In Denmark, the pursuit of happiness has long been almost an obligation. In addition to studies and academic work on the subject, there are clear signs of this concern with “being happy” in the lives of ordinary people. Whether in their personal or professional lives.
In this interview, Tracey L. Adams, PhD Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario, made it clear that few people can say that they are truly and completely happy in what they do, but she also stressed that, in general, workers who feel satisfied with what they do tend to be more productive. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance that employees and employers create conditions that provide a working environment where people feel well-being and personal and professional satisfaction. In such a way that the company or the job becomes a place you want to return to the next day.
Milénio Stadium: In Denmark, in 2003, the concept of Chief Happiness Officer (CHO) emerged to ensure that a company’s employees are happy. Does it make sense to associate the concept of happiness with company productivity?
Tracey L. Adams: In general, there is evidence that workers who are satisfied with their work, and do not face mistreatment on the job are more productive than others. Nonetheless, ‘happy’ is not easy to measure, and few people might say they are actually happy at work. Researchers tend to focus on related aspects – especially job satisfaction, well-being, turnover intentions, and the ‘meaning’ that work has for them. Many meaningful and important jobs would not make one ‘happy’. For example, jobs working with the poor, the homeless, the ill may be highly rewarding and satisfying even if they do not always promote happiness. Many jobs are quite demanding and challenging and fulfilling. They therefore contribute to a sense of well-being or satisfaction, but perhaps not happiness. It is likely more important, then, to consider whether someone is satisfied with their work, whether they find their work meaningful, or whether they dislike it so much they plan on leaving (i.e. turnover intention).
MS: Are there any studies that prove that productivity can actually increase with a worker who is happy with what they do?
TLA: There is a considerable body of research that suggests that workers that are content with their jobs and find their work meaningful are more productive and engaged than others. Moreover, there is ample evidence of the opposite: workers who are dissatisfied with their jobs, or who face mistreatment on the job (for instance, they experience negative co-worker interactions or more extreme behaviour like bullying) are less productive.
MS: Do you think we can say that sometimes the “fault” of unhappiness at work cannot even be attributed to the company, but rather to the worker’s wrong choice of profession? In your opinion, the criteria for an active job search by future employees should go deeper than the basics – how much will I earn?
TLA: The research is clear about the factors that contribute to job satisfaction and workplace well-being, and pay is not at the top of the list. People tend to like their work most when they have some autonomy and opportunities to try something new, and when they like their co-workers. Many other factors contribute to job satisfaction including having supportive bosses, a reasonable workload, believing your hard work is recognized and appreciated. Other factors contributing to job satisfaction include having work-life balance. Most of these factors are in companies’ control, and are shaped by a company’s work culture, its efforts to create a positive working environment free of harassment and bullying, and good job design.
There will always be isolated cases where people don’t enjoy what they are doing, or when they find a certain type of work doesn’t suit them. However, more important to workers’ ability to find meaningful or satisfying work are those organizational characteristics mentioned earlier (company support, reasonable workload, recognition, good co-workers and so on).
MS: What about the criteria for selecting workers? How can you guarantee that you will find someone who fits the desired profile and who will be happy with what they do?
TLA: It’s always a challenge for employers to identify which of the many qualified candidates will be the best fit. There are no guarantees. Nonetheless, in today’s economy, because there are many qualified candidates, it is likely that there are many people that would be a good fit for the job. Good employees will be attracted to work at a company – and stay at that company — when the working conditions are good.
MS: How can someone who doesn’t like what they do, and therefore goes to work because they have to, bring something positive to the company they work for?
TLA: Someone who doesn’t like the content of their job, may still have a good work experience if other aspects of their working environment are positive for them. As mentioned, having good relations with co-workers and bosses, and opportunities to do something creative, are important contributors to job satisfaction. Someone who doesn’t like what they do, might be able to forge positive working relationships with co-workers or clients to bring more meaning to their job. Moreover, they may be able to talk to a supervisor or boss and see if there are opportunities for them to take on work that would allow them to be more creative and start a new initiative. Such initiatives should benefit the worker and the company.
MS: On the other hand, when someone loves what they do, but can’t earn enough to support their family or even themselves, can they be happy and add value to what they do and to the company where they work?
TLA: This is something individuals have to work out for themselves. There are many people who do what they love even when it doesn’t pay well. Others take on extra work, whether as side hustles or hobbies, in order to do what they love.
If there is a dark side to happiness at work, it may be that loving our work can sometimes lead us to continue working in an environment that is not 100% healthy for us (due to long work hours, high demands, toxic co-workers, or low pay). It is important that we consider our health and well-being when making decisions about such trade-offs (between doing what we love, or being rewarded for our work, or working in a good environment).
MS: Is the concept of happiness associated with work generational? In other words, are there differences in the way millennials and Generation Z view work, which can then have repercussions on their choices of profession, which are happier or less happy?
TLA: This question is really hard to answer because it is difficult to disentangle generation from age. There is some evidence that different generations may value different aspects of work – that is, some job characteristics might be more strongly associated with work well-being or satisfaction for millennials or older generations. One finding, for example, is that millennials value flexibility more than other generations.
Previous research has shown that younger workers tend to be less satisfied with their working conditions, but that is more of an age effect than a generational effect: it reflects that fact that early in our careers we have not yet fulfilled our career goals.
The fact that work has changed so much over the last few decades, and that middle-aged workers tend to have better jobs than younger workers further complicates the picture.
To summarize, it is difficult to determine what impact generation has, since age effects and workplace change complicate the picture.
MS: How can happiness be achieved in the workplace. What role does the company play?
TLA: As mentioned above, companies play a huge role since well-being at work is shaped strongly by working conditions, and these are within the company to determine. If company’s want to increase well-being at work, they should work to instill a positive work culture, provide employees with opportunity to forge relationships and exercise creativity and autonomy on the job, provide reasonable workloads, recognize their accomplishments, grant them flexibility and work-life balance. Fair pay helps too.