HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Benjamin Yang

The pursuit of organizational happiness


In the movie, The Pursuit of Happiness, we see this moving scene where Will Smith, together with his son, had to spend the night locked-up and sleeping in a public toilet.

As we now know, the movie had a good ending with Will Smith finally succeeding. The idea that happiness is a goal to be pursued is something very familiar to Singaporeans.

Since young, we study hard hoping to achieve good grades to allow us entry into a good company. Once we enter the organization, we sacrifice much of our joys and time and continue the same pattern praying that it brings us success and with success, happiness. In many of these cases, people view happiness as being contingent on work performance or successes.

However, recent research from the field of positive psychology has shown that this view might be slightly misguided.

From the early findings in the past decade, it appears that happiness might not be the end product of success, but rather, an enabler to make individuals and organizations succeed.

Organizational research examining happiness as an organizational strategy has uncovered that a happier workforce saves the company a lot of money as it results in lower absenteeism and attrition rates.

Likewise, happier employees have been found to be more productive, have higher levels of performances and even achieve better sales results. In some of my seminars and conversations with corporations, many executives were surprised when I shared these findings.

I recall this comment from the CEO of a successful IT company, where he said ‘these findings have really opened my eyes! In the past, my belief was that I paid my workers to get work done and not for them to be happy.

It looks like I need to rethink my approach as it seems that my workers would be much more productive if we invest in their happiness’. Indeed, many corporations are not aware of the positive impact that happiness can bring to the company.

Having established the potentiality of capitalizing on happiness as an organizational strategy, here are two quick interventions that companies can adopt right away.

Intervention 1: 'Three Gratitudes'

Research has shown that people who ‘count their blessings’ actually have a higher level of happiness.

How this works is through an exercise that psychology calls the Three Gratitudes’. Put aside 15 mins every alternate day and come together as a team. Think back on the previous day and recall three specific things that you are grateful for.

Once people start doing this, research shows that employees would experience more positive emotions and exhibit more helpful behavior towards colleagues.

Intervention 2: Volunteering Activities

As the old adage goes, ‘it is in giving that we receive’. Apparently, science has shown that there is a lot of truth behind this. Findings have found a positive relationship between performing acts of kindness and happiness.

A good suggestion would be for companies to engage in more volunteering activities. Some companies choose to do this by allowing staff time-off to do volunteer work. Other companies adopt a charity or charitable cause and channel employee time and resources to engage in volunteering work.

Either way, this works as it provides a platform for individuals to engage in these acts of kindness.

Although the research on organizational happiness is still in its nascent stage, early findings have shown that organizations have a lot to gain by investing in the happiness of their employees. If companies can seize this window of opportunity, this might just be that extra nudge needed to increase organizational performances. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Benjamin Yang

Benjamin Yang

Benjamin is a business strategist and organisational psychologist. He is also the Managing Director of Balanced Consultancy.

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