The impact of wellbeing – the happy and productive employee

Does happiness lead to productivity?

I read an article this week about happiness at work which addressed the question: is the happy worker a productive one too? I think in both the current economic climate and with ongoing concerns about employee wellbeing, this is a topic that needs to be taken very seriously. Businesses are doing everything in their power to cut costs, streamline their productivity and navigate their way through essentially very difficult economic times. However, how many businesses are giving sufficient thought and attention to one of the main factor that controls their productivity levels: their staff? From businesses I have spoken to recently there seems to be a general theme of cutting back on employee personal development and only carrying out training that is essential. This all makes sense given the times we are facing, but what if the employee perceives this cost-cutting exercise as a lack of concern about their future development and potential. Does this less-motivated, less happy employee in turn become less productive?

The article I read was based on some research carried out by Edmunds & Pryce-Jones (2009) and was based on responses from over 5000 employees. Edmunds and Pryce-Jones predicted that people who were happiest at work would spend more time on a task. They divided their survey respondents into ‘happiness groups’ (1 being lowest and 5 being the highest). From their research they found that those people who were most happy at work reported that they spent 78% of their day on actual tasks. This compared with the ‘least happy’ group who claimed to spend only 53% of their day on tasks. The rest of the time was spent dealing with IT problems, getting coffee, dealing with other colleagues etc. That represents a 25% difference between the groups.

But how does that relate to real time productivity?

Well, the researchers concluded that the ‘most happy’ workers were spending approximately four working days a week working on actual tasks. In comparison the least happy people were spending two and a half days a week working on actual tasks. So the least happy people, were in effect only working half a full working week. And to further this concern, this data was collected before the recession. Before employees had had three consecutive years of a pay freeze, before they had had their job rebranded in a different department and before they had been constantly in fear of being made redundant.

Pryce-Jones and Lutterbie (2010) then collected some further data since April 2010, when the recession officially ended. This data shows that the people who are happiest at work have, in fact, become slightly more productive (now spending 80% of their time on tasks). This is in comparison to the ‘least happy’ employees (who as a group have doubled compared with the pre-recession data), who are now only focusing 40% of their time on tasks. That represents two out of their five working days.

But the survey data showed some worse news. Not only are this group of employees working less than they were before, but they have also decided that their potential employment prospects are so thin that there is no point searching for another job. So in effect, organisations are increasingly becoming stuck with unhappy employees who are in no intention of moving on any time soon. Unhappy employees are not delivering what organisations need (Pryce-Jones and Lutterbie, 2010).

The unhappy employee was characterised by low self-belief, confidence, resilience and motivation; all of these likely to be contributing to an overall lack of wellbeing. They felt that they were not trusted, their efforts were not recognised and they were not achieving their potential.

So in a time of cost cutting and attempting to run businesses as efficiently as possible, the organisation’s biggest asset, its employees, are at potentially at their most costly and inefficient. But interestingly, those that did feel valued, motivated and respected were willing to up their game.

If you would like some advice on how to increase the number of your employees in the ‘most happy’ group contact Lakeland Capabilities. We can help you with a number of initiatives to try and get the most out of the people that work for you. Have a read of our Development and Wellbeing pages for more information.