You Want Happy Employees? Well, Good Luck With That

Unless you’re a creative genius suffering for your art, Gandhi, or Dr. Gregory House, it would seem that people expect you to be happy all the time.

What is this obsession human beings have with happiness? I don’t get it. Happiness is not the end all/be all, as far as I’m concerned.

There are other things besides feeling good with which to concern oneself, and sometimes feeling bad is downright necessary to deal with what needs dealing with, rather than “putting on a happy face” and “faking it till you make it.”

Damn it, you fake it. I’m pondering a problem here.

The search for happiness CAN go wrong

And guess what? It turns out that at least one learned professional sees things my way (sort of).

In 4 Dark Sides to the Pursuit of Happiness, readers are introduced to the work of Yale Professor Dr. June Gruber who says that the search for happiness can go wrong when we chase too much happiness of the wrong type, in the wrong way, and at the wrong time.

Yup, that’s what her research indicates.

So here’s another thought: Forget about employee happiness

Let’s “86” our preoccupation with employee happiness, OK?

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for functional workplaces. In fact, I’ve practically rendered myself unemployable ranting about jacked-up workplaces on my blog.

“Happy” does not always mean “productive”

And, I’m all for treating employees like actual human beings with thoughts, feelings, motivations, and agendas that are (gasp!) separate from their employers,’ even while advocating that said employees be held accountable for performing to standard.

But dang, articles like this one (Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy, and this one (Happy Employees Mean Greater Profits), and this one (Are Your Employees Happy at Work?) just make me nuts.

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Perhaps I’m too stuck on semantics. I get the gist of the articles, after all. Miserable employees are not a good thing. But I, for one, have no desire to be responsible for someone else’s happiness.

Happiness is subjective. Who can even define it?

And here’s the bottom line: A happy employee does not always equal a productive employee. Hell no. I’ve worked with employees so darn happy they practically floated across the room, but their work product was, well, let’s just say it was wanting, OK?

Happiness is a state of mind

See, happiness is a state of mind that an employer can’t really control. So I say, phooey on that and instead let the HR pros and other leaders focus on creating the best darn environment we can — one that is respectful, safe, and facilitates communication, collaboration, learning, and innovation.

Of course, people need fair compensation, so let’s get our wage policies and programs in order, too. But as for whether employees are happy? That’s for the employees to decide.

Maybe I’m just wrong, but I firmly believe that my happiness is my problem. You, the employer, need to pay me, not violate my rights, and treat me like an actual person.

After that, the rest is on me.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at


9 Comments on “You Want Happy Employees? Well, Good Luck With That

  1. Crystal- I think you nailed it towards the end of your article in reference to a workplace and culture “…that is respectful, safe, and facilitates communication, collaboration, learning, and innovation.” These are fundamentals that create an atmosphere in which employees can accomplish meaningful and engaging work. Management can also create an environment that fosters recognition which is one of the top contributors to employee engagement.

    Employees are ultimately responsible for their own happiness but employers can and should think about the environment, culture, and management practices that allow their employees to whistle while they work.

    With Happiness,

    Tim Ryan

    1. Hi Tim. Agreed (about employers’ responsibilities), and I’ll check out the post you recommended!

  2. When I talk about happiness at work, I always differentiate between Happiness and happiness. Capital H, Happiness is in your personal life – family, love, friends, etc. While at work I think lower case h, happiness, is about what makes you happy at work: a boss that respects you, co-workers who collaborate and are generous, fair compensation and evaluations, etc. I think it’s okay to talk about hapiness at work, as long as we’re clear on what that means…

    1. Hi Paula.

      Big H and little h. That’s a nice distinction and a useful way of thinking about things.

  3. I’m not convinced that the corporate world is “preoccupied with happiness.” What leaders want is engagement. Happiness is a small piece of engagement–but not the whole pie. And before we hold “productivity” up as the end-all-be-all, I will argue that productivity without happiness is not sustainable. Grouchy-but-productive (GBFs) employees are slow growing tumors. And they impose a tax on overall culture.

    1. Hmmm … I think there are plenty of leaders who would say they want “employees to feel good about working here” and kind of leave it at that. But we’re agreed — grouchy is no good.

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