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Happiness at Work Isn't Soft, It's Smart

You can't have any more staff; you can't have any more money. So what are you supposed to do to get more out of the resources you have?

Cheer up your workforce.

"Yeah right," I hear you say. "We're still in recession, everyone's fried -- and you're telling me that in these conditions an effective leader goes around entertaining the troops?"


That's what the economist Andrew Oswald found in a recent experiment. Two groups of volunteers were asked to do some math questions. The task wasn't tremendously hard but was taxing under pressure. "It might be thought of as representing in a highly stylized way an iconic white-collar job: both intellectual ability and effort are rewarded," Oswald wrote. The more correct answers each volunteer provided, the higher the pay they would receive.

The difference between the two groups was simple: half got to watch British comedy routines, and the other half did not. Which group do you suppose worked better? The volunteers who'd had a good laugh before they started work, the 'happier workers', were 12 percent more productive, and the unhappy ones were 10 percent less productive.

But surely the state of mind of the volunteers played a part, regardless of the film clip? Of course it did. Those who started the experiment depressed by a death or major illness in the family performed 10 percent worse than their peers.

On one level, this could all be dismissed as blindingly obvious. Happy people work better? Of course they do. What's perhaps more important is that, under the imprimatur of academic research, the economists have validated what all good CEOs know: that emotion and work are deeply connected. This doesn't mean you have to turn into an office entertainer. It does mean you have to pay attention to how your employees feel and what's making them feel that way. It also means that the CEOs who've always done that aren't soft, they're smart. You can study those spreadsheets as much as you like, but you won't shift your bottom line if the happiness and wellbeing of your employees isn't a top priority.

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