I never promised you a rose garden

110618-no_smilingA new survey from Leadership IQ shows that “…corporate cultures pushing happiness actually have lower engagement scores than more competitive and challenging cultures. Leadership IQ says the happiest people act more selfishly, are worse at defending their opinions (they produce weaker, less detailed arguments) and are less creative.” Man, am I happy Peppercommers are so unhappy!

Seriously, though, this survey would be laughable if it didn’t fly in the face of everything publications ranging from Fortune to The Holmes Report have told us is absolutely critical to employee acquisition and retention. Whether it’s back massages and manicures or meditation rooms and weekly beer drops, employers have been schooled on what they should do to build a happy workplace. But, what if it doesn’t make a difference? What if Leadership IQ is correct and happy employees are simply a workplace version of the Stepford Wives?

I think this is a critically important answer for The Holmes Report in particular to address since so many PR firms aspire to be named to the publication’s annual Best Workplaces list (note; I’m pleased to report that we’ve made the list three times. But, I can’t tell you if we were any more productive in those three years).

I do think there’s a germ of truth in the new research. We’ve always described Peppercom as a work hard, play hard meritocracy. We want happy employees. But, more importantly, we want motivated employees with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Leadership IQ says focusing solely on employee happiness, and hoping it will translate into productivity “…is like doubling the salaries of salespeople and hoping they’ll just magically double their sales.” That statement makes sense.

Leadership IQ also opines that happiness should follow achievement. One shouldn’t aim to make all employees happy and then just hope they produce great achievements. It should be the exact reverse. I disagree. I think it should be a combination.

I think the best workplaces are those that shine the spotlight on achievement while simultaneously producing a best-in-class culture. There are still plenty of public relations firms that believe in using and abusing their younger staff and then, and only then, rewarding the survivors. That model works for the pure publicity shops that spend their days smiling and dialing, and measuring success by a stack of client placements. But, it doesn’t work in rapidly-evolving firms that, like us, are channel agnostic consultancies. We need happy, driven people who think about what’s next. We don’t want people chained to their desks and forced to blast out endless e-mail pitches to the media. Nor, do we want a group of Stepford Wives singing Kumbya in a conference room that features a waterfall and white noise.

I’d like to hear from those of you who work in happy workplaces. Do you think happiness negatively impacts productivity? And, what about those of you who work in sweat shops (you know who you are). Does the almighty dollar trump happiness? And, should perks only be distributed after an employee has slaved for years? I’d also love to hear from the arbiters of workplace culture reports. They’re the ones who dispense ‘best in class’ recognition to happy workplaces. Should they also be identifying the most productive firms if what Leadership IQ says is true?

5 thoughts on “I never promised you a rose garden

  1. There are really two sides to the happy and unhappy production idea:
    Yes, most happy people are more productive. But most happy people are really not super smart people. How can they be, if they are so happy in such times? So the less super brains, the better they function in their jolly old world.
    The brilliant, however, think about a million things. Everything gives them second thoughts on second thoughts. It is these folks who must bury themselves under major project in order to stop themselves from thinking of all the injustice, stupidity and down right chaos on earth. These gifted individuals, do much better when not happy and find some piece in major work. If they were happy, they would just lie back and “let the world roll by” knowing that you cannot change anything. But if they were happy….oxymoron.
    There is really an entire thesis on this theory. Too long for this e mail.

  2. I think that holds true for most people, Julie. Yet, my firm and others continue to be paid serious dollars to help warring factions within an organization play nice. Then, there’s Wall Street where, as history has shown, the almighty dollar trumps ethics time and again.

  3. Julie – I guess you’d never consider a career in auto or real estate sales?
    Seriously, after years of working in dysfunctional environments, I’ve found that having a business partner where we can motivate each other plus some contractors with fresh ideas is the right balance. We’re not getting rich (yet) but the calmness is worth a lot.

  4. In my experience, no amount of money trumps a cutthroat, hostile work environment. I would happily (pardon the pun) accept less $$$ in order to work in a healthy, congenial environment where colleagues aren’t negative and miserable.