Happy workers are not necessarily most productive workers …

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For a long time now researchers have been saying that happy workers are productive workers. It has almost become a mantra with many consultancies, and indeed a number of them have made this their chief and only credo.

Well research coming in now is tending to show that in the words of the immortal George Gershwin “It ain’t necessarily so!”

The research…

Researchers led by Dr Steven Wood (2012) from the University of Leicester have recently completed a study on productivity, job satisfaction and happiness to try and find the best management method for an efficient and satisfied workplace. Using data from the 2004 UK Employment survey, they looked at the effects of two distinct management models used by employers to pursue high performance outcomes: enriched job design and high involvement management (HIM).

The main difference between the two models is that enriched job design focuses on “role involvement”, concentrating on an employee’s core job, while HIM focuses on giving employees more “organization-wide involvement.”

Enriched job design aims to motivate employees by giving them more variety, responsibility and autonomy over how they carry out their main job tasks. HIM aims to motivate employees by empowering them to take on aspects of other people’s roles and increasing the level of decision-making opportunities employees have in organizational-wide matters (such as strategy).

Surprisingly, the study showed that employees were happier and less stressed when management focused closely on their core job roles (enriched job design) and did not expect them to get involved in wider workplace management and decision-making (HIM).

Three take-outs for management:

1. Don’t assume that you know what makes workers happy or engaged. Ask them

The research challenged the widely held assumption that giving employees more involvement in organizational matters leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction and well-being, and as a result, better organizational performance.

The study found that while the HIM approach does increase financial performance, productivity and quality, it has a negative effect on job satisfaction. The higher expectations placed on employees may make employees feel more anxious, stressed and less secure – decreasing overall job satisfaction.

Enriched job design also had a positive relationship with productivity, financial performance and quality, but this was positively related to job satisfaction, and led to less anxiety. What’s more, the relationship between job satisfaction and higher performance was positive. (University press release)

2. Often immediate productivity gains can be negated by loss of employee engagement

Statistical analysis from 14,127 employees and 1,177 workplaces showed that the negative effect of HIM on job satisfaction weakens its overall positive effects on organizational performance. What you gain on the immediate productivity swings, you lose on the satisfaction and long-term productivity roundabout!

3. Before you offer “flexibility” and “involvement” make sure that employees understand and buy-in to what you’re offering

Many studies show that the human brain only truly accepts decisions that the brain has had a part in arriving at. Employees usually feel safer, more trusting and happier when they are involved in decisions that impact them—such as their own job roles and level of involvement in organizational decisions.