Raymond L. Wheeler

Musings about leadership

Are You Happy at Work – Does it Matter?

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An Agitating Question – Investigating Hope

Are you happy at work? The question burned in my mind in fact I found it quite agitating.  The agitation did not stem from feeling like I was unhappy it was the opposite.  I am happy in the work I do. What became agitating is that my work in developing leaders in business or through the classroom or through consulting and coaching work lead me to conclude that how people felt about work is critical to how they perform.  But, I did not have a way to turn this observation into a reliable method of measuring hope or initiating change designed around the generation of hope in the organizations I worked in or with.

So I started to investigate the connection between happiness and work to the extent I left work long enough to complete doctoral studies while I immersed myself in the question. My research focused on the role of hope in leadership emergence patterns in complex organizations.  What I found was that people who had hope were not only more optimistic in their perspective or mindset they also had a much more realistic grasp of their situation whether positive or negative that seemed to lead them to make much better decisions than those who did not have hope. People who possessed hope worked proactively to alter the way things were done to improve processes and the work environment so that others felt recognized, challenged to do their best work and discovered a sense of deeper purpose or meaning in their work. People who possessed hope never remained victims even when they endured significant loss.  They possessed a resilience that got up and went forward again.

Hope in its essence is “…a combination of clearly articulating goals, believing that one can meet these goals, charting a course of action or a path, and arriving at the goal while experiencing a sense of well-being as a result of the process.”[1]  Psychologists have determined that hope and other positive emotions impact one’s openness or cognitive flexibility, problem-solving abilities, empathy, willingness to engage diversity/variety and resilience (persistence).

In my research I found that (1) the presence of hope predicts a framework that shapes leadership values and motives toward new outcomes and possibilities. (2) Hope engenders inquiries about reality that expose and subvert dysfunctional tendencies that suppress or reject emerging leaders and suppress or reject new possibilities. (3)  Hope synthesizes the attributes and transactional characteristics of the church and other organizational entities in a way that accelerates the construction of a dynamic and organic leadership development pipeline.  Writing from a theological perspective I was particularly excited to discover that the field of positive psychology had done much work in understanding the impact of positive emotions and hope that I mirrored in my research.

Hope serves as both a trait and a mindset.  In the words of Jessica Pryce-Jones it serves as “…a kicker to action and it is clearly associated with higher job performance and happiness.  In fact some psychologists call it a ‘Velcro’ concept as it seems to enable you to stick to your commitments regardless of your other attributes.”[2]

Hope – Happiness Connection

I had perceived happiness as an outcome of hope.  So, my focus was on discovering why people had or did not have hope and where hope came from for those that did.  I saw that hope stemmed from a belief or mindset specifically rooted in the promises of God.  People who believed the promise of a different future tended to live in a “future perfect” way i.e., their anticipation of the future altered how they approached the present and affected what they would or would not tolerate as acceptable.  In leaders this meant that those who had hope acted as contagious change agents.

However, my research included organizations that were not church related and I noticed the same type of leaders in those organizations i.e., men and women filled with hope that acted as visionaries and change agents.[3]  It was not that these people were more charismatic that others it was that they had a deep sense or mindset through which they interpreted the realities around them.  They saw opportunities others missed.  They saw a preferred future as possible when others saw only drudgery or failure.  The research by Pryce-Jones and her team introduced the idea of happiness and set it up as a precondition of hope.  So, I was intrigued.

So what is happiness? “Happiness at work is a mindset which allows you to maximize performance and achieve your potential.  You do this by being mindful of the highs and the lows when working alone or with others.”[4]

Happiness at work allows people to leverage their experiences regardless of whether they are positive or negative (high or low) to meet their full potential at work.  The theory behind the idea of happiness is rooted in positive psychology that builds on four ideas:

  • You are responsible for your own level of happiness
  • You have more room to maneuver than you think
  • You always have a choice
  • Self-awareness is the first step

Five Critical Factors of Happiness

I needed to know more about the research done by Pryce-Jones and her team. They began to research happiness at work because Pryce-Jones observed the connection between her own productivity and her happiness at work. She formed a team that through the process of data collection began to see data cluster around five different themes.  As these themes became clear they designed an assessment reliably measure these themes in people.  Their work resulted in an assessment that measures five factors that define happiness.

These factors include items typically included in human capital studies (employee engagement or job satisfaction). However the data collected via the research by Pryce-Jones and her team indicates that such things as employee engagement relates to 10 percent fewer items than happiness does.  The bottom line is that people who are happy at work are 108% more engaged than their unhappy colleagues, love their job 79% more and achieve their goals 30% more often. Happy people cut the costs of turnover, sick days, work slowdowns and absenteeism by as much as 50%.

