Top 10 reasons why happiness at work is the ultimate productivity booster

Productivity

Lisa was falling behind at work. Every morning she woke up nervous about the workday ahead of her. Every evening she went home thinking of all the tasks she hadn’t gotten around to.

Lisa is a 35-year old engineer and project manager at a Danish IT company. With business booming, keeping up had become a struggle – she felt she had to run really fast, to just to stay in place.

With her in-box overflowing and people all around her clamoring for assistance on their projects, she started to look at various productivity tools and systems and quickly settled on the one she’d use. As is typical for Lisa, once she’s decided to do something, she does it, and with new ways of tracking time, improved todo-lists and prioritizing her work, she did notice that she was getting more work done.

But she still felt, that she could be more productive. While she was thinking about her next step, it struck her: Some of what she did, she hated doing.

While she generally enjoyed her job, especially helping people plan their projects and advising them on the best ways to move forward, some of her tasks were administrative in nature. Tracking progress, updating various statics, generating reports, etc… . They didn’t take up that much of her time – but they were a lot less fun. Let’s face it: to Lisa, they were boring as hell.

She talked to her boss about it, and they decided to give those tasks to a project secretary. This freed up a little time for Lisa, but mostly it allowed her to work on those parts of her job that she really liked. Consequently Lisa became a lot happier at work – and THAT’S when her productivity sky-rocketed. Now she had the energy to connect with her people and the creativity to think up and implement new ideas. Instead of feeling stressed and harried, she was optimistic and positive.

While her productivity system had definitely helped her get more done, the productivity boost she got from being happy at work was many times bigger. Lisa is now working way less hours – and getting much more done. And most importantly, she’s enjoying work a lot more!

If you want to get more done at work, the productivity gurus out there will tell you that it’s all about having the right system. You need to prioritize your tasks, you must keep detailed logs of how you spend your time, todo-lists are of course essential, you must learn to structure your calendar and much, much more.

But that’s not where you should start. You should start by liking what you do.

The single most efficient way to increase your productivity is to be happy at work. No system, tool or methodology in the world can beat the productivity boost you get from really, really enjoying your work.

I’m not knocking all the traditional productivity advice out there – it’s not that it’s bad or deficient. It’s just that when you apply it in a job that basically doesn’t make you happy, you’re trying to fix something at a surface level when the problem goes much deeper.

Here are the 10 most important reasons why happiness at work is the #1 productivity booster.

1: Happy people work better with others
Happy people are a lot more fun to be around and consequently have better relations at work. This translates into:

  • Better teamwork with your colleagues
  • Better employee relations if you’re a manager
  • More satisfied customers if you’re in a service job
  • Improved sales if you’re a sales person

2: Happy people are more creative
If your productivity depends on being able to come up with new ideas, you need to be happy at work. Check out the research of Teresa Amabile for proof. She says:

If people are in a good mood on a given day, they’re more likely to have creative ideas that day, as well as the next day, even if we take into account their mood that next day.

There seems to be a cognitive process that gets set up when people are feeling good that leads to more flexible, fluent, and original thinking, and there’s actually a carryover, an incubation effect, to the next day.

3: Happy people fix problems instead of complaining about them
When you don’t like your job, every molehill looks like a mountain. It becomes difficult to fix any problem without agonizing over it or complaining about it first. When you’re happy at work and you run into a snafu – you just fix it.

4: Happy people have more energy
Happy people have more energy and are therefore more efficient at everything they do.

5: Happy people are more optimistic
Happy people have a more positive, optimistic outlook, and as research shows (particularly Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology), optimists are way more successful and productive. It’s the old saying “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re probably right” all over again.

6: Happy people are way more motivated
Low motivation means low productivity, and the only sustainable, reliable way to be motivated at work is to be happy and like what you do. I wrote about this in a previous post called Why “motivation by pizza” doesn’t work.

7: Happy people get sick less often
Getting sick is a productivity killer and if you don’t like your job you’re more prone to contract a long list of diseases including ulcers, cancer and diabetes. You’re also more prone to workplace stress and burnout.

