Is a Happy Worker a Better Worker?

Strike another blow in the debate over happy workers being productive workers. Melissa Lafsky on the Freakonomics blog quotes Wright State University psychologist Nathan Bowling in a new paper called “Is the job satisfaction–job performance relationship spurious? A meta-analytic examination.”

His conclusion is right out of a Freakonomics lesson in causation vs. correlation:

My study shows that a cause and effect relationship does not exist between job satisfaction and performance. Instead, the two are related because both satisfaction and performance are the result of employee personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, emotional stability, extroversion and conscientiousness.

Quite a twist on the old “a happy employee is a productive employee” mantra of H.R. departments nationwide. From an incentives standpoint, it makes sense (for a person falling under the neurotic category, anyway) that fear of losing one’s job provides greater incentive to work hard than happiness and job satisfaction. Still, it could come as a shock to some employers that all the cash they’ve been channeling into workplace masseuses and in-house yoga may be more of a drag on the bottom line than a boon.


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