The Business Benefits of Happy Employees

One of the biggest lies we’ve been told in our professional lives is that once you’re successful, you’ll be happy. You work hard, get ahead, make more money and all that is supposed to lead to happiness…right? Wrong. In the last several years, research has shown emphatically that the formula is reversed – happiness leads to success rather than success leading to happiness. This is true in pretty much every part of our lives – marriage, friendship, health, creativity, and (yes!) work.

When people are happy at work they

  • produce more
  • close more sales
  • are better leaders
  • receive better performance ratings
  • make more money
  • are more likely to get promoted
  • have more job security
  • take less sick days
  • stay at their organization longer
  • are less likely to experience burnout
  • etc…. you get the idea.

In short, every single business metric that can be measured goes up when we’re happy. All this means is that happiness at work is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling. Happiness at work is a business imperative. Though it may seem weird to focus on it in a business setting, when you do your bottom line will speak for itself.

For a different take on the issue of promoting worker happiness read this article by Dr. John Sullivan, “A Dozen Good Reasons You Should be Cautious About Employee Happiness.”

Happiness leads to job success

Want more details? Sure. I’ll summarize a few studies here:

  • In a study over the course of 18 months, researchers followed almost 300 employees and found that those who were happier at the beginning of the study ended up receiving better evaluations and higher pay by the end.
  • Researchers looked at how happy individuals were as college freshmen…and then checked in 19 years later. Those who were happier were making more money, regardless of their financial starting point.
  • When you’re faced with a stressful task at work, you’re more likely to be successful at it if you’re happy because being happy negates the effect that stress has on your performance. This doesn’t need to be generally being happy with life…it could just be having a moment of happiness before completing the task! For instance, being happy can be as simple as watching a funny YouTube video before you go into a meeting to make a presentation…so don’t assume that social media at work has no positive impact on results!
  • Recognizing employees for a job well done (and one would assume that makes them happy!) is actually shown to be more motivating than money. And when managers who praise their teams regularly are compared with managers who do not, there’s a clear winner – those who praise are able to achieve upwards of 30% more productivity than those who don’t.

Happiness improves creativity

Employers love to use the “innovation” buzzword with their teams, but are they really creating an environment that supports it? If your team is not happy, chances are they are not being as innovative as they could be.

  • When our brain is in a state of positivity, our learning centers are activated, we’re better able to organize information, and do complex analysis. We’re firing on a greater number of mental cylinders than if we are upset or frustrated.
  • When people are happy, they are more open to new ideas, see more possibilities, and are less likely to engage in the “fight or flight” behaviors that usually come about when faced with a stressful problem. We see more around us because our mood impacts the visual cortex in our brain. That allows us to move in more innovative ways. It’s not that those options weren’t available to us before, it’s just that when our brain is not in a state of positivity, we literally cannot see them.

Happiness makes you healthier

Want to reign in your healthcare costs? Maybe the answer isn’t to look for another insurance provider…it’s to gauge the happiness level of your employees.

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  • People who are happier live longer. Researchers studied the journals of Catholic nuns from earlier in their lives. Those who wrote more joyfully were much more likely to live longer – 90% of the happy nuns lived to the age of 85. Only 34% of the unhappy nuns experienced the same longevity.
  • People who are sick not only take less sick days (on average, 15 less sick days per year), but when they do get sick, happy people are actually happy to fight disease off faster!
  • That’s great, but does health lead to better job performance? Well, do you like earning more than $6 in profit for every $1 spent? That’s the return on investment that Coors Brewing Company sees in its corporate fitness program.

It’s all intuitive 

On the most innate level, we shouldn’t even need all these studies (or countless others) to tell us that positivity will win every day. We intuitively know this! Can you name one example of when an approach grounded in negativity has produced a better result than positivity? And yet, at some point we convinced ourselves that positivity was not substantive or meaningful. Not only is there a mountain of research that says otherwise, but I think that most people understand this on instinct. They just don’t know what to do about it. That’s another article for another day…for now, just know that when you focus on happiness at work, based on everything we know that is time and money well spent.

Happiness can be trained

Some people think that happiness is a question of nature – you’re just born the way you are. And those people are wrong. Our brains have the ability to physically change based on both our actions and our circumstances. That means that we can make the decision to be happy, and if we behave in a way that is consistent with that decision, we will literally re-wire our brain in the process. But this doesn’t happen overnight, and consistency is key – it takes about 30 days of consistent behavior for this to start to work.

Think of it like going to the gym. You don’t get results the first week…or even the second. But getting into that third and fourth week, you start seeing some changes! Happiness is the same way. If you’ve had a consistently pessimistic outlook for a while and you make the decision to look on the bright side, it’s going to feel very weird for the first few weeks. Fake it ’til you make it! Around the one month mark, you’re going to see the world in a very different way, and it’s going to feel much more natural than it did when you first started.

Karlyn Borysenko is the Owner and Principal of Zen Workplace , a consultancy dedicated to fixing the “people problems” to help individuals achieve professional happiness and success, and organizations to drive productivity and results. She’s an MBA, is a dissertation away from completing her PhD in Organizational Psychology, and is a certified DiSC trainer. You can connect with Karlyn on Twitter at @KarlynMB.

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