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Research Reveals That Happy Workers Are More Productive

The happy-productive-worker thesis is the longstanding idea that happy workers are more productive. This theory has dominated management and industrial-organizational psychology research for decades. The premise seems straightforward, so why the excessive study? And how exactly does it work?

It’s a Little Complicated

The happy-productive-worker thesis is rooted in the Hawthorne Studies, in which researchers investigated how to increase worker productivity. The researchers were hired by Hawthorne Works management to examine how the Illinois-based manufacturer could improve production. The researchers manipulated a variety of factors, among them lighting, cleanliness, regularly scheduled breaks, and more. The findings were as expected – more lighting, tidy workstations, and breaks helped the employees. 

However, the important result is this: the researchers discovered that simply knowing that management cared about work conditions, improved employee attitudes, and productivity. That is, knowing your boss cares about your relationship with team members, management, and the organization as a whole is enough to make you happier and more productive. This finding, coined the Hawthorne Effect, kickstarted the previous decades of research. 

Why Is It Complicated?

While the Hawthorne Studies are wildly cited and well-known, they are also critiqued. Critics often question the validity of the work due to the economic hardship during this era (it was conducted in the 1930s) and the training of the researchers. Further, the result is inconclusive regarding happy workers being more productive. 

Where Does That Leave Us?

We’re still in a great place, as the theory has quite a few legs to stand on. Our research has identified a few reasons why the Happy-Productive-Worker thesis has faced scrutiny. 

For one – happiness is not standardized across any of this research. The studies are trying to determine whether everyone is happy, but they have not decided on one operational way to define happiness. 

The same extends to productivity – researchers have not converged on an appropriate productivity metric and, thus, come to different conclusions. These two reasons alone cause quite a bit of noise in the data. 

The Happy…

Happy workers are more productive and massively. When people are happy, they become prime examples of the Spillover Theory. This theory dictates that the emotional state in one domain of your life (say, personal) can and generally will affect your emotional state in another domain of your life (like work!). I see this – I was usually a chipper barista after hanging out with my pals before my shift. Research supports this and the idea that management can amplify happiness in employees. 

Remember when we mentioned that simply knowing your manager cares was enough for the Hawthorne Works employees? That still rings true. This plays out even better than you can imagine because, as I said, it scales…

Everyone Reaps the Benefits

Picture this – Alex begins her workday in a good mood, which is maintained and enhanced by job fit and authentic leadership within her organization. We’re already a LinkedIn post’s ideal setting. But it gets better – given that she’s in a role that complements her soft skills, she has the resources and eagerness to help her team. Research has shown that happy workers are helpful workers. 

An important driver of helping behaviors is the extent to which employees feel satisfied with their job situation. Research shows a positive relationship between job satisfaction and helping behaviors. Thus, happy employees help their teams, resulting in a virtuous cycle. I support a colleague because I’m happy, which benefits me (I receive more positive evaluations) and the organization (teamwork makes the dream work). 

Employees that receive more positive evaluations are typically poised for promotions, which overwhelmingly is tied to reduced turnover (again, organizational and employee win). 

Where to Start?

It would help if you had the right people for the job. We know recruiting is grueling, so we developed our patented bias-free hiring solution. Employees are happiest and most productive when they know leadership cares and acts on this. Get started by contacting Cangrade for a demo today.