The Importance of Being Happy in Business
True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. – Hellen Keller
Happiness is a strange, amorphous, and nebulous thing. Ask any two people what happiness is, and you will most likely get two very different answers.
Happiness comes in many forms, but generally there are two types:
- Short term happiness (for example, enjoying your favorite dessert, a good drink, or an amazing vacation)
- Long term happiness (for example, a stable and healthy body weight, sobriety, or financial security).
An important distinction between the two: short term happiness is a form of gratification. It increases your dopamine levels, engages your neuroreceptors, and gives you that natural “high” or puts you in a state of euphoria. Unfortunately, highs ultimately lead to lows. Everyone has experienced a post-vacation depression at some point in their lives.
Long term happiness is less about highs and lows, but instead about a good mood, known as euthymic mood in psychological parlance. People with euthymic moods are tranquil and stable.
So which happiness should we strive to attain? Well, sometimes it helps to seek the advice of our forefathers. The Greek poet Hesiod coined the phrase “Observe due measure; moderation is best in all things” which was eventually shortened to “Moderation in all things,” around the 19th century.
Life without some highs and lows would be quite boring. However, in all things, we should strive for long term happiness, characterized by tranquility and stability. If you constantly chase the dragon of euphoria from food, drugs, or risky activities like gambling or serial shopping, that will inhibit your ability to achieve a moderate and stable mood.
Unfortunately, the typical American workplace is built around chasing highs and lows, and not stability. We run ourselves ragged working nights to finish critical projects, get that raise, earn that promotion. We cringe when our boss walks in the room, and are elated when we get recognition for our contributions. The modern American business is designed to be a series of highs and lows, and just like a heroin user, we become dependent on the system and find it difficult to imagine any other kind of life.
Happiness is Important in Business
To be clear, this article refers to long term happiness, not short term happiness. Many businesses attempt to placate employees with short term happiness, using events like Taco Tuesdays, Casual Fridays, an ice cream bar for birthdays, or other gimmicks. Meanwhile, their company culture is caustic enough to melt steel, the turnover rate is over 60%, leadership is inconsistent, and the company can’t function above a bare minimum.
Remember, long term happiness requires:
Now, you might say “the company is profitable and hitting its financial goals. What does it matter if employees are unhappy?” Well, it just so happens that recent studies indicate that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees, and the cost of turnover is a well documented phenomenon.
So, the losses you experience by not fostering a happy team are opportunity costs – how much more profit could you have generated with lower turnover and higher productivity? The answer to that question is going to depend on your specific business, but consider that the opportunity cost of turnover alone is estimated to be between 16-20% of annual salary for low to mid-range salaries, and up to 213% of annual salary for executives. That means a C-Suite position with an annual salary of $200,000 costs about $426,000 in opportunity costs to replace!
So, let’s respond to your question with another question: How can you afford an unhappy business?
How to Get Your Business Happy
There are plenty of business gurus that will come to your business and spout a lot of philosophical goop about job satisfaction and employee happiness. But do you want to know how to actually put that stuff in place? You need actionable, realistic steps, right?
Remember, the two components of long term happiness are:
So ask the following questions:
- Is the culture of my business a positive, stable culture?
- Is leadership proactive or reactive? Consistent or inconsistent?
- Does everyone understand their role on the team, and how to effectively execute their responsibilities?
- Does the company possess a clear and conscientious mission that employees can feel good about supporting?
Based on those answers, the happiness of your business and team could be impacted by:
- Discordant personality interactions between team members
- Unbalanced or mismatched leadership styles
- Process or training issues
- Lack of commitment to a worthy cause
Once you’ve taken an honest and detailed look at the above elements, you’re ready to start designing realistic and actionable steps to get your business and its employees happy.