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Building Better Businesses By Closing The Happiness Gap

As work becomes our lives, it becomes more and more important for us to be happy at work. But few of us are. A revolution in workplace happiness would make us healthier and more productive. How can we get there?

Ryan Vanderbilt

If two magnets are separated by too much distance, they won’t have any impact on each other. But, if something helps move them a bit closer, they will gravitate towards each other and connect. Technology can be used in a similar way. It can connect you to other people, skills, tools, and trigger new ways of thinking and working; it can create an "assisted serendipity." More than ever, products and companies help connect us to people and information. But does merely creating access have anything to do with making better lives and better economies?

This piece is part of a Collaborative Fund-curated series on creativity and values written by thought leaders in the for-profit, for-good business space.

Because today, we have more access than ever, but unfortunately, we are still largely unhappy: 80% of people dislike what they do for a living. Out of this incredible number of unhappy people, comes a huge opportunity to create products to solve this issue, and improve our economy. A few companies, like Dream Champs, The Energy Project, and Loosecubes have begun to tackle this problem. And they have the potential to make big impact: Happy workers correlate to raising sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and task accuracy by 19%. If we’re happy at work, the U.S. could gain $300 billion in productivity each year. But to move the four-fifths of our population from disengaged to fulfilled, we have a long way to go.

One way to do this is to build companies that have a structural alignment of personal interests and skills, with the mission of the company. Studies show that people are much more productive and healthy when they can connect their values with their work. People believe this, but for some reason it isn’t yet reflected in the way we behave. There seems to be a sense of "I can’t do that now," or "I’ll figure that out for my next job." This might be because people don’t realize they’re surrounded by a fluid network at any given moment, that might reveal new opportunity.

This is where technology can help. Beyond restructuring companies to incorporate collaborative spaces, flexible hours, and encouragement of natural talents, it’s important we build tools so anyone can easily connect to companies and individuals with strong value or interest alignment. With such an enormous chunk of the population unhappy at work, startups and innovators have a big, and potentially lucrative problem to solve. Imagine a society where people interview companies instead of companies interviewing people. Or one where we’re able to step outside the box and create something new with the network of people around us—it’s starting to happen already, and we can speed it up.

Addressing the disengagement crisis is as much a health initiative as a work initiative. We spend the majority of our waking lives working, so ultimately, work is our life. And increasingly, we overlap our work with our personal lives. Soon, the two seeming separate will be an archaic construct. Mood at work will leak into our personal lives more than it already does. So that means that bolstering good psychology at the office not only helps the economy, it also fosters the health of families, friends, and communities.

People will flourish as we all continue to push and experiment with new ways to approach why we work, how we work, and what we do for our work. As Simon Sinek said: "Innovation is the application of technology to solve human problems."

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