Happy employees?

Estimated reading time: 3.5 minutes

A few years ago, the idea that employee happiness makes them more productive than their unhappiness entered the business world.  A few days ago, an article in the País Magazone, More happiness, more productivity, explained that there are even courses being created such as Designing Happiness at Standford University to teach leaders to “create” companies in which people can really fulfill themselves and feel happy within their jobs.  In this way, the company wins as it can get its employees’ best.  Jobs for “Director of Happiness” can even be found, referring to people who are capable of creating working environments like the ones described above.

The problem usually arises when there is only a partial vision of the reality, taken to be the whole, which believes that a fuzzball or a videogame zone or chillout area is enough for employees to be happy.  This trivializes something as complex as personal happiness, because only a few levels are looked at (essentially, the environment, which is the simplest) and the rest is not taken into consideration.

This change in the way of thinking, following Bateson and Dilts models on neurological levels, should work in the following ways. Bear in mind that in this model, the levels operate from top to bottom; this means that whatever changes in the top levels (the last ones in the list) affects the bottom ones but it does not imply that what changes in the bottom affects the top.  So then:

  • Environment: Everything that has to do with the place in which people find themselves, with the scenery.  The chillout areas and those previously mentioned would be the first step necessary in order for people to feel good.  If I am in a dark room with no windows or ventilation, it will be difficult for me to feel at ease.  But the impact will remain within the environment.
  • Behaviors: In order for “happiness” to be possible, employees need to have a wide range of “allowed” activities.  It’s no use having a pingpong table if I can’t even express my opinion or have it taken into consideration.  Or if I am penalized if I take the initiative.
  • Capabilities and abilities: Some may need new personal resources for some of these changes to take place, whether they are technological or emotional (e.g. Emotional Intelligence) and interpersonal.  The company should provide access to these resources (courses, coaching, etc) and management should also learn these new skills.  If not, the system will crack at this point, as it is demanding new skills that you have not yet developed.
  • Beliefs:  There is no point making these changes if we don’t actually believe in them at all levels within the organization.  It is clear to see if management is on board but don’t believe in them. This can be easily detected and transmitted and it will only have half of the impact.  Believing in changes is harder than it seems because it means getting rid of old, maybe somewhat rooted beliefs.  The same occurs in the employees.  If I see work as a place I’m forced to go to in order to make a living but the less I do the better, it will be difficult for the changes to make me feel better about things.
  • Values: Those beliefs should be substantiated by criteria and values in a higher order function, which are what will actually guide our actions.  If I’m a director, I need to consider my employee over and above the short term on my scale of values (for example), otherwise they wouldn’t be more than a dispensable pawn.  Once again, the fuzzball can only serve as a patch.  For employees, I need to feel that the real values of my company (remember the topic on corporate culture) are in line with mine.  Otherwise, I will feel out of place.
  • Identity:  This takes things one step further than the last, so that it makes up the identity of the company.  At Google, it works that it is a “happy company” because if the employees have fun and being creative can become part of their identity, then there is nothing to falsify.  Identity cannot be faked. As with the previous case, the same occurs with the employee.  If the company doesn’t fit in with my identity, it will not work.
  • System: This level joins together the way in which all of this is related to the rest of society, how it is integrated into a greater system.  If I try to build a company full of “happy people” in a country that does not respect even the smallest of employment rights including human rights, I will fail.  Let’s not forget that we are in a network society, a society 2.0.

The cases I have used at each level are only examples and a deeper analysis would be required and tailored to each case. But I think that they are useful to understand how we function and why some changes do not have any effect, as they are only taking one level into consideration as well as being low down in the hierarchy.  For this reason, the challenge for business in the 21st century is going through a radical change, not aiming to patch up an old structure with a bit of make-up.  Because if all we do is to apply make-up, we could end up like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard saying: “Im big; its the film that is small.

Do you belong to a company that concerns itself about keeping its employees happy?