which are valuable to them and to you. Encourage strong social bonds. Implement activities which provide short term boosts to happiness.

These are all ways to motivate your team, increase their happiness – and do more great work.