One study assessed the impact of job strain on the health of 21,290 female nurses in the US and found that the women most at risk of ill health were those who didn’t like their jobs. The impact on their health was a great as that associated with smoking and sedentary lifestyles (source).

8: Happy people learn faster
When you’re happy and relaxed, you’re much more open to learning new things at work and thereby increasing your productivity.

9: Happy people worry less about making mistakes – and consequently make fewer mistakes
When you’re happy at work the occasional mistake doesn’t bother you much. You pick yourself up, learn from it and move on. You also don’t mind admitting to others that you screwed up – you simply take responsibility, apologize and fix it. This relaxed attitude means that less mistakes are made, and that you’re more likely to learn from them.

10: Happy people make better decisions
Unhappy people operate in permanent crisis mode. Their focus narrows, they lose sight of the big picture, their survival instincts kick in and they’re more likely to make short-term, here-and-now choices. Conversely, happy people make better, more informed decisions and are better able to prioritize their work.

The upshot

Think back to a situation where you felt that you were at peak performance. A situation where your output was among the highest and best it’s ever been. I’m willing to bet that you were working at something that made you happy. Something that you loved doing.

There’s a clear link between happiness at work and productivity. This only leaves the question of causation: Does being productive make us happy or does being happy make us productive? The answer is, of course, yes! The link goes both ways.

Productivity

But the link is strongest from happiness to productivity – which means that it if you want to be more productive, the very best thing you can do is focus on being happy with what you do?

So how do you get to be happy at work? There are two ways, really:

  1. Get happy in the job you have. There are about a million things you can do to improve your work situation – provided you choose to do something, rather than wait for someone else to come along and do it for you.
  2. Find a new job where you can be happy. If your current job is not fixable, don’t wait – move on now!

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150 thoughts on “Top 10 reasons why happiness at work is the ultimate productivity booster”

  1. Mmmm – had a conversation at work today revolving around that happiness is not required – merely an exchange of time for money. Pretty bleak outlook but interesting.

    The two ways to improve are easy to say but difficult for many. The old parable of you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, comes to mind.

  2. The anecdote in the beginning just made me feel bad for the secretary. Instead of facing up to the crummy parts of her job, Lisa dumped those tasks on a subordinate. While this may make Lisa happy it does not mean that the subordinate is happy, if she works less hours, someone obviously works more. Sure the secretary may enjoy putting together reports, but that is as unlikely as it is likely. I think that people should make the best of the boring parts of an otherwise fulfilling job.

    Especially consider Lisa’s job as a project manager; tracking progress, updating various statics, generating reports are essential parts of her job title, perhaps she would be happier in another position where creative managing is more paramount and tracking and reporting are less so.

  3. Barry: Yeah, doesn’t it?

    Scott: That is bleak. I believe that work is about fun first and money second. I also believe that there needn’t be any conflict between the two.

    Of course it can be very difficult to get people to actually do something about it – but I did run into a guy the other day who told me he quit his last job partly because of something he read on my blog :o)

    Igor: I agree, if you’re just dumping your lousy tasks on someone else, little is gained. But remember that what one person hates, another may really looooove doing.

    Jawahar: It’s certainly one of the best ways.

  4. Happiness at work is difficult to achieve, sometimes. I’ve had obstacles, such as office politics and indifference. However, I’ve found out that happiness starts within me. It doesn’t matter if my colleagues are happy or not.

    As long as I am happy and able to do my job, I’m productive..

    Thanks for the article…

  5. Hi, Alex,

    OK, now we have to help people identify just what Happiness or Satisfaction means to them.

    I do what I do because it brings me joy. But I had to have a long talk with myself about that first.

    Stay happy!

  6. Happiness certainly is an underrated productivity tool. When I’m on my way to work with a smile on my face, I know my to-do list is in for a beating when I get to work. Thankfully I do something I enjoy, so that’s a great way to stay happy!

  7. Hey Alex ~
    I can’t agree with you more. Your whole premise of being happy – how radical! How spot-on!

    Just found your website via Lifehack where I am a guest writer. My blog – www. productivitycafe.com has Friday @ Five with ideas for rejevenation on the weekends… recognizing that being rested is also key for productivity.

