Tag Archives: Nic Marks

Happiness at work (II) – for your boss

Last week I spoke about happiness and the benefits it has for you. We aspire for happiness in so many areas of our life – family, friends, love, our sport of passion – but often work and happiness are seen as incompatible. I hope that my piece may have challenged some of your ideas.

Since the emergence of their discipline, organizational psychologists have spent decades to research the link between job satisfaction (or happiness at work) and job performance. Though initial research suggested a surprisingly weak correlation, more recent studies found a solid link, especially for jobs with more complex tasks: the happier you are, the better you perform.

There is no such thing as a free lunch

Many companies are also seeing to start that happiness policies are a worthwhile goal to pursue for them. They may offer free lunch, flexible working hours or other benefits to reward staff and show their appreciation. But the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch also applies here: they have clear benefits for the employer.

As I mentioned last week, shoe retailer Zappos had made the happiness of their employees and customers a key priority, with great success. But there are other examples, like software firm Atlassian, where engineers have creation days to solve problems together in a team. Or places like Google or Facebook, where working conditions are shaped to allow for autonomy and creativity and are part of the mix to keep talent in.

Happier employee, a better company

Happiness at work is correlated with higher staff retention, less sick days, less accidents on the work floor, and better productivity and customer satisfaction. All good, one would say: happiness at work is good for individual employees and for their bosses and HR departments.

From the perspective of management, however, the argument might be different. Subscribing to the notion of neoliberal economist Milton Friedman, one could argue that policies to raise the happiness of employees are pursued at the detriment of the shareholder, and that it means that simply too much is being spent on employees.

Happiness, a good business case

Finance professor Alex Edmans had though that Friedman-adepts would be wrong. In a paper, he analysed the relation between happiness at work and subsequent profits on stock exchanges. (I can’t cover all methodological details here, but he measures happiness at work by a proxy: inclusion on the “Best Companies to Work” list. His research concluded that after companies reached high levels of happiness at work, their future (longer-term) stock market profits are about 2.3%-3.8% higher than other firms. Whatever Friedman thinks, happiness at work is a good business case.

But in the end, happiness at work is not for the shareholder. It is for the employee – each of us. I absolutely believe that there are ways for us to make ourselves happier in our jobs. A large part of our appreciation depends on motivation and perception. In many organisations, there is some degree of autonomy, and some possibilities to steer a position in a certain direction.

Happiness advice

If that fails, you might have another way to reduce boredom and stimulate inspiration. Try to convince your boss to hire happiness advisors like Nic Marks. Marks, of Happiness Works, thinks that happiness is a serious business: if happiness is associated with so many positive outcomes, employers would be stupid not to invest in it. A happier employee is a happier employee, which is great in itself, but also a better company. Happiness at work is not rocket science. It starts with asking people what makes them happy, what frustrates them, what keeps them going. And when you do that for your team, you can strengthen the positive points and tackle the weak ones – in the same way as a good manager would do with any problem in the office.

On waiting for traffic lights… and the ways to happiness

London, Friday night. A street crossing somewhere near Liverpool Street, in the direction of Shoreditch (where the hipsters live). It’s raining a bit. I’m wearing a heavy backpack in which I carry my life of a week. All other people cross the red light. I marvel at them, take my time wait for the traffic light to turn green first.

I just got back from a five-day course on the economics of happiness. I spent the week at Schumacher College, a ‘community college’/university in Devon, South-West England. Schumacher College is a special place. Students, teachers, volunteers and temporary guests are jointly responsible for the community. They take turns taking care of the kitchen, the garden and the day opening.

Living at the college is an intense experience. A lot of learning takes place through continuous reflection and discussions at the breakfast table. The sense of community and the feeling of being in touch with nature is a massive contrast with the abundance of grumpy Tube travelers and the ubiquity of commercial chains and ads in London.

During the week, I learnt a lot about happiness research: from measuring happiness to genetics and happiness at work to new economics. But in this post, I’d like to face the biggest question there is:

What makes us happy?

We often speak about the secret of happiness or the key to happiness. I don’t think there’s anything secret about it. And there are many, many keys that open the doors to happiness. In most cases, we do know what makes us happy. Following our intuitive knowledge should do the trick.

five ways

The Five Ways to Well-Being as developed by the new economics foundation

Still, irrational beings as we are, we sometimes act against what makes us happy. Or we need help to distinguish our needs from mere desires (hint: we need connections with human beings. We don’t ‘need’ a 100 gram chocolate bar on Sunday evening. That’s desire). To help us understand what it is that makes us happy, Nic Marks and the new economics foundation have created an overview of five ways to well-being. Marks was one of our teachers of the week. He also worked on the Happy Planet Index and currently is at Happiness Works to bring well-being to the work environment.

These five ways offer a framework to understand our needs and can be used as invitation to engage in activities that make us happy. Though there’s research behind them, they shouldn’t be seen as scientifically sealed and approved suggestions. The five ways are:

  1. Connect… connect with other people, friends, family or people in your community
  2. Be Active… live an active life, via sports or being outdoors
  3. Take Notice… be aware and appreciate the environment around you
  4. Keep Learning… discover new things and develop new interests
  5. Give… give a gift, do something nice for someone, or say thank you

How about you try to integrate these in your daily life?

Don’t expect they’ll lead you to direct happiness. But it’s likely they’ll produce happiness as a side-effect!

Happiness as a balance between contentment and dreams

In my view, Take Notice is probably the most important one. One of the most interesting moments of my week was a breakfast chat with Satish Kumar, an Indian monk whose words are a fountain of wisdom. He spoke about contentment – full awareness and gratitude for everything you experience. This is certainly an important advice.

At the same time, dreams and objectives can also be helpful to give us guidance and to bring us further in life. I think we need to balance contentment with some degree of ambition. If we’re content with everything, is it still possible to achieve a higher ideal?

Nevertheless, almost all of us in today’s hectic society can learn from Satish. Let’s try to stop for a moment and dedicate full attention to the place where we are. Slowing down, looking around. It doesn’t hurt to spend a minute and a half at a traffic light in London.