"A happy worker is a productive worker". This might seem like a vomitorious cliche, but some experiments at the University of Warwick suggest that it's true.
Economists paid people to solve some tedious maths problems. They found that subjects who were shown a short comedy film beforehand solved significantly more problems than those shown a neutral film. And subjects who had suffered a recent bereavement solved fewer. "Happiness makes people more productive" they conclude.
This suggests that firms wanting to raise productivity should want their workers to be happy.
But this is not the case. Zoe Williams describes how big employers treat their low-paid workers with contempt and suspicion. And a great new paper by Alex Bryson and George MacKerron shows how even well-paid workers are unhappy whilst they're working. Using mappiness to measure people's momentary happiness, they found that work was associated with lower happiness than all but one of 40 various activities - the exception is being ill in bad. Work makes us even unhappier than queuing or commuting, and is as bad for our happiness as drinking or pursuing hobbies is good*.
This is not true merely for low-paid work. If anything, the opposite; lower paid workers are less unhappy at work, perhaps because they realize they need the money more, or perhaps because they get less happiness from leisure**.
This poses the question: if happiness raises productivity, why don't employers try harder to prevent people being miserable at work? There are, at least, three competing possibilities:
1. It's not technically feasible. High productivity requires a detailed division of labour, but this naturally creates jobs which people find frustrating. As Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan point out in The Org, some companies' attempts to foster teamwork and camaraderie just fail.
2.Employers fail to see the benefits of obliquity. Making workers happy is an oblique way of increasing efficiency. Monitoring them closely to ensure they meet targets is the direct way. And bosses have a cognitive bias - a form of the representativeness heuristic - in favour of direct methods.
3. Employers aren't interested in productivity, but in profits.And experimental evidence corroborates what we know - that many employers prefer methods which are profitable but inefficient in aggregate to ones which are efficient but less profitable.
* Sex makes people happiest - even, apparently, if they do it whilst using their phones.