And The Award for Happiest Employee Goes To...
“Imagine this. You get 20 euros and the task (1) to buy something for yourself, or (2) to buy something for a dear friend. What would you think makes you happier? And what actually makes you happier?” It was one of the questions psychology professor Ap Dijksterhuis asked all people at a recent event I participated in.
The event was called “The healthy civil servant”. Opinions were split. Maybe the first option would bring short term happiness? And the second one long term happiness? Dijksterhuis provided us with the answer. Research shows us that giving to others makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. It reminded me of a study I read about not too long ago; a study on happiness and possession. The conclusion of that study? More possessions doesn’t make you happier, but more experiences do. So how can these findings be applied to work?
The happiest workers
In his presentation, Dijksterhuis referred to a British research on happiness at work which focused on measuring happiness in various professions. Florists ended on top, followed by hairdressers, beauticians and plumbers. On the bottom of the list we find bankers and IT workers. Dijksterhuis made me think, especially because of the reason he mentioned.
A quick test before you continue reading: what do you think are the reasons for the differences?
The first and foremost reason was that the florist, hairdresser and plumber make other people happy on a daily basis. Whether it’s through a beautiful bucket or a fixed leak: they make people happy and get instant feedback.
According to Dijksterhuis, it explains why bankers are at the bottom of the list. The strong hierarchy and the continuous pressure to perform, combined with the products they sell results in a lower happiness score, at least in the UK for this profession.
The research pleads for more personal contact between the person performing the job and the people receiving the service. In my case: the inhabitants of our municipality. And not just when things go wrong, but also when things are going well.
The second reason why these professions score high on happiness, is because of autonomy in their work. Autonomy is something that regularly pops up in the stories of Pim and Joost when they talk about what blocks happiness at work. The abundance of rules and bureaucracy, lots of competition and targets with bonuses, or obligatory meetings and unnecessary hierarchical layers. All these aspects strongly decrease the feeling of autonomy (and therefore happiness at work) according to Dijksterhuis.
But also the feeling of always being accessible and not taking any vacation undermines the feeling of autonomy. These last two were eye-openers for me, because personally I sometimes forget about these when it comes to happiness at work. Autonomy also asks for a high responsibility and independence, especially when it concerns your boundaries and your health.
Pressure on happiness
While happiness used to be something only for the woolly, nowadays more and more employers are focusing on it. And that it leads to beautiful developments is clearly shown by the great examples on this blog. But the focus on happiness in both work and private life also has its downsides, warns professor and psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter.
The Belgian psychiatrist has been pleading for a bit more unhappiness for many years. He believes our society is so much into happiness and success that it actually makes us unhappy. According to him, the massive use of antidepressants is one of the signs. Also, a lot of relationships are ended because they don’t seem to be perfect. De Wachter stresses that we have to learn to be unhappy at times and that life isn’t always great.
His words refresh and trouble me. I, too, see that in my personal environment the focus on happiness sometimes leads to a social pressure to be happy. How on social media it sometimes seems that the grass is always greener on the other side. How friends (and me too) get uneasy when we have worked for two years in the same workplace, ready to make another new career move.
Making happy makes happy
Also Dijksterhuis recognizes this so-called happiness pressure and gives in his book “Op naar geluk” the advice not to be too busy with being happy. Because he who focuses too much on himself, is unhealthier, more lonely, and less happy than he who focuses on others.
Happiness at work therefore is not just focusing on your own happiness, but rather on creating happiness through your products or services. And in case you can’t do that, at least you know by now which career move to make.
Anouk Mannessen is working for the municipality Borne. She deals with the organizational development of the municipality Borne towards a directing network society. Besides that she focuses on the improvement of services, information policies and new ways of working at the Twente government. As guest blogger she updates us regularly on the development of Borne and other things that concern her.
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How are work outcomes affected by the treatment of those who do it? I have been exploring this question for ~50 years. In that time, one comment stuck with me more than any other. It was made in 1998 when I interviewed a group of men in Indianapolis who had redesigned most of the US city’s waste collection and disposal operations. “We are no longer expected to park our brains at the door when we come to work.”
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