Happy Employees Redux

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Awhile back I wrote about whether or not happy employees mean better business. It's a wonderful story to tell ourselves, but it doesn't hold up under research. Now, a new look at the issue is going so far as to say there is no performance-happiness or happiness-performance causation. Instead, the two are actually correlated.

Job satisfaction has traditionally been thought of by most business managers to be key in determining job performance. The prevailing thought is if you are satisfied and happy in your work, you will perform better than someone who isn't happy at work.

Not so, according to a research project by Nathan Bowling, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Wright State. His findings, which will be published soon in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, show that although satisfaction and performance are related to each other, satisfaction does not cause performance.

"My study shows that a cause and effect relationship does not exist between job satisfaction and performance. Instead, the two are related because both satisfaction and performance are the result of employee personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, emotional stability, extroversion and conscientiousness," he explained.

I'm a skeptic when it comes to measuring *personality* because I don't think modern neuroscience supports the idea of a stable personality very well. As a result, my initial reaction is to take this research with a grain of salt.

  • What does this mean? “I don’t think modern neuroscience supports the idea of a stable personality very well. ”

    We are unstable? Or are you saying the definition of a stable person is not clear?

  • Ivan

    I’m not sure if I agree on the topic of personality. I definitely think that some people are extroverted vs introverted, and some people tend to act more with their feelings than their thoughts. Also, “decisiveness” is definitely variant from person to person. What’s your thoughts on this?

  • Bob

    I don’t think it is as simple as extro vs. intro. If so, it would be easy to hire only one or the other.

    There is life happiness and job happiness. While interrelated I suggest they are entirely separate.

    Simply stated, if you like what you do for a living (assuming it adds value to the firm) you will tend to be more satisfied. If you like what you do and work for a company that values what you do and provides systems to recognize that value you may become extrememly satisfied during working hours.

    If you hate what you do and your life is a mess it doesn’t matter whether you are intro or extro or where you work. You will me one miserable SOB.

  • The professor said, “both satisfaction and performance are the result of employee personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, emotional stability, extroversion and conscientiousness”

    This is hooey! If performance were and satisfaction were based on personality, the same people would be happy or productive all the time. That simply ain’t so.

    My reading of the literature on this is that there is a multi-factored relationship between productivity and satisfaction. Each affects the other and is affected by factors such as the supervisor (big affect), working conditions, intrisic rewards and more.

  • I agree with Irene in the condition of having two employees with the same skill and different level of happiness. Besides, people who are happy with their work do their work and don’t have any reason to be bored.