February 6

The Pursuit of Happiness

February 6, 2023

The Pursuit of Happiness

When Dr. Martin Seligman’s work in the field of positive psychology began to gain attention in the late 1990s, reactions varied. Today, research on workplace happiness revisits themes from his initial work—but all too often with a narrow focus on workforce health, and less so on overall business performance.

Dr. Seligman’s research on happiness has had a significant impact on the way we think about and approach the workplace. His theories and practices have shown that happiness and well-being are not only important for personal satisfaction, wich, in an age of labour shortage and demographic fold, the looming decline in the overall working population of so many countries is obviously of utmost interest to many companies.

But while it makes a lot of sense for companies to keep our team-members happy, as laid out in Is it Love?, it appears to me the topic is seen more in the context of “the war for talent”, than as being a darned good business case in and on itself.

Workplace satisfaction and team happiness is directly linked to overall success and productivity of a company.

Let me begin my case with the negative business case: One of Seligman’s key findings is the concept of “learned helplessness,” which suggests that people can become helpless in certain situations if they believe they have no control over the outcome. Translated to the workplace, this means members of your teams who feel they have no control over their job tasks, or the direction of the company in general.

  1. Do you believe these people will advocate for your company in their social circles?
  2. Do you believe these team-members will instil enthusiasm and grit in their fellow co-workers when its “crunchtime”?
  3. Do you believe such individuals will be especially productive?
  4. Would someone in this situation be more or less prone to experience symptoms of exhaustion or ailment?

Contrast this with the positive business case of another key finding of Seligman’s: The concept of “authentic happiness.” This refers to the idea that people can find lasting satisfaction through the pursuit of activities that align with their values and strengths. In the workplace, this means that when employees are given the opportunity to work on tasks and projects that align with their strengths and passions, they are more likely to feel fulfilled and satisfied in their job. In other words: People experience satisfaction through the work they do, not their pay-check, not their fitness-club membership, not their company car.

If you can help people be happier by helping them be more productive, and vice versa, the what are you waiting for?

Let that sink in for a moment: People feeling more satisfied, because they are being more productive, and deliver more value. And, drawing on my earlier post Is it Love? again: If it just takes 20% of tasks in a day that we like to not get burned out, imagine what only 40% of tasks people don’t actually loathe might do to to your attractiveness as an employer, manager, or contractor.

So let’s get going. Ask the questions you’d rather not ask, and listen to the answers you secretly already know. Find out what your teams dream of getting rid of in their workday, and help them find out how to actually do that. Be that with optimised processes that are not as stressful to operate; automating or streamlining tedious, mind-numbing tasks wherever possible, and filling that time you save with activities that your people actually joined you for.


Efficiency, Employee Satisfaction, Labour Shortage, Management, Well-Being

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