Productivity is often reduced to a numbers game. When business is suffering, leaders tend to look for possible causes in concrete places: down economy, low product innovation, increase in competitors, or discontinuation of long-term projects, to name a few. But what if these were symptoms, not signs? Rarely do leaders venture into softer causes of a less-than-ideal picture of their firm. What if their people are just unhappy?

For the most part, people don’t expect to be their happiest while they are at work; working is at worst an obligation that earns them a living. Bad leaders tend not to be concerned about their employee’s well being, and worse leaders tend to care only about the happiness of those employees that are star performers. “Buck up or get out” can be a harsh yet possible response to people who express their dissatisfaction with their work situation, and with the current unemployment trends, happiness seems a luxury rather than a necessity.
Having unhappy employees, however, can hurt your business more than most recognize. Dissatisfied workers tend to take more time off, engage in “presenteeism” (where they are present, but contribute little to no value to the business while they are), and in some cases, dispel their unhappiness throughout the company and infect others with their malaise. And increased compensation or benefits don’t always remedy this problem. People above all want to feel valued and respected within their organization and they want to feel engaged by the work that they are doing. If their happiness is linked to these top two factors, among others, then one mark of a good organization is how happy its people are.

First and foremost, as a leader, you need to become attuned to the moods of your people. Do you know if your employees are happy or not? Have you put a premium on happiness? Engage them; make sure they feel as though their opinions are heard and valued and that they understand how their work fits into the broader goals of the company. Do not play favorites. Once you’ve gotten a pulse on the organization, make sure that you continually check in with your employees to see how they’re doing. This serves two purposes: you can regularly gauge their well being, and just in reaching out your employees will feel valued.

Secondly, give your people the latitude to do their own work; don’t micromanage them. Autonomy allows them to take responsibility for their job and also shows that you respect their ability to do so without constant oversight. If people don’t have much control over their jobs or are not engaged and involved in making decisions, then they will suffer, as will their work.

Happiness may seem aspirational, not integral, to a business’s bottom line. But employee malaise can often be the root cause of organizational problems, and it is often overlooked as a sign in lieu of other symptoms. Promote a culture of happiness; after all, the happiest employees spend twice as much time doing what they’re paid to do while at work, take significantly less sick leave, and believe they are achieving their potential twice as much. Wouldn’t that make you happy?


How important is happiness at your company? To you?