The relationship between productivity and happiness has been long established by research. It seems only logical that positive wellbeing leads to getting on with our tasks easier. But how is exactly feeling happy make us more productive, and how can we maximise this in today’s workplaces?
What is productivity?
Productivity is defined as “the effectiveness of productive effort” and is used at the workplace to maximise profit. Contrary to the old days, wellbeing and mental health finally receives its well-deserved recognition –especially since it has been linked to making more money for the business. Productivity –while it seems fairly self-explanatory- is hard to define and measure in research, given that it means something different depending on the type of business we are talking about.
What is happiness?
The understanding of this relationship is made harder by the fact that not only productivity is hard to define and measure, but happiness is an even more subjective and indefinable element.
If you would like to measure the happiness of your employees, what would you ask them exactly?
It seems, happiness as an emotion is difficult for people to define, and it’s easier to give an example of what makes them feel happy, rather than describe the feeling itself. We should also take into consideration the difference between employees whose happiness comes from work related aspects like good pay or recognition, and employees whose happiness is rooted in their personal lives and activities outside work. As an attempt to define happiness, researchers suggest that people’s top 3 definition of happiness are:
A state of mind
Fulfilment of our needs
Achievement & Goals
Research of the relationship between happiness and productivity has started to appear in the 80s, and since have repeatedly proven that happier employees’ productivity improves, in some cases with as much as a 12% increase. It seems that every experiment since supported the idea that promoting subjective well-being results in higher productivity. It looks like despite the nearly impossible definition of the two elements, regardless of the definition used in each experiment, the results point in the same direction.
Flow at the workplace
Flow is investigated by Positive Psychology that focuses on our positive abilities and is defined as a state in which a person operates at full capacity. It is the familiar feeling when you forget about everything else and purely focus on your task until it’s finished.
When researchers tried to find out how we can manipulate ourselves to reach the state of flowing more often and on command, they interviewed different occupations from chess players and athletes to dancers who mainly named enjoyment as their reason to keep on pursuing the activity. When looking at more everyday jobs, they found similar results.
It seems that to achieve flow -and by that maximum productivity- a person needs to enjoy their activity and stretch just enough to utilise their best skills, but not more or less than that. It’s a fragile balance to create at a workplace that if underdone, will lead to relaxation and when overdone, to anxiety, which eventually knocks you out of the flowing state.
We cannot discuss maximising productivity without the phenomenon of working from home. An old concept that has been around for ages, yet gained much attention during the pandemic. Recent research shows that when they compared their employees who came into the office to ones working from home, the latter ones were happier, less likely to quit and more productive. This is another research that, when broken down, shows the relationship between feeling happy and being highly productive.
The magic formula
It seems we can conclude that happiness and the environment that supports flowing by adjusting the task perfectly to the worker will lead to the highest level of productivity achievable, which can be further increased by working from home.
Therefore, our magic formula to maximise profit seems to be a happy employee, a well adjusted position and task, and a relaxing environment –which not surprisingly for many of us is- our home.
Bloom, N. (2014). To raise productivity, let more employees work from home. Harvard Business Review, January–February.
DiMaria, C. H., Peroni, C., & Sarracino, F. (2020). Happiness matters: Productivity gains from subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 21(1), 139-160.
Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The concept of flow. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 239-263). Springer, Dordrecht.
Oswald, A. J., Proto, E., & Sgroi, D. (2015). Happiness and productivity. Journal of labor economics, 33(4), 789-822.
Sharifzadeh, M., & Almaraz, J. (2014). Happiness and Productivity in the Workplace. American Journal of management, 14(4), 19.