    I’m signing up for your RSS feed… namaste!
    Susan S.

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  9. Yo Alex,

    Great post and a great looking book, I look forward to reading it.

    I think it’s true to say that no matter how productive we are, in terms of getting things done, if we’re ultimately unhappy then there’s little point in doing these things.

    David

  10. Dear sir/madam

    hello i am raj from india and i want to know about productivity and how to calculation productivity?

    so give me good feedback and comments

    yours truely
    Raj

  11. Hi My Happy, I was just reading some writing from the Dalai Lama. He says his work is spread happiness and sees that as a mission worth all of us. Looks like you are on purpose already. The enthusiasm in your writing just jumps out and empowers. Thanks for expressing such aliveness and passion. I am writing a blog on consciousness, inner peace, personal freedom and write because it is my purpose to assist anyone who is interested in being more aware, awake and alive. I can be checked out at http://www.explorelifeblog.com
    Keep going, you can make an amazing difference by being who you are. Joseph

  12. Alex,

    A workplace in Bangkok just implemented nap time and dedicated nap rooms at their firm. They must have read your article. It always pays to feel good!

  13. I agree that happiness is an important component. I also think there are many things that stand in the way, things that are harder for some people to master than others (biochemical concerns come to mind). For me, having a system *allows* me to be happier…

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  15. Great post, Stumbled it.

    Unfortunately, too many companies don’t put enough emphasis on trying to keep employees happy. Granted, it’s never easy to please everyone but some companies don’t really try.

  16. I love this artical and totally agree!!! I’m very positive and optomistic. I wish I could carry this artical around with me to help convince people that they would get more out of work and life if they looked on the bright side of things and stayed positive in all they do. Seriously, my name is Happy. :-)

  17. Hey Lisa got a secretary to do the boring work, and Lisa is happy!
    How delightful.
    Uh, what about the secretary? Was she happy to be made to do the boring work? Was her productivity, boosted too?

  18. Would be nice if all our USA companies would read something positive!
    Like the company I work at, Transfreight llc. I think they work harder to make things hard for the employee to be happy in the work place, they always put the blame on Toyota Motor Company and not on them selves, they are always making statements about team work, but never want to play a role in it!

  19. this is definitely true! on days where i feel happier, i just feel better about everything in general, including my work :) i feel much more inclined to get on with those difficult tasks which i’ve been putting off; they don’t seem so bad when i’m feeling really cheerful.

  20. “She talked to her boss about it, and they decided to give those (boring) tasks to a project secretary”

    We have several “Lisa’s” at work, who handball shitty tasks to the underdog (me).

  21. I have to say amen to Lilly; I had the same thought when I read the poor assistant was given these boring tasks. Maybe the better solution would be to evaluate whether some of these reports, statistics, whatever are necessary or being duplicated by other reports, statistics, etc.

    It’s been my observation that sometimes reports are created at the onset of a project and perhaps a number of people are cc’d on them. The issues are resolved and that project is running smoothly, but the reports remain except now they’ve been transferred to the hapless assistant who does not know why she or he is running them.

    The people who are cc’d on these reports no longer look at them because a) the project is running smoothly and there are new projects requiring more attention and b) other people are copied so surely someone else is reviewing them, right? These people leave and then the reports are inherited by a replacement who has absolutely no idea what they are for and either is too busy to ask or if he or she asks, is told not to worry about it since there are more urgent priorities.

    Thus a fossil is born.

    And yes, I have been the hapless new assistant who asked what this report or that report is used for and been told “I don’t know; just run it.”

    On the positive side, it taught me to be a better documenter when it was my turn to create reports. Now I don’t just detail the how and when to run something; I always include the why, and if there is a potential shelf life, I include that too.

  22. hi,
    i hv gne through ds page n it told me how happy people cn survive mre better. aftr going thrugh ds page i hv decided that i wl stay happy grom nw onwards
    take cre

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  24. I totally agree with this article. Since starting my own business i have always had open communication with my staff. i want to ensure they are happy, and comfortable. I am extremely flexible with work hours and I require my staff to put family first before business. So if the kids are sick or are in a play and they need to work around those times… I am fine with it.. They are extremely happy and are productive, appreciative and creative!!!.

