The emotional toll the pandemic has had on work life, combined with a tight labor market, has business leaders more focused than ever on promoting workplace satisfaction. Many leaders believe it’s intuitive that happy workers are more productive, but researchers Paul Lester, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman wondered whether happiness begets workplace success or if it’s the other way around.
To find out, they followed approximately 1 million U.S. Army soldiers across a wide range of duties for nearly five years. They tracked their well-being along with other optimism, and measured that against which soldiers received awards based on job performance. Their conclusion: workers who are initially happy are most likely to be top performers.
Only 12% of the large study group received an award of any type during the research period. The researchers report that four times as many awards were earned by the initially happy soldiers compared with those who were unhappiest initially. Their findings are reported in “Happy Soldiers are Highest Performers,” a report published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
The researchers state that military members are an apt model to study for workers in the business world because the U.S. military is the biggest business by an order of magnitude, and it has 190 distinct job categories.
“Within the workplace, we know that happier employees are more likely to emerge as leaders, earn higher scores on performance evaluations, and tend to be better teammates,” the researchers write in a summary of their findings in MIT Sloan Management Review. They add that happier employees have lower rates of absenteeism, are highly motivated to succeed, are more creative, and less likely to leave a company.
Can managers develop happier employees? The authors say academic studies repeatedly show that training initiatives and a focus on regularly expressing gratitude to others for their efforts are two inexpensive ways to increase happiness among a work force.
They write, “Our recommendation: First, measure wellbeing. Next, start with the easy exercises to demonstrate that the company values employee well-being. Then start investing in the more formal programs over time as happiness increases.”