The benefits of happy work

Year of Happy two linesWelcome to week 3 of The Year of Happy‘s month on work. The Year of Happy is a free online course in the science of happiness. Not signed up yet? Enter your email here and you’ll get a weekly dose of readings and videos to further your happiness education. 

If the desire to find work that excites passion and interest sounds like a naive high-schooler’s dream, think again. Setting our sights on a happy job will not only make 9-5 more fun, but also make for a more productive and healthier society.

The benefits of having a calling

If we’re able to turn our work into a calling, job satisfaction isn’t the only benefit we can expect. (Although that’s certainly part of the package – people with a calling are more intrinsically motivated and engaged, and more committed to their jobs and the organizations they work for. They’re also more likely to say that their work is rewarding and important, and makes the world a better place. They take less time off work, and TGIF doesn’t have as much meaning to them.)

People with a calling see themselves in a more positive light, and they have more zest in life. Finding meaning at work trickles over into the rest of the day, and they are more likely to experience a sense of meaning in life in general. In one study, people took two decision-making workshops to infuse their work with a sense of meaning, and ended up less depressed and with greater meaning overall.

Having that energizing, fulfilling calling at work also makes people more resilient, less likely to be stressed and depressed and better able to cope with challenges that arise.

The benefits of good work relationships

If you’ve ever had a domineering boss or an annoying coworker, you don’t need to be told twice about how beneficial positive work relationships can be.

In one study, British health care workers had their blood pressure tested on days when they had a friendly boss vs. one they disliked. On average, their blood pressure rose from a healthy 113/75 to 126/81 on the days when a dreaded boss was in the office.

Like relationships in general, work relationships can enhance our health and well-being. Even a coworker grabbing us coffee or a “You’ve done enough work – get outta here!” from our boss can give us an immediate boost.

And the way we see our colleagues affects the way we see our jobs. In a survey of over 5 million people, having a best friend at work was one of the best predictors of happiness at work. People who go out of their way to offer help and support to their colleagues are twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs, get promotions six times more often, and are 10 times more likely to be engaged at work.

When we have positive relationships at work, we can focus our efforts on what needs to get done, and we even learn better. The joy and excitement of good relationships makes us more creative, and we’re more willing to ask questions and share information with others. All of this makes for a more innovative organization, instead of a chilly place where secrets are guarded, ideas go unspoken, and everyone keeps looking over their shoulders.

But relationships among coworkers aren’t the only relationships that matter. In one study, employees at a call center trying to raise money for a university spent five minutes talking to a scholarship recipient who benefitted from the money they raised. After this incredibly short encounter, they spent about twice as long making calls and raised three times as much money as they had before. Interacting with the people our work benefits can be particularly powerful. 

The benefits of happiness at work

In their intensive, months-long study of employee psychology, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer found a clear connection between happiness at work and better performance. On days with more positive emotions, more favorable perceptions of work, and higher intrinsic motivation, employees were more likely to be creative, productive, committed to their work, and supportive of their team. In other words, being happy at work leads to performance benefits across the board.

For example, if employees in their study were in a good mood that day, they were 50% more likely to have a creative idea. Even the next day (and the day after that), they were more likely to engage in creative thinking – an afterglow effect of positive emotions. Positive emotions allow us to open and expand and take in new information, rather than huddling defensively in our fear or sadness.

Happiness at work is good for employees, and it’s also good for the organization. In one study, employees who expressed positive emotions at the office got better supervisor evaluations and larger pay increases in the future. In another study of 2,000 departments in 10 companies, job satisfaction predicted higher sales, profits, customer loyalty, and employee retention.

Although work events have a significant effect on our happiness, part of the way we feel at the office is simply a reflection of our happiness in general. Coming into work as a happy person has cascading effects on productivity, a message that Shawn Achor conveys in this iconic TEDx talk:

In the end, the arrow goes both ways. Being happy at work makes us more successful, and successes (of all sizes) make us happy. Happy work lights up our life as a whole, because work is part of life. If we resign ourselves to the idea that work is always drudgery, we’re missing out on all these benefits.

Sources and further reading:

Go back to Week 2: How to cultivate happiness at work

Move on to Week 4: When it’s hard to be happy at work, try this

See the whole Year of Happy curriculum

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