  25. Great article I always ask people would you rather be around a energetic, fun , positive idea sharing person, or a negative, complaining, woe is me, low energy frump?

    Same goes for the workplace doesnt it?
    Do whatever you can to liven up the workplace. Inclueded management and staff as well. Just one guys opinion.

    The Grand Poobah of Smiles
    Smile-Therapy.com

  26. In the story above, “Lisa” became “more productive” because half of her job’s duties were shifted to another employee whose productivity was probably slashed in half because of the extra work dumped on her by “Lisa”.

  27. Impressive post. People who enjoy and love what they do is most likely to have increase their productivity at work. Being around with these type of people would not only boost your productivity but enliven you as well.

  28. CHO, my second time reading this article.

    This time around I tried to think of all the successful people who had a negative attitude…didn’t come up with many( any).

    Also what good things come from a sour attitude, VS. the 134 positive things that come from.. being Positive and Happy.

    Easy choice when I wake up.
    How about you?

    Tim Smith, CEO, Smile-Therapy.com

  29. Fantastic post! I agree 100%. For those who are indeed happy with their job, career or business, a productivity improvement system will certainly help if people are still struggling with that area of their work. But you’re absolutely right – happiness is key. What’s interesting is that over the past 8 years, I’ve worked with two individuals who, after working on their productivity and completing the consulting/training, have discovered that it wasn’t the lack of productivity holding them back. It was that they didn’t like what they were doing in their job. I love that the consulting process itself revealed this to them and their discovery allowed them to take a step in a new direction – one that would make them happier and more fulfilled.

  30. So the moral of this story:
    If you don’t like parts of your job, dump them on someone who earns less than you and doesn’t have the understanding ear of the boss.

    Yeah, that’s gonna improve productivity.

    Office environments thrive on a pecking order, where anybody with any seniority shunts the boring/time consuming/repetitive tasks down to the person below them. That person accepts the best of a bad lot and then shunts the remainder on down to (eventually) the poor admin at the bottom whose 9-5 is boring unappreciated drudgery.

    Having worked my way from the bottom to the middle, I have seen the process happening in several offices.

    The article seems to suggest that it is OK to shove all the horrible tasks on someone else, instead of sharing the load.

    It is also making a few really weird assumptions:
    The boss appears to care about the happiness of their employee (!)
    The boss appears to be willing to listen (and act) on suggestions from their subordinates (!!)
    Presumably the secretary/admin now does 1.5 peoples work. Do they get paid 1.5x the salary?
    The employee is now skipping about happily being more productive (which is great), but… what happens next time they come across a boring task? Presumably they just spit their dummy out again, and get someone else to it…

    Cynical? Yes, I am – it is bourne out of experience.

  31. Suppose that instead of dumping on another employee, the superior hires a person who is detail-oriented and doesn’t mind what others call “tedium.” Also, if such a person were to be hired for that purpose, then I believe that person should be given more benefits, however that may be defined. It seems to me anyone in a mid management position should be greatly appreciative of the new person doing the tedious grunt work.

  32. I am very interested in the topics Productivity and Managing our emotions. This blog has given a lot of thought for this topic and need to research further. Yes I believe being happy is productive but what about those who are unhappy and the organization is not getting the output as required as a result. What could we do to imporve productivity among those who are negative and unhappy.

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  35. Well I can definitely see how perfect that would apply to any company… and anyway, I guess that even without these 10 reasons it makes sense that a happy environment will help better work (i.e. more productive work) as opposed to a stressful/sad/pessimistic environment. With positive thoughts you always get further than with negative thoughts.

  36. Dear Kjerulf, I just saw your article which is wonderful guide in the sense of being happy during the working hours. I am trying to develop a training manual for a overall development of the office management in a small scale financial institution here in Nepal. Specially, I am focusing on office secretary. If you can share little your feeling about it how would be the best start to run 2 days work shop within the office environment? If I use your reference article in this perspective, I would like to inform you. How about it? Is it acceptable? Thanks.

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