Why I Disagree with HBR’s Article and the Real Question About Happiness at Work

The Western world is flooded with unhappy people who follow advice such as this one: “If you want to be happy at work, have a life outside of it”.

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A recent article called “If You Want to Be Happy at Work, Have a Life Outside of It” in Harvard Business Review, concludes that “satisfaction at work is influenced by factors such as benefits, pay, relationships, and commute length. But all of this boils down to two things being important, regardless of your circumstances: (1) having a life outside of work, and (2) having the money to afford it. If you have a job that grants you both of these, you might be happier than you realize.”

Now that’s something I strongly disagree with.

Happiness at work involves much more than that. As a matter of fact, the Western world is flooded with unhappy people that meet those requirements and they keep trying to get happy pursuing hedonistic pleasures.

True happiness at work is related to something more. We are happy at work when work is not just a way to earn money or gain power. We are happy at work when it allows us to test out our gifts and talents, and explore their meaning. We are happy at work when it provides us with an opportunity for self-expression, trial and error learning, creativity, and risk taking. We are happy at work when we can bring our whole-selves at work (body, mind, heart and soul) rather than only the first two. We are happy at work when we have the opportunity for spiritual growth. And, yes work is most enjoyable when balanced with other aspects of our life and not a tyrant. (Read the full quote of Anne Wilson Schaef and more in my article Thank God It’s Monday.)”

Increased ice-cream consumption leads to increase in death from drowning

Do you know that example of how statistics can be used? Yes, according to one famous example, researchers found that increased ice-cream consumption leads to increase in death from drowning. Obviously that is not exactly correct. In reality, increased ice-cream consumption happens in summer months when the number of deaths from drowning also increases for obvious reasons.

Why am I telling you this? It’s easy. The fact that people report being happier at work when they pursue a life outside of work does not really mean that this is what makes them happy at work. It merely means that they are so unhappy at work that the only way to survive that is by making sure they make enough money to support a life outside of work. That is why this is not a recipe how to be happy at work but how to survive work.

I suspect you as me know many such people. I even know many people who consider happiness and work two words that can never be put in the same sentence unless to describe two opposite states. After all what we describe here is the backbone of the world of consumerism as we know it. You go to work (which is “not personal, just business”) and then you make sure you have a life outside of work to balance it out. We even have a word for it. We call it work-life balance. (Read about the end of work-life balance here).

THE BIGGER QUESTION, which is far more interesting, is why can’t organizations create opportunities for people to be happy at work given the sufficient knowledge on the subject and the sufficient scientific evidence that when people are happy at work they have considerably better performance resulting in improved business results? What do you think? Why is that?

Read also my article on Well-being

Originally published at medium.com on April 17, 2017.

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