Do you think Happiness and Work go together? Or are they opposites?
Louis: There is so much talk about happiness these days. Guides to happiness are everywhere. How about happiness in the world of business and work? What is exactly is happiness and what is it that makes us happy?
miamo: It might sound inconvenient but happiness is not a goal of evolution. Survival is; happiness is not.
We are not meant to be happy all the time. Just happily watching a butterfly in the sky would have made us an easy prey for the sable tooth tiger.
Ultimately we find happiness in what we do, at work or elsewhere. Something that satisfies us once it is done. E.g. we help someone and feel good because of it or when we appreciate a nice cup of coffee/tea or the sun in the morning. Or we meditate and find inner peace and then feel happy about it.
Happiness is an ephemeral feeling but we can train to keep it present for a bit longer. Happiness is a mindset created by and in the brain.
It actually is the result of a chemical process that produces the “happy” hormones endorphin, dopamine and serotonin. This process is triggered by impulses from inside (imagination or food like chocolate) or from outside (a reaction we get, something we see).
So if we create a work environment and spirit that provides those impulses sufficiently, people would enjoy their work more.
Louis: So obviously there is no pill for happiness! But do we need to be happy at work? I remember my old boss saying: “Enough of fun, back to work”.
miamo: This thinking is based on the belief that fun and therefore happiness and work are separate areas. It is still around these days.
People with this belief probably have experienced work as a duty, a burden one had to endure; not something to gain satisfaction from. Nothing that is much fun. With the help of power and ranks this miserable attitude lives on. Finally, a negative idea of man will also contribute to it.
Louis: That does not really answer my question. Do we need to be happy at work?
miamo: Well, it is definitely beneficial. Happy employees will do a better job, don’t you think? Happy, balanced staff will enjoy their work more.
If they get a kick out of it from time to time at least; the happy hormones will flow as a reward. That makes one want more of it. People will less mind to work overtime as they do not perceive what they do as “work” in the negative sense. They want to succeed, they want to be creative and innovative – and they want to please colleagues and customers.
Aren’t these all the necessary ingredients a company needs to be successful in the long term? So why do we mainly do the opposite? Why is work still mainly seen as an unavoidable burden?
Louis: That sounds a bit like boss and employer bashing.
miamo: Although work environment, work organisation and bosses do play a part in this, that’s not what I intend. As usual it is the doing of all sides involved. There are enough employees that don’t want to be creative, that can’t deal with more responsibility, freedom and flexibility.
Some prefer not to think too much and just do as they told. However, no child will develop without challenges and encouragement. This is no different with adults. As encouraged people are more successful, as happier staff leads to growth of business why doesn’t management focus on excellent leadership?
Louis: You sound like there is more on your mind.
miamo: Nowadays we can buy almost everything on the spot for which before we would have had to save for months if not years to afford it. Studies show that we have more than ever but we are not happier. Happiness does not increase with possession.
We make great careers but it does not necessarily generate more happiness. The work ego and the private ego are no longer separated. Boundaries are blurred. In many the work ego seems to have taken over. Thanks to modern technologie (pc, smart phone etc.) work follows us everywhere. We are always within reach. Busy people take job related calls after hours, read eMails and write reports over the week-end. This kind of business life usually creates stress. We have more pressure, higher positions and salaries. Too bad though, happiness seems not to grow with income either.
Louis: And why is that, you think?
miamo: The dilemma is that the work ego now wants to do something that creates pride and good emotions. Being asked at the bar about what we do at work, some feel embarrassed to reply “I am selling fridges or toasters” or “I am a fund manager at bank ABC”. Saving the world one way or the other looks much more attractive.
Louis: And now you are telling me about Maslow again…
miamo: Maslow saw it coming when he defined the hierarchy of needs. Once physiological and safety demands (survival, shelter and food) are covered man looks for higher levels of satisfaction: Belonging, love, esteem and finally self-actualisation which includes meaning.
Most jobs don’t allow for the final stage. Companies may demand innovation but hardly allow creativity. Most management systems create a “do as you told” environment. Top down approaches, endless pressure for better results without a culture of organisational learning, overextended managers do not leave much space for happiness at work. But wouldn’t happy people do better jobs? How come most of us comply and complain?
The journey to happiness will lead to a reflection of one’s own life at some stage. At the end we are happy when we found meaning!
Louis: What should companies do?
miamo: Alter the system as far as possible. Make respect for life (staff = human beings, nature, environment), motivation, empowerment, curiosity and creativity core values of your enterprise.
Allow HR to focus on education, encouragement, flexible employment models and new systems how to promote staff (interesting projects instead of another step up the ladder). HR should not just administer a present work force but assure the right people are build up for the future, especially people for leadership roles.
Employees are no numbers but a guarantor of the future.
So how is the balance Happiness vs Work in your workplace? Are you happy? Do you feel respected? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.