Happiness at work and performance: which leads the other?

by bold-lichterman

In these times when in many companies we talk about happiness at work and go so far as to appoint Chief happiness officers, we may have to wonder about “how to please employees”. And, in a context of increasing performance requirements, can happiness at work and performance go together?

I find that promising happiness is both ambitious and risky for a business. Because happiness is not only at work, it is a more global notion on which the company has only a few levers, because there are no two people for whom happiness means the same thing, because for a person it is a notion that fluctuates over time … In short, for me it is an untenable promise that will end with a nasty boomerang return. It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver.

Happiness at work: an obligation of means sold as an obligation of result

And what will the Chief Happiness Officers say in 1, 3 or 5 years to those who tell them that they have not kept their promise because they are unhappy? Without having anything measurable and objective to assess the happiness of an employee, they will have nothing more to answer than “I did my best”. Big misunderstanding: we cannot hide behind an obligation of means when the promise sounds like an obligation of result and is perceived as such.

However, there is a good idea behind all of this. We all know that a happy or at least satisfied employee is more efficient and engaged than an employee who is not. So without promising the impossible, there is surely something to explore.

Making people happy is too ambitious, not making people unhappy is more pragmatic

When I am interested in the subject I invariably answer that if making happy is too high a promise and risky for the one who makes it, avoiding making people unhappy is more on our side.

Happiness lacks concrete, it is neither objective nor pragmatic. While the multiple points of friction, dissatisfaction and even pain we see them, we can identify them and we can tackle them. It is more a question of courage than of defining a goal that nobody manages to make concrete.

And then happiness is a result, not an action. A pebble in the shoe is pain. Removing it is an action. As for the result, it may not be happiness but less pain, frustration and dissatisfaction and I find that already not bad.

So when we try to find concretely what can please employees, there are two schools.

• “disconnected” pleasure: the free act with immediate but temporary effect. A thank you, a table football in the open space etc.

• Pleasure “connected to work”: elimination of irritants from the daily work flow and from activities linked to the job. Longer to set up but more durable. If I use the analogy of the pebble in a shoe, removing it doesn’t look like much but has a greater impact than offering candy or ice cream to compensate.

Pleasing people when it doesn’t affect work itself does not prevent the return to work from being painful. It is compensation. Pleasing people when it comes to work itself shows that we take care of people and that we are aware of the need not to hang onto their feet when we ask them to run faster and faster.

Combining happiness at work and performance: the story of the chicken and the egg?

But because (let’s face it) behind all this hides a search for commitment and, above all, productivity, we might as well ask the question frankly: is it to please that makes us effective or is it make efficient which pleases?

I will opt for the second option.

Because if the expected pleasure is not there, at least it will have become more efficient for its benefit and that of the company.

Because I prefer the state of mind of a person who is happy to be better and more efficient in their work than that of a person who needs a “gift” or a “hug.” To re-mobilize. Question of priorities, we know which one comes to achieve things and which just takes his pay.

Everyone has their own vision of things.

Photo credit : Fotolia

The expert:

bertrand-duperrinBertrand Duperrin is Digital Transformation Practice Leader in Emakina. He was previously Consulting Director at Nextmodernity, a firm in the field of business transformation and management through social business and the use of social technologies.