They established this through a couple of experiments, in which subjects were asked to add up series of 2-digit numbers, with small payment by results.
In one experiment, subjects were split into two groups, with one being shown a short comedy film and the other not. Subjects shown the film were 10% more productive than those who weren’t. This productivity boost was confined to those who actually enjoyed the film.
What’s more, subjects did not realize that this effect was happening; only 31% felt that watching the clip had improved their skill on the test.
In another experiment, subjects were asked before the test whether they had suffered a family bereavement or parental divorce in the last two years. Those who said they had were about 10% less productive than those who said they hadn’t.
All this suggests that happiness can actually cause greater productivity. This is not a trivial fact. It’s quite possible in theory that happier workers are less productive - if, say, Gooners spend their time at work dreaming of Cesc or if women think about their new boyfriend.
It is, however, unclear from these experiments how long-lasting the effect is; for example, were the bereaved less productive because bereavement has lengthy adverse effects, or were they temporarily unhappy because the questionnaire had reminded them of their loss?
This raises two issues.
First, it suggests that the link between happiness and incomes runs both ways. The question: does income raise happiness? has had tons of attention. But it might be that the link also runs the other way. Maybe happiness raises incomes by raising productivity. Happiness is an input into the economy as well as an output.
Secondly, it raises the question: what, if anything, can employers do to make workers happier? It might not be helpful to follow Andrew’s experiment literally, and show them a comedy film before the working day begins - as people will quickly resent being manipulated. So, what policies are possible?
As you’d expect, I’d point out that greater autonomy at work is one possibility - because people are happier when they have more democratic control. You might add that policies that improve the work-life balance - such as flexible hours - would do the trick. What wouldn't work, though, is continuous innovation; other new research finds that this reduces workers' well-being.
But another possibility is that employers simply discriminate in favour of happier people when they hire.