The five factors that define happiness are:

Contribution: the effort an employee makes and their perception of this effort.

Conviction: the motivation employees have whatever their circumstance.

Culture: how well employees feel they fit at work.

Commitment: the extent to which employees are engaged with their work.

Confidence: the sense of belief employees have in themselves and their job.

Factors Thrive in a Healthy Corporate Culture Indicated by Pride, Trust and Recognition

Pryce-Jones and her team also found that these factors are supported by pride, trust and recognition which serve as proxies for the existence of the five factors.  In other words if one has pride in their work and feel they are safe in taking risks at work without the fear of a hidden agenda and where work recognizes their efforts the stage is set for employees to arise to new levels of productivity, creativity and effort.  People recognized for their achievements at work (in ways that are meaningful to them) their energy level and engagement skyrocketed.  Finally where people trust their organizations risk taking rises, they are more committed and relationships operate with greater transparency.  Conversely when these critical cultural components are missing productivity and engagement plummets – in fact the absence of these three factors often indicate that people are already engaged in looking for new jobs.

So What? 

Clearly the impact that happiness has at work is unavoidably significant at least if one takes the research seriously. If happy people are more engaged, if they make their goals more often if they take measurably less sick days or engage in measurable fewer work slowdowns then calculating a return on investment on happy employees is certainly possible.

But how are these employees identified?  Pryce-Jones and her team’s assessment offer a means of reliably measuring happiness at work for both individuals and teams.  Because they measure specific characteristics in the factors they also create a diagnostic that illustrates the relationship between personal happiness and organizational culture.  Their assessment makes it possible to effectively measure current conditions, design and ROI and engage in a pointed strategy to alter the work culture to achieve a greater level of employee happiness at work.  The net effect is higher productivity and lower costs of doing business.  What is not to like?

It is now possible to name the factors that contribute to hope, contribute to higher output and contribute to lower costs.  Not only does this help organizations respond to the emerging leaders working toward a new future in their organizations, it also helps create strategies to remove the barriers to the emergence of these leaders.

I adopted the assessment developed by Pryce-Jones and her team.  The results the assessment has generated in defining the psychological and social capital that determines the effectiveness of an organization’s human capital impress me. The reality is that “financial value is reduced or increased as a direct consequence of the relationships that individuals have with themselves and with others at work.”[5]  Pryce-Jones’ iOpener Assessment is a reliable and valid tool that turns the concept of happiness at work into a concrete means of achieving significant change and higher levels of performance in those organizations ready to rigorously embrace the facts behind their financial performance.

Are you happy at work?  The question is not just an inquiry into how one feels it is a diagnostic that predicts how well your organization is going to do. As it turns out it does matter. For more information write me at ray@leadership-praxis.com, I would love to discuss the application of this instrument in your organization.

One last question came to me from my own research.  What would happen if I asked people, “Are you happy at church?”  Are the factors of commitment, contribution, conviction, confidence and culture effective in measuring who is about to leave a congregation and who is really engaged in the mission of a local congregation?  I think so. Now, I need to find a way to test this hypothesis.  Any takers?


[1][1] C. R. Snyder. “The Past and Possible Futures of Hope” in Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 19, no. 1 (2000):11-28.

[2] Jessica Pryce-Jones. Happiness at Work Maximizing your Psychological Capital for Success (West Sussex, UK: Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2010), 125.

[3] This is not to infer that the presence or absence of faith made no difference in how leaders approached their situations or their lives. Without turning this into a theological treatise what I concluded was that those leaders who had hope without referencing faith were also those leaders most open to discussing the impact of faith and the promise inherent in what Christian theological work calls the gospel. In other words these individuals were not opposed to God, they possessed a respect for God even though they expressed varying degrees of understanding about the message of Christianity. All of them found my theological approach to business/organizational research fascinating.

[4] Pryce-Jones, 4.

[5] Pryce-Jones, 7.

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Author: Ray Wheeler, DMin

Ray Wheeler - executive coach, confidant, mentor, leader, and friend. Ray is the author of, Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today's world. He is also an adjunct lecturer at LIFE Pacific College, Bethesda University California and Azusa Pacific University in cross-cultural leadership, leadership development, leadership ethics, administration, church growth, and mission in today's world. Certified leadership coach, certified Birkman Consultant, and certified in the iOpener Assessment (happiness at work).

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