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Can Happiness be the Key for Emergent Collaboration?

Posted by on September 5, 2011

I read an interesting article in the New York Times recently titled, “Do Happier People Work Harder?”  I think the title pretty much sums up what this is all about but the research cited in the article was quite interesting (taken verbatim):

  • Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before
  • Gallup estimates the cost of America’s disengagement crisis at a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity annually
  • Inner work life has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality
  • Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier
  • Of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important — by far — is simply making progress in meaningful work
  • 95 percent of these (surveyed) managers failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is the primary motivator, well ahead of traditional incentives like raises and bonuses

Now what’s particularly interesting about all of this is that nothing here has anything to do with technology, with workflow, with integration, or with any types of features of products.  I keep reading a lot of articles written by my peers in the space who continuously stress the non-human factors which influence collaboration.  However what we should instead be looking at is how collaboration can solve some of the problems mentioned above.  What if instead of focusing on engagement, productivity, and decreased email we focused simply on making our employees happier.  Could the single greatest metric for the success of emergent collaboration be company morale or employee attitudes?  Based on the article and the research it looks like that can very well be the case.

I don’t read many posts about using employee attitudes and morale as measures of success.  Instead we are all trying to look at hard numbers for how much email has decreased, how much more information is categorized, and how much better our productivity numbers are.  We are not treating the cause we are simply treating symptoms.  We should shift gears and focus on our employees as people and on how emergent collaboration can help our people feel better about the work that they do and how we can further support “progress in meaningful work.”

I believe that emergent collaboration can help people feel better about the work they do because it will help them understand how the organization as a whole operates and how their contributions influence and affect business decisions.  Employees also have the opportunity to be recognized for the work they do not just by managers but by peers and colleagues, which is just as equally important.  Employees forming communities of interest and practice can also help spur innovation and spark creativity.

If we decrease the amount of email by 10% or improve productivity by 10% is that a success?  What if employees feel like shit in the process and don’t feel fulfilled?  We are focusing on the entity as a whole instead of on the parts that actually make up that entity, this is a mistake.

  • You’re starting to come around, Jacob, to the change agent philosophy shared by many of us.  For a long while, folks have been trying to force fit the square workflow/business process story into the round hole of social.  The social liberation story is much more about work satisfaction, innovation, and yes, happiness (even loyalty).  Believe it or not, the Tony Hesieh book, “Delivering Happiness,” will deliver better results for the executive team than other published work currently in circulation.  

    What’s so wrong with loving your job?  And why is that so hard to do in the modern organization?  I would point the the failings of the previous dogma in management paradigms that streamlined the soul out of the company.  

    • Good points Susan. More and more research today shows that employee engagement can be linked quite strongly to company performance. 

      This article from Gallup says that employee engagement is “A leading indicator of financial performance”:

      In a post providing the definitive explanation of “social intranet” ( ThoughtFarmer makes the point that “what really matters is that social intranets humanize the workplace and give every employee a face and a voice.” That’s employee engagement in a nutshell. 

    • Hi Susan!

      Always great to hear from you soon and we definitely agree.  Of course it is a bit of a radical way to think of doing things.  I can just imagine consulting with a client and speaking with their executive team about focusing on happiness and not on the “other stuff,” many executives would never go for that sort of thing which I’m sure would lead to a “what’s the ROI of happiness” debate!  Although I’m sure there are some out there that are quite receptive to the idea.

  • Anonymous

    Albert Einstein: “We count the things that don’t count, because we can’t count the things that count.”

  • Simon Goh

    Hi Jacob, thanks for sharing the statistics. I recently learn from McDonalds which is touted one of the best place to work here in Singapore. The founder said “Take care of the people, and the business will take care of itself”. Unless every organisation is going to be like Google that makes going to work better than their social life, the thing that will make employees happy is to do well in what they go office for in the first place. During a recent idea storming session for painting a vision for the intranet, I asked exactly the same question of what will make the particpants happy when coming to work? – and most pointed to the direction of work in these categories: better collaboration, personal development, engagement with colleagues & management, fun and condusive workplace, efficient workplace and better customer intelligence.

    That has inspired me to put up a post on the design of social tools for the intranet @ And I’d be looking forward to your views on this.

  • Do happier people work harder!? Base from my personal experience it’s a big YES! I work harder when I’m happy specially if that happiness is from my satisfaction with my job. Career is really an important factor in life too and everyone wants to be an achiever in their chosen field of endeavor. 

  • Wonderful! I definitely love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the information are well written.