If all this sounds awfully cynical and pessimistic, consider this: First, there’s no objective indication that people over the past hundred years have experienced any significant increase or decrease in either job or life satisfaction — before the era of Chief Happiness Officers or after its advent. Global engagement levels have remained exactly the same for the past decades, even though spending on engagement has increased substantially. Second, even if businesses somehow could boost overall employee happiness levels, they probably wouldn’t perform much better. It’s not hard to imagine happy work environments where employees are having way too much fun to be productive; too much getting along can inhibit getting ahead.

Those conclusions seem like a leap. To the first point, even if global engagement levels have remained the same for the past decades (the study you cited only goes back 15 years, according to itself) despite increased spending on engagement, it doesn’t mean they would have stayed the same if spending on engagement had not increased.

Consider: the world is more distracting now than it ever was. Facebook didn’t even exist 15 years ago, and it now routinely appears in lists of what most distracts people from work or studying. The iPhone also didn’t exist 15 years ago.

To the second point, you could actually get data to verify or reject your hypothesis that boosted happiness levels would not lead to boosted employee performance. There are lists published every year of the best companies to work for. You could compare stock prices of companies that consistently rank among the highest to the general stock market to see if they do better or worse than average. Alternatively, you could poll just those companies for employee engagement to see if, in fact, employees are more engaged at companies that are better to work for. Or, there are other metrics of employee efficiency you could use. Any of the above methods would be in keeping with data over intuition.

Of note in the study you cited is that, while the average American engagement level is about 33%, the average for the world is a super-depressing 13%. Even in Western Europe, it is only 14%. What is going on that there is nearly a 20 point gap between American workplace engagement and Western European workplace engagement? Are they just watching the Champions League around the clock?

Just the facts: Writer. Gamer. Feminist. Educated in Astrophysics. Professional Gambler. Student of Language. Satanist. Anarchist.

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