What would you rather have in your workplace: a happy environment where co-workers celebrate their birthdays with a singalong over a supermarket sponge cake, or simply fewer frustrations?
According to Griffith Business School’s Professor Peter Jordan, happiness is a relative term in the workplace and it is best served for both employers and employees through focusing on job performance rather than promoting the fun factor.
Even the office joker doesn’t rate as a pick-me-up for the workplace. Professor Jordan said creating an ‘outrageously happy’ work environment can be distracting and often hurts productivity.
“Apart from often preventing you from getting your work done, joking can be used for malicious purposes such as denigrating achievement,” he said.
“I’m not saying don’t have a birthday or advocating no fun in the workplace, but emotions are most useful when they are regulated at work.
“A lot of my research is about emotional regulation which is not just about suppressing emotions, but also about expressing emotions effectively. We shouldn’t be reticent to express what we’re feeling in the workplace. Emotions are a signal telling us what is happening at work.”
Professor Jordan, the Acting Director of Griffith’s Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, said employers aren’t necessarily wasting their time in creating a happy work environment.
“A disgruntled workforce can create a toxic workplace. Emotional contagion in the workplace means a single disgruntled employee can affect an entire workplace as people suddenly pick up on issues they never really thought about previously.
“However, if you were to achieve happiness through dress-up days and forced birthday parties, that is different from the happiness achieved by reducing frustrations at the workplace.”
Professor Jordan said research has shown that how well an employee performed their job has a direct correlation to their reported happiness in the workplace, yet he also says there is a place for a range of emotions in the work environment.
“A lot of organisations have rules about emotions, and some of the strengths we bring to our jobs are enthusiasm, pride and engagement. Along with that are fears and concerns that can enhance or detract from work performance.
All emotions have a place
“All emotions have a place in the work, but it’s about the appropriateness of the emotions being expressed.
“Employers need to realise that the key with emotions at work is they are signalling something to us.
“You can’t just ignore them or dismiss them. If someone is sad it’s usually about loss, and if it is anger it’s usually about justice, so it’s worthwhile asking the employee what is going on.
“Rather than saying we don’t get angry at work, it’s about understanding what is going wrong in the workplace. Managers need to use it as a signal that there are issues to be addressed in the workplace.
“Fear is often about uncertainty. It might be because an employee is concerned about job security. It might be concern for what is happening outside of the workplace, such as redundancies within your industry.
“Managers will often say there are no issues and offer assurances that there’s no hint of problems within their workplace. But the emotions their employees express say differently. The best approach in these instances is for managers not to avoid the topic with their staff.”