Yesterday I posted about happiness being a choice. Largely speaking, most of the events in our lives are out of our control but the one thing we do have firm control over is the attitude we choose with which to confront the world. On an intuitive level, it would follow that a happy worker is more productive, but I’ve also written about the problems with trusting intuition. Clinical studies and testable, repeatable research are better. Daniel Sgroi, Assistant Professor of Industry and Organization at the University of Warwick, recently completed a study which tested the micro-level links between happiness and economic behavior. An excerpt:
One of the biggest growth areas in economics over the last few years has been “happiness economics”. A plethora of intriguing results, starting with Easterlin’s famous paradox breaking the link between well-being and income (Easterlin 1974) through to recent counterintuitive findings showing that “happier countries” produce more suicide cases (Oswald 1997), all show that we still do not have a clear mental grip on how mood links to economic variables such as income or economic growth…
With this in mind, my colleagues and I address the question: does happiness make people more productive in a paid task? (Oswald et al. 2009). Using an experimental methodology, we find that it does. We demonstrate this in a piece-rate “white-collar” setting with otherwise well-understood properties. The effect operates through a rise in sheer output rather than in the per-item quality of the laboratory subjects’ work. Effort increases. Precision remains unaltered. In our first experiment, we induce short-run shocks to happiness and find a pronounced positive effect on productivity. In our second, we turn to the longer run when we ask whether subjects who have experienced recent “life shocks” perform significantly differently, and again, we find that they do…
Let’s start by focussing on Experiment 1, i.e. a short-run mood-induction experiment. We used a video clip, composed of a ten-minute comedy routine, to induce a short-run happiness shock in some of our subjects. Our subject-pool was composed of a group of 276 subjects drawn from the University of Warwick. Of these, 182 took part in the main experiment, while the others participated in further sessions designed to test robustness to different payment regimes and alternative movie clips. The subject pool in the main version of experiment 1 was made up of 110 males and 72 females. Our measure of productivity was to ask subjects to correctly add 5 2-digit numbers as many times as possible within 10 minutes.
The first question we might ask is, were we successful in boosting happiness using the comedy clip. Glancing at Figure 1 the answer seems an unreserved yes. In fact those subjects who saw the movie reported a happiness level of 0.99 points higher on a 7-point scale.
Next and most importantly, what was the impact of the treatment (viewing the happiness-inducing video) on productivity? Glancing at Figure 2 we see the effect was a significant and sizeable boost to productivity. In fact, 10.49% more additions were successfully completed by our treated group.
Figure 2. Number of correct additions in Experiment 1
There are two more experiments to be found in the article, including the effects of long-run happiness. Hit the link if you would like to read them but the results are the same: happy workers are more productive. What does this mean for new lawyers?
As Professor Sgroi notes, there does not seem to be a relationship between happiness and the quality of one’s work. However, happiness seemingly does affect one’s output. Now, it’s certainly not realistic to only work when happy. There are going to be plenty of times in which one could be happy, sad, or indifferent – but work must still be completed. Instead, it’s probably best to try and create a work environment which you find pleasurable and cultivate an attitude of positivity. Because if you are happy, and therefore more productive, you’re going to be able to increase the quantity of your work product – and bill more hours. Something that is going to make both partners, and you, happy.