Companies in all sectors have been increasingly investing in the happiness of employees, with firms like Etsy going so far as to create a Gross Happiness Index, and Google gathering metrics to optimize the length of its free lunch lines (too long, and people are annoyed; too short, they don’t get to chit-chat).
But any investor should be able to measure its return, and now a group of U.K. researchers say they've provided the first scientifically-controlled evidence of the link between human happiness and productivity: Happier people are about 12% more productive, the study found.
The results, to be published in the Journal of Labor Economics, are based on four different experiments that employed a variety of tactics on a total of 713 subjects at an elite British university.
In three of the experiments, the University of Warwick team conducted happiness interventions on some subjects, such as showing them a comedy film or giving them chocolate, food, and drink. The people who got the grand treatment were more efficient at a task later given to them than those who weren’t. In a fourth experiment, the researchers measured productivity first and then questioned the participants about real-life shocks in their life, such as death or illness. The people who recently experienced pain were also less productive.
Or course, it cost the researchers money to buy the food and drink and time to show the subjects comedy films. Which is to say it’s unclear—in this study or in a real-life work setting—how many resources a company should devote to increasing happiness, at least in hopes of a bottom-line benefit.
For workers, it may seem like a positive trend when employers care more about happiness and wellness, but that may not always be the case. A CVS cashier is suing her employer over its aggressive corporate wellness program, for example, claiming she was required to disclose information like her weight and sexual activity or have $600 extra deducted from her paycheck each year.
The authors of the study also suggest that their work could affect hirings and promotions. "If happiness in a workplace carries with it a return in productivity, the paper’s findings may have consequences for firms’ promotion policies and may be relevant for managers and human resources specialists," they write. In the future, as the workforce becomes more and more quantified, will a death in the family mean you’re passed up for a raise?