Happy staff work harder and achieve more. This is probably not a big surprise to most managers, nor I suspect is the view that if staff are unhappy it affects their work. A team of researchers from the Warwick Business School led by Professor Andrew Oswald have conducted a number of experiments on students which confirm this.
One experiment involved participants completing routine tasks involving adding up numbers. The task was broken up by showing one group a 10 minute video of comedy clips and another a clip showing patterns of different coloured sticks. Those in the group who had a laugh performed the tasks better, 12 per cent better.
In the past there has been much debate about the impact of skill training, new technology and reward schemes on improving performance. The researchers believe that their findings, published in Warwick’s Economic Research Journal, highlight the importance of “human emotions”.
In the current harsh economic climate, it would be a lot more helpful to managers if researchers could suggest how to keep staff happy whilst freezing their pay, making their colleagues redundant and charging them more for office car parking. I don’t think that posting a “joke of the day” on the office intranet or showing clips of “mock the week” is going to do the trick.
So how are managers to keep staff motivated whilst budgets are cut? It is true that external factors influence people’s feelings of wellbeing. If England had won the world cup then the feel good factor would have resulted in increased productivity in the short term. If an individual is experiencing personal problems like going through a divorce then we know their work can suffer. But in general we know that people report they feel happy in work if they get on with their colleagues and their line manager. The implication is that the organisation may be going through a bad time but in this team we still enjoy coming to work. The other key factor for staff in the public sector is why they do the job in the first place. Auxiliary nurses, care assistants and hospital porters are low paid. They could earn more money stacking shelves in their local supermarket, but they get satisfaction from helping vulnerable people who are grateful for the support they receive. Contrast this with staff who deal directly with the public on reception or in a call centre and who are often subjected to verbal abuse from frustrated and distressed callers.
Happiness at work for public sector workers is determined by their relationships with colleagues and their interaction with the public. Managers are responsible for fostering good working relationships within the team and supporting staff in their dealings with the public. This is not always easy as personality conflicts can erupt within teams, an individual can be viewed by others as not pulling their weight or getting favourable treatment. The manager cannot ignore this if they want staff to feel happy coming to work. When staff are dealing with customers who are angry that their service has been reduced or taken away as a result of budget cuts then a manager’s support needs to be tangible. This means being prepared to take the call and take the brunt of the caller’s anger.
A manager is responsible for keeping their staff happy at work but this doesn’t involve telling jokes or performing amusing impressions of senior managers -not unless you want to be known as a bit of a comedian.