Last week I had a debate on whether happiness at work increases productivity or not against Jan Kristensen who is Lean Director at Novo Nordisk.
It was a lively and at times contentious debate in front of an engaged audience and we filmed the whole thing and have put it online. There are three videos: My initial presentation (above), Jan’s presentation and then a discussion.
I applaud Jan for his willingness to do this debate and I admire his clearly heartfelt dedication to creating more efficient and productive workplaces.
In my (admittedly biased) opinion, after having read Jan’s phd thesis and done the debate, it’s clear that there is ample evidence that happiness makes us more productive in the workplace and very little evidence against this.
As best I can tell, Jan offered 3 specific arguments for his assertion that happy workers are no more productive than unhappy ones.
1: 14 original studies
Jan claims there are 14 original studies, which everyone in this field cites as proof that happy workers are more productive but that those 14 studies in fact show the exact opposite.
He only mentions one of those 14 studies (hawthorne) so it’s hard to evaluate his claim. But let’s say we grant him this. It still doesn’t support his position. Even if every single one of those 14 studies could be invalidated, it would not serve at all to disprove all the studies that have come since them. I quote several of those studies in my presentation.
2: Low correlation
Jan states that the best correlation found in meta-studies shows a correlation between happiness and productivity of 0.25, which is too low for his liking.
But a low correlation is still a correlation, so at the very least we can say that happiness and productivity are connected. And as I showed in my presentation, there are also studies showing causation, i.e. showing that happiness causes productivity.
3: Difficult to implement
Jan’s final argument is that he and his HR colleagues have tried to implement happiness in Novo and that it has failed every time.
The logical flaw in this argument is clear: People’s ability or inability to implement it has no bearing on whether or not the theory is true.
As best I can tell, Jan offers no further arguments in support of his position.
What’s your take on this – are happy people more productive? Are happy workplaces more profitable? What evidence have you seen that supports your position? Please write a comment, I’d love to know your take.