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Happiness and Work – Swings and Roundabouts

child on a swing

It is something about the power of being mobile in her world.

Lots of workplaces try and bring some of that fun to their employees, installing slides, play equipment, tree houses and other things that may mean the office is mistaken for a children’s playground; others have modelled themselves on night clubs – and not just for festive celebrations!

But is it working? Despite the funsultants’ best efforts, work is still the place that we feel most miserable – to find out three common reasons for this see Patrick Lencioni’s great book on this topic. However, this may not be the worst thing for businesses given that the link between employee happiness and productivity is still inconclusive.

I am personally relieved to know that the cult of positivity and enforced happiness can be emotionally stunting for employees and can also lead to them glossing over knowledge which may be considered negative. It’s common to hear of employees and middle managers who know that something isn’t working, but don’t want to appear negative so don’t communicate this up the hierarchy, or if they do their bosses don’t want to hear it.

Research has also shown that the more we talk about happiness, the less likely we are to feel it, even when we have experiences that usually make us happy. This is echoed in a recent article that what makes a difference to us is not a search for happiness but a search for meaning.

All this implies that if companies really want their staff to be happy then more basic interventions about meaning, recognition and being able to monitor individual and collective learning and progress may be much more beneficial. The freedom that comes with feeling more in charge of one’s own environment makes a big difference. One study shows that employee satisfaction and productivity shoot up when people are allowed to work from home. This example doesn’t work for many on the floor, manufacturing and retail people, or human services practitioners, but that’s when innovative thinking comes in.

Being allowed to focus on an important piece of work has also been shown to increase satisfaction, a novel idea for many over-stretched employees facing a lack of prioritisation and a scarcity of courageous thinking. Perhaps organisations could limit pointless emails and bureaucracy and focus on what’s important for a healthy workplace.

Job security also creates psychological safety. If that isn’t possible helping people develop their own resilience, leadership from within that creates more flexibility and continuity, might be a far better way to improve the workplace, rather than more playground equipment and pointless restructures.

As to my granddaughter – all that is yet to come – for her and me it’s time for another push of the swing, and then maybe on to the roundabout.