WORKPLACE / MAR. 26, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Being Happy Makes Us Work 12% Harder, Study Finds

It’s official. Being happy makes us work harder. We are 12% more productive when we feel happy, according to the latest research by Warwick University.

A team of economists explored the link between happiness and productivity to measure how a person's wellbeing impacts upon their output.

Does happiness make human beings more productive? It’s an important question for economists, politicians and employers alike.

Warwick researchers believe that, not only have they found that the answer to the question is a resounding “yes”, but they have the first causal evidence to prove it too.                                  

Study

For the study, 700 participants were selected from top universities to take part in randomized trials. The experiments involved adjusting the levels of wellbeing and then measuring performance in “piece-rate” work - a form of work in which staff are paid a fixed piece rate for each unit produced or action performed, regardless of the time it takes.

Happiness in the lab

"Happiness" was assigned in the laboratory and stimulated by giving participants chocolate, drink and fruit before they performed the piece rate work.

“Unhappiness” was also exploited prior to the performance related tasks by probing the participant on unhappy memories, such as recent family bereavements. This enabled the researchers to consider the difference between long term wellbeing and short-term positive “affect.”

Happy Google 

Google has already discovered that happy workers make more productive workers, and so too did the experiments by Warwick University yield the same findings.

In the trials, participants who received chocolate, drink and fruit before their piece-rate work - treats chosen to mirror policies that might potentially be provided by actual employers - proved to be between 10-12% more productive in their output.

Economist Professor Oswald commented on the findings: “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%, they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.” 

Co-author, Dr Sgroi added: “The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.” 

The research has implications for employers and employment policies. It coincides with an independent commission by the London School of Economics and Social Policy which recommends that government target public policy-making at 'wellbeing', or life satisfaction, not just economic growth.

Dr Proto said; “We have shown that happier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in four different experiments. This research will provide some guidance for management in all kinds of organizations, they should strive to make their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce.” 

Limitations 

Researchers warn that their study has "limitations." Despite proving that happier workers make more productive workers, the professors point out that they couldn't, as a rule, say that real-world employers should invest more resources in making their employees happier.

In one experiment, for example, researchers spent two dollars per person on fruit and chocolate to raise productivity by almost 20% for just a short period of concentrated work.  

The findings however provide interesting evidence to support wellbeing in human resources policy.

In light of recent figures published by the London School of Economics and Social Policy (LSE) that estimate that depressed employees cost EU businesses £77 billion a year in absenteeism and lost productivity, happiness seems worthy of investment after all.

 

Notes

Source: Happiness and Productivity (Warwick University)

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