Happiness at work

Undoubtedly, productivity growth has made a huge difference to the quality of lives of billions of people, first by reducing work negatives – tasks that are dull, dirty, dangerous or difficult – and then increasing work positives by adding many more jobs which are interesting and fulfilling whilst also enhancing social lives with greatly improved communications and entertainment alternatives

As a result, many more people are no longer miserable – but are they happy instead?

According to Jeremy Bentham, English founder of modern utilitarianism: “The best society is one where the citizens are happiest” 

Buddhists also believe the aim of life is happiness and the avoidance of suffering

But happiness is a temporary, fleeting, ephemeral emotion – it never lasts long, nor can one actively seek it – better to target contentment and satisfaction with one’s lot, which can be long-lasting and the product of choices and effort, whilst occasionally being surprised by random happiness

Indeed, according to Richard Layard, an LSE economist, in his book ‘Happiness’: “Once subsistence income is guaranteed, making people happier is not easy”

In particular, he claims that:

  • If we really want to be happy, we need some concept of a common good, towards which we all contribute
  • When people become richer than other people, they become happier – but when whole societies become richer, they do not become happier – relative incomes thus matter much more than absolute incomes

However, the extra happiness provided by each extra £ of income declines steadily as a person gets richer:

  • It is said every extra $ up to about $75,000 a year improves happiness
  • After that, it’s not needed, except for ego and envy reasons where the need is to equal if not beat others in one’s peer group

Hence transparency of pay within any organisation will simply drive up pay overall, NOT reduce it – hence it increases costs – hence it should be resisted

And the reason so many people who have plenty of money are unhappy or depressed is boredom – they’ve elected for a life of comfort instead of stimulation – the latter could at least render them content, and possibly happy

Overall, there are just seven factors which affect our happiness, in order of importance:

  • Family relationships – single, married, divorced, widowed
  • Financial situation – family income
  • Work – employed or not, job security
  • Community & friends – trust in others, belonging to social organisations
  • Health
  • Personal freedom – rule of law, crime levels, public services, corruption, regulation
  • Personal values – status v helping others, religious beliefs

Quotes from J Maynard Keynes:

  • “To those who sweat for their daily bread, leisure is a longed-for sweet – until they get it” 
  • “We have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy”

So, given a happy workforce is usually more productive than any other, organisations should take serious note of the above, especially the importance given to family life and the impact regular reorganisation and downsizing can have on job security – and workforce happiness

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