0900 GMT August 19, 2019
It is important for people to feel happy rather than miserable in their work — research shows that contented employees deliver better results after all, cam.ac.uk reported.
But some businesses regard happiness initiatives as a 'salve' that can be applied across an organization to increase employee wellbeing, as Dr. Jochen Menges from Cambridge Judge Business School explains.
"The very fact that many organizations now 'invest in happiness' means they understand that emotions matter. But what they typically do — offering benefits like chill-out zones, free food, yoga classes — is rather blunt and does not account for the complexity of people's emotional life."
Working with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Faas Foundation, Menges is diving deeper into our understanding of emotions at work. The 'Emotion Revolution in the Workplace' project has asked over 10,000 employees from a mix of occupations, levels, ages, genders and ethnicities in the USA not just how they feel, but also how they wish to feel at work.
The results show that while some report feeling happy, many say they are stressed, tired and frustrated at work. When it comes to how people wish to feel, the study finds that most want to be appreciated, excited and happy.
"There is a considerable gap between how people feel at work and how they would like to feel," Menges explained.
"Now the challenge is to find ways to close that gap."
Although the analyses of this new dataset are still ongoing, Menges' previous work gives some hints. He suggested that happiness may not primarily be about perks.
"The work itself, colleagues and supervisors, and the organizational structure and culture play major roles in whether or not employees are happy."
In one study, Menges found that people experience more positive emotions in organizations that are in close touch with customers.
"These organizations tend to be more decentralized – decisions can be taken at lower levels – and they pay more attention to employees' emotional abilities in recruiting and promotion processes. Those two factors in turn are linked to how positive the employees across an organization feel."
It's not all about being positive, however.
Although most research suggests that any pleasant emotion has beneficial effects on performance, creativity and commitment, Menges and his colleagues found in a recent study that some positive emotions — pride, for example — can be a problem.
"If employees do not identify with their organization, then pride increases their intention to leave. They think 'I am better than this place,' and look for new opportunities."
By contrast, if employees identified with their organization and experienced events that made them feel angry, they were less likely to quit.
"They want to stick it out and improve the situation."
So any emotions can be a good thing, Menges suggested, even if they are unpleasant.
"If managers suppress employees' emotions, they over time create an environment of indifference. Employees just get on with work, but they are not as committed and invested anymore. A bit of emotion, a bit of up and down — that's what makes work meaningful."
Menges also challenges the idea that employees should pursue 'happiness'.
"I think people differ in how they wish to feel at work. Although many of us simply say 'I want to be happy at work', what we actually mean by 'happy' can differ greatly."
Menges tries to understand how people differ in the feelings they look for at work, and whether those differences affect people's choice of employer and engagement at work.
For example, someone wanting to feel safe is likely to look for a stable, predictable job, whereas someone looking for excitement might not care much about job security as long as the job provides a stimulating environment.
The problem, according to Menges, is that most of us are not that specific when it comes to how we want to feel. "We lack the emotional vocabulary to pinpoint our desired emotions, so we just use 'happy'. If we had better search terms, perhaps the search for happiness would not be that fuzzy and difficult."
He suggested that organizations have a considerable influence on employees' emotions and that employees within an organization tend to feel alike.