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Want More Patient Employees? Make Them Happier

Happy at work? You're probably also more patientAs anyone who has ever spent an afternoon at the DMV knows, waiting generally doesn't induce happiness, but does being happy increase our ability to wait? The General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans opinions on a range of issues for four decades, shows that people who "don't live for today" are happier. Economist John Ifcher and business professor Homa Zarghamee decided to investigate the flip side of that finding, asking whether people in a happy mood are also more likely to delay gratification.

To do this, Ifcher and Zarghamee rounded up 69 undergraduates and assigned them randomly to two groups, one of which watched a cheerful video of Robin Williams stand-up comedy and another a more neutral set of wildlife clips. Both groups then had to decide whether to take a small payment immediately or delay gratification and receive a larger payment in the future. The results indicate that making people cheerful also makes them more willing to wait.

So, why should you care? Ifcher explained over email that in business, as in life, patience is often key to success and knowing that patience comes with cheerfulness can be useful for both managers and individuals.

There are a host of situations in which owners would want employees to be patient, such as avoiding a salesperson setting a price too low to earn a commission quickly; avoiding a manager not making a worthwhile investment because the payoff takes too long to materialize; or avoiding CEOs making decision to boost quarterly results at the cost of longer term results.

In any of those situations our research suggests that putting the employees in a happy mood would increase the employees' patience. Employees could be put in a happy mood in many ways: having them engage in an enjoyable, short activity; receiving unexpected, token prizes, or praise; or even just being reminded about enjoyable past experiences.

Our result also suggests that owners can help employees make better decision for themselves, e.g., around their retirement savings, or their health. They could try to put employees in a happy mood before signing up for retirement benefits. Our results suggest that this would increase retirement savings (as a matter of fact we plan to test this in a field experiment in the next year). Additionally, owners could try to help employees make better decision regarding their food choices in the company cafeteria.

Companies can also use our result to help improve their performance with their customers. It seems to us that companies, such as Fidelity Brokerage Service, already realize this. Fidelity's offices are typically very pleasant and often have a bowl of candies on the reception desk. The pleasant environment coupled with the unexpected offering presumably puts customers in a better mood and, our results suggest, likely to invest more with Fidelity.

Maybe you shouldn't feel so bad about the ten minutes you spend slacking off on LOLcats before making those sales calls or filling in that pile of 401k paperwork. You just might be making yourself not only more cheerful, but also more patient.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user alancleaver_2000, CC 2.0)
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