We recently posted a blog called “Should You Care About Employee Happiness?” which examined the need for happy and engaged employees. That blog got me thinking, “Is having happy employees enough?” If you were to ask a group of HR professionals that question, you’d probably get plenty of middle-of-the-road answers like, “It depends,” or “Maybe;” but not this time.

From my conversations about happiness with colleagues in HR and the world of business, it’s become clear to me that happiness is not enough, and it should not be a company’s primary talent management goal.

Happy does not equal productive.

How many times have you had to terminate someone? And how many of them were truly terrible people who deserved to be fired? Have you ever had to lay off an entire team? I am willing to bet that the majority of them were good people. They were probably nice, friendly, and happy; however, they underperformed, made a huge mistake, or were part of a layoff. Happy employees aren’t always productive, and they cannot prevent a company from having problems.

Unhappy does not equal unproductive.

Just as a happy employee is not guaranteed to be productive, an unhappy employee is not necessarily an unproductive one. In a recent conversation, a colleague told me, “I’m not happy, but I’m not unhappy, either.” He continued to say, “To be honest, on most days, I’d rather be home with my wife and daughters baking cookies and brownies. That’s what makes me happy. This is just my job.” Which reminded me of times in my own life when I didn’t mind going to work, but would often dream about 5 o’clock.

Happiness is relative.

Another reason you shouldn’t be consumed with having happy employees is that it is nearly impossible to make people happy. Do you think Google or Apple has unhappy employees? Sure they do. There are so many internal and external forces at play, and you never know when an employee is dealing with things beyond your reach. We think that by offering the best benefits, the highest pay, and a laid-back atmosphere, we can make our employees happy, and that just isn’t the case. Some people are insatiable.

The Internet is full of statistics and studies about the advantages of having happy employees. Companies are spending billions annually to increase engagement; yet disengagement is still at 70%, which means engagement is only 30%. When you break down engagement, you learn that there are different levels of engagement, from highly engaged to somewhat disengaged to totally disengaged. The same levels apply to happiness and job satisfaction, but productivity is a little easier to define. Either you are productive or you are not.

Things are better now.

Something else to consider regarding those surveys and polls about happy employees is that most of that data is from years ago when the unemployment rate was higher, the economy was still recovering, and job seeker confidence was lower. But, fast forward to 2015, and the national unemployment rate is under 6%, more companies are increasing wages and salaries, consumer confidence is up, and job growth is predicted to be 24% higher than last year. The point is, maybe employee happiness is higher now in any case.

A recent article on Forbes.com by Susan Adams titled “Americans Are Much Happier at Work than You Think, Says New Poll” cites data developed by FTI Consulting for Allstate Insurance and the National Journal. The article suggests that job satisfaction and a company’s impact on the community are positive influences that lead to employee happiness.

Having a company of happy employees will not solve your problems. But if you give all of your employees the tools they need to successfully perform their jobs, treat them as valuable assets, and operate with integrity, you will remain productive. And that should be enough.

Adina Miron

4 Comments

  • Avatar Sheilla M. says:

    Of course, employee happiness is important, and making sure that your workforce has all the tools they need to successfully perform their job is closely related to productivity and engagement. This shows that your company cares about working conditions, that you want them to perform well, and that you value and trust your employees.

  • Avatar Scottie L. says:

    Happiness is volatile, but connection to your work is a power source that gets stronger over time. So I say let’s forget about the policies and programs designed to “make us happy” and let’s start focusing less on bureaucracy and more on the things that are really important, like communication, teamwork, and innovation

  • Avatar Ashley Jones says:

    Thanks for sharing this article! It’s true that happy does not equal productive. And let’s face it, the things that truly make us happy have little or even nothing to do with work. However, employee happiness is closely connected to productivity, and treating employees as valuable assets will help your organization remain productive.

  • Avatar Macy K. says:

    I’ve noticed that employee happiness has become a cliché – everybody’s been talking about it for quite some time now. I believe that being happy in the workplace is not exclusively connected to your income or days off. Moreover, implementing even more policies than we already have in the name of employee happiness is a useless effort. Instead, we should focus on removing impediments to teamwork, collaboration, and new ideas.

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