We’re working more than ever, but we’re less happy than ever
Whether we believe it or not, we are losing the work-and-money game. We’ve put so much emphasis on getting things done, on finishing to‑do lists, on growth, and on economic demand, that we’re beginning to lose—big time.
We believed that we could continue to win if we kept our heads down and worked until our eyes fell out. We thought it was okay to feel unfulfilled as long as we kept showing up for work and getting everything done as best as we could. Only now are we realizing that this is actually having a negative effect on productivity in the workplace.
Many companies are beginning to lose lots of money, because when people aren’t happy they aren’t focused, energized, empowered, or efficient. When energy is low, so is effort and effectiveness. That’s why, according to Gallup, the US economy absorbs approximately $550 billion a year in productivity losses because employees feel disengaged, disempowered, and unfulfilled.
We’ve always believed that the rules of the game were work and growth at all costs. And now we’re seeing that there is actually a price we can’t continue to pay: we’re unhappy and we’re losing money because of it. Results flow where energy goes. And if the energy is not there, if we are not emotionally connected and stimulated or finding fulfillment, then we have no firepower. We are not energized, and we have no real happiness or connection to anything that matters to us.
This causes us to lose the game on all levels. It’s bad for us as individuals, because the whole point of work is to provide for ourselves and our loved ones, and to be happy. We’re working more than ever, but we’re less happy than ever. And businesses, nations, and economies are losing money because of it too. The economy is broken. The days add up and people are tired. Somehow we keep showing up, but we aren’t getting the results we could if we felt more fulfilled.
This is not to say that money isn’t important—it is. Money can take you from stress into comfort. It can buy some freedom. It can give you a comfortable place to live and help you support your loved ones. But at a certain point, something else needs to drive us. In fact, a 2010 Princeton University study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found that, at the national level, making more than $75,000 per year won’t significantly improve your day‑to‑day happiness.
But somehow we continue to run through the motions, nearly working ourselves to death. The secrets to winning big time remain secret. That’s because we’ve been operating under the assumption that happiness and fulfillment do not enhance productivity and success. We’ve been playing the game by the wrong rules, falsely believing that we win by sacrificing well-being for work.
We’ve been missing some basic facts, like the Harvard Business Review’s findings that satisfied employees have 31 percent higher productivity, generate 37 percent more sales, and are three times more creative than their disengaged counterparts. Or Gallup’s discoveries that the top 25 percent of engaged workers have 50 percent fewer accidents, as well as significantly lower health costs. The game has reached a tipping point: we’ve begun to realize that we can no longer increase the number of hours and the amount of stress we put on people to raise their levels of productivity. What we’re finding is that if we want to see what people are capable of achieving, we have to create new definitions of happiness and leadership, both in and out of work.
Our work must energize, empower, enliven, and stimulate us. This secret to finding personal fulfillment, success, and productivity has been forgotten, and we have to find it again. If our daily tasks or overall objectives at work aren’t fulfilling, and the money we earn doesn’t give us that feeling, then what will bring us happiness and fulfillment? We need to find the answer to this question so we can win the game. Besides, the happier we are, the better we perform.
So the real question is: what makes us happy? A great book, All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, shows evidence that happy workers are more productive. However, the authors do not use those exact words. Instead of “happy,” they describe workers as “energized, engaged, and enabled.” They call their version of happiness “the three Es”:
- Energized: you feel a sense of well-being and drive.
- Engaged: you’re attached to your work and willing to put in extra effort.
- Enabled: your work environment supports your productivity and performance. You are empowered.
If we break down what we mean by happiness, we usually find that it involves these feelings of being energized, enabled, empowered, and stimulated. We are happy when we feel seen and heard, when we feel that we are in the proper place at the proper time and feeling good.
My new book focuses on practical ways of obtaining happiness, growing our income through fulfillment, on feeling inspired to go to work, feeling valued and stimulated during the day, and feeling fulfilled in our personal lives when we return home. This is not some crazy, idealized notion. In fact, there is no other alternative for many of us. We deserve to win the game, and it is inevitable that we will continue to play it. A good number of us work most of the years of our lives, and we should feel a sense of fulfillment in our work. We are doing ourselves a disservice by perpetuating a society where the majority of people would like to quit their jobs.
This post has been adapted and excerpted with permission from the introduction to PROFIT FROM HAPPINESS by Jake Ducey from TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House. Copyright 2016, Jake Ducey.
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