Happiness at Work – Where’s the Evidence?

The last 10 years has seen the growing acceptance of the idea that having happier employees makes good business sense. Whether that’s through the positive psychology of Martin Seligman, or management gurus like Shawn Achor (whose TED talk sparked my interest in the subject 4 years ago).

But where actually is the evidence which proves that happy people leads to happy business?

I recently attended a great lecture by Rob Briner on evidence based management. This approach states a starting point for making decisions about management should be based on critical thinking and the ‘best available evidence.’ Where best to go for evidence than scientific research?

A search of the CIPD’s database of scientific journals results in 11 articles on Happiness at Work, the most relevant being this academic journal by Cynthia D. Fisher in the International Journal of Management Review (2010).

Fisher conducted a review of the academic literature on happiness at work. She asked what makes people happier at work, and what are the consequences for people and organisations.

1.What are the causes of happiness at work?

  • Organisations through their culture and HR practices can increase people’s happiness. In particular, high performance work practices (such as high employee involvement) have been shown in 3 studies to be linked to increased profit.
  • The type of work people do has an impact on their happiness at work. A study showed work in which people lack variety and autonomy has a negative influence on their happiness.
  • People’s happiness can change throughout the day as a result of ‘transient events’, such as speaking to a colleague or getting good feedback. Studies have shown both can have a positive or negative impact on a person’s happiness.

2. How do you increase happiness at work?

  • Individuals can take action to increase their own happiness at work. For example, doing work which is connected to your values or a higher purpose.
  • Organizations can use specific interventions to increase employee’s happiness at work. A study showed a group of stressed sales executives took a 6 week CBT (behavioural therapy) course, which reduced employee turnover up to 2 years later.

‘Happiness at work is likely to be the glue that retains and motivates the high quality employees of the future.’

3. What are the consequences of happiness at work?

  • Happier people have a positive impact on organisations. A study showed the more people showed positivity at work the more likely they were to have better performance reviews and increases in pay.
  • Evidence suggests having a happier team of employees can lead to increased business performance. A study showed if a team feels more satisfied at work they are more likely to have satisfied customers.

It is acknowledged there are other factors which cause people to be happy at work, examples include they could be a naturally positive or negative person. However, the review argues using initiatives which influence the above ‘levers’ can have a positive impact on both employee’s and organisations.

Do you agree?


Cynthia D. Fisher (2010). Happiness at Work. International Journal of Management Review Oxford: British Academy of Management.









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