Patricia, an outgoing, engaging, perpetually smiling woman in her early 30’s with a shock of unruly, prematurely grey hair, was really happy to get her first management job. She’d been a secretary, back-office worker and all-round administrative worker previously, but as purchasing manager for a major producer of food additives. she looked forward to really streamlining their purchasing procedures.
The hiring had gone smoothly. The company needed the position filled quickly and a former colleague of Patricia who now worked there had recommended her. Everything looked great: Nice offices in a wood-land setting: Check! Interesting responsibilities: Check! Nice colleagues: Check! A good salary: Absolutely!
But as Patricia started on her new job, things turned out to be less idyllic. The mood at the company was very much one of competition rather than collaboration. Her immediate manager was rarely there and never appreciated or even commented on the work she or her colleagues did. In fact nobody seemed to care what anybody else did, it was “You do your job, I’ll do mine.”
She was doing her job, and doing it very well, but she got no recognition and though she tried to change the mood in her department it was very difficult for the latest newcomer to change old, established ways and cultures.
As the months passed by, Patricia started to look forward less and less to each work day. It became a struggle to get out the door in the morning. She also lost a lot of energy outside of work. She found herself exercising less. She went out less and wathced TV more.
After 7 months on the job Patricia decided to quit. She hadn’t been looking for a new job, she simply decided to go in and quit.
Immediately, the people close to Patricia noticed a difference: Where before she had been tired and a little sad, she was now happy, silly, energetic. Every day that passed after her decision to quit brought her back to herself in huge steps.
What surprised Patricia, and scared her more than a little, was that she hadn’t noticed how her job had really affected her, because that change had come very gradually over the span of months. But after her decision to quit she took the opposite journey in a couple of weeks, and suddenly it became clear just how much an unpleasant work environment had affected her both on and off the job.
Patricia used her re-discovered energy to become an aerobics instructor and now teaches three times a week. She is currently looking for her next job, and has vowed only to take it if it’ll make her happy.
Why, oh why
It always pays to ask the most important of all questions: “Why?”, in this case “Why does happiness at work matter? Does it matter at all, or could we all just go to work, be unhappy, get our paychecks and be happy in our free time?”
The answer is clear: Not only does happiness at work matter, it is the major force that determines whether a person or a business will be successful. Not only is happiness a factor – it’s the major factor.
I’m not going to spend too many pages on Why, because I’m anxious to get to How, but I do want to lay out the reasons why happiness is so important. There are two areas where happiness at work matters:
- For people – because work is becoming more and more central to people’s lives
- For businesses – because happy companies consistently outperform unhappy companies
Let’s look at each of these.