This is part of our quick reads series; helping you stay informed without hogging your precious time. This post covers the peer-reviewed academic paper shown below.
Happiness has fascinated philosophers and the rest of us since, like, forever. However mainstream science only jumped on the bandwagon recently with the birth of ‘positive psychology’. The good news is, most of us are (at least mildly) happy most of the time. But are we mostly happy at work?
It turns out happiness (at home and at work) has two quite different components:
Hedonic: The feeling good stuff. One can’t help but think of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
Eudaimonic: Happiness through doing what is virtuous, or right or good.
Happiness At Work
Happiness at work turns out to be rather complex and multilayered. There is the transient level, how happy is John in accounts this afternoon? And the person level: how happy does John from accounts tend to be? And the unit level: how happy are those guys down in accounts?
How is it measured?
Measuring happiness at work is not straight-forward either. There are a number of ways of looking at it, including:
Job Satisfaction: Does John like his job down in accounts?
Organisational commitment: Leaving anytime soon John? Wearing the company shirt to your family Christmas?
Engagement: Assessed with scales like “At work, I feel bursting with energy”.
Flow: That state that has become kinda trendy and ever-so sought after. Flow is when one is “totally absorbed in using one’s skills to progress on a challenging task” ahh lovely, and isn’t that just how John usually is? No?
Affect at work: This one has two dimensions too. Firstly pleasure versus displease. Secondly, level of arousal or activation. Aka John could be ‘excited’ (high on arousal and on the pleasant side) or ‘sluggish’ (low on arousal and on the negative side) or a host of other combinations.
From the elephant’s mouth
This is all very nice but doesn’t feel very useful for business owners and leaders. It seems perhaps we have deconstructed happiness at work so much it doesn’t make sense anymore. This from the horse’s mouth (or author of the article):
“If happiness … is viewed as the proverbial elephant being examined by blind men, we can conclude that we have developed a good, if isolated, understanding of its parts, such as the trunk (e.g. job satisfaction) and the tail (e.g. typical mood at work). It may be that we have decomposed the beast into almost meaninglessly small pieces (e.g. the right ear of vigor, the left ear of thriving). Perhaps what is missing is a more holistic appreciation of the entire animal in the form of happiness at work.”
But what does this mean and where can I get some?
How to get yourself some happiness at work was not covered in this article. However, by looking at the above, and reading between the lines you can get a few tips. I would give some deep thought to what activities make you feel pleasant and what activities make you feel virtuous. Finally, I would ask yourself: what skills do you have that you love to use … that you get you all flow-like when you use them?
What of leaders? What can you do with this information? Same-same e.g. what skills do your employees have that you could both benefit from their using. What matters to them (and the company)?
Are you happy at work dear reader? Why? Why not?
Let me know,
Until next time, yours as ever,
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Fisher, C. D. (2010). Happiness at Work. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12(4), 384-412. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2009.00270.x