What happens, when due to one reason or another you have caught yourself in a position to dictate and direct the happiness of say a hundred employees roaming around the offices of a department you took charge of?
As an HR avid, I have had countless moments of witnessing firsthand discontent from employees. Consequently, I had to wonder, like probably many before me, what makes employees happy? Is there an equation? In the quest for my ‘’employees’ happiness equation,’’ I decided to start at the beginning. Waaaaay back at the beginning, before the Internet was a thing, and before ‘’social distancing’’ was trending. But don’t worry this will not be a boring history lesson of some sort. But it will contain lessons that I have grasped over my humble 25 years of existence, in the realms of sociology, politics and psychology (may the real Psychologists of Causeway Connect please refrain from criticism until the very end).
The Meaning of Work
Durkheim, Webber and Hofstede would argue from a sociological view, that happiness is determined by the success of the socio-economic and cultural factors of one’s surroundings, such as loose hierarchy symbols, freedom of speech, tightness of communities and utilitarianism. If so, in a company such as Causeway Connect, where we have a quite small power distance index, office parties, and brainstorming sessions, no strict dress code or endless paper reports that employees have to fill in, our members should constantly be happy.
Scientists, on the other hand, accredit happiness to hormones. A bit of oxytocin, a splash of serotonin and a whirl of dopamine and you are ready and happy to go! Take a look at any scientific research and you will see that our emotional world is governed by the neurotransmitters and chemical reactions designed by the past 70 thousand years of evolution.
From a scientific argument, technically, an employee is never happy because of the increase in salary, a promotion in the title, a better office or an appraisal. An employee is happy because of the surge of oxytocin and serotonin that those concepts brought her or him, confusing them with ‘’finally acquiring happiness’’ But when the expectations of the repetitions of those concepts does not occur, an employee feels dissatisfaction. A concept such as ‘’promotion’’ that perhaps before the company mentioned it, did not exist in an employee’s mind, while making them happy at the moment, might cause them dissatisfaction later.
So maybe as managers, we should not ask ‘’what do employees want ‘’ but rather ‘’what to employees want to desire’’ and how do we persuade them of that? A famous economist called Daniel Kahneman once did research by asking employees to account for their typical day at work. The conclusion was that in an employee’s day there were much more unpleasant moments than pleasant ones, yet the majority of employees claimed to be happy because their work gives them meaning.
Does that mean that it is all intrinsic?
No matter how hard, complicated or difficult your work is if it aligns with your idea of ‘’ meaning’’ does it make you as an employee happy? If it all accounts to ascribing meaning to our work so that as employees we feel happy, then aren’t we just deluding ourselves when discarding that a 5 th century BC Persian farmer is as happy as an HR manager at Causeway Connect?
Is the tone of the narrative we tell ourselves all that it takes to make us happy? And if so should we adapt the narratives we tell our employees to the ones they would rather hear just to make them happy?
Know thy employee
Freud claims that the basic ‘’raison d’etre’’ of psychotherapy is for people to find out who they truly are because ultimately, they do not know themselves and due to that they tend to have self-destructive behaviours. He also claims a whole bunch of other things that are mostly to do with sexual frustration and although you would much rather read about that, it is a tale for a different time. So is happiness what humans, neigh employees really crave? Or are they just craving that because everyone else craves it as well? Adouls Huxley’s ‘’Brave New World” tells of a world where happiness is genetically engineered in a drug called ‘’soma’’ Life is pain free, plain, simple, black and white, as long
as you keep on taking necessary dosages of ‘’soma’’ Everyone is happily employed and has their own purpose in society, yet the characters find life meaningless and dull. Their life is not threatened by famine, financial crisis or nuclear weapons, yet they end up rebelling against the ‘’perfect happy world’’ that they themselves created. The people in Huxley’s society are always young and beautiful, yet they feel unwanted and distorted.
How can a world where everybody is so happy all the time, be so miserable?
Although it is fictional it makes me contemplate on the question, if happiness is not what employees truly need where does that leave aspiring companies such as Causeway Connect? If we as managers create organizations, that allow employees stable and long-term work contracts, health insurance, gym memberships, access to the latest technological gadgets, career growth, good salaries and impeccable office conditions, will they still rebel against the
system that their behaviours helped create?
Could it be, that we have mastered our surroundings and travelled to space, but we still cannot figure out what is it that makes us happy and do we really want happiness? Employees today are more powerful and more protected by the law, than any other generation of employees that walked the ruins of history, yet they have almost no clue of how
to use that power to make themselves happy at their workplaces. Will we deteriorate the current economic systems as employees by always seeking more and more but never truly being satisfied? Are employees in fact simply a danger to their own happiness, because they do not know what they want? And can there ever be a perfect manager who always keeps her employees happy or is that just a myth?