woman with cake and coffee

Some firms say they care about the well-being and ‘happiness’ of their employees. But are such claims hype, or scientific good sense? A team of economists from University of Warwick, UK, and IZA Bonn, Germany have conducted an experiment to find out. They have found evidence that happiness makes people more productive. In three different styles of experiment, randomly selected individuals are made happier. The treated individuals have approximately 12% greater productivity. A fourth experiment studies major real-world shocks (bereavement and family illness). Lower happiness is systematically associated with lower productivity. These different forms of evidence, with complementary strengths and weaknesses, are consistent with the existence of a causal link between human well-being and human performance.

At Google, we know that health, family and wellbeing are an important aspect of Googlers’ lives. We have also noticed that employees who are happy … demonstrate increased motivation … [We] … work to ensure that Google is… an emotionally healthy place to work. Lara Harding, People Programs Manager, Google.

Does ‘happiness’ make human beings more productive? Consistent with claims such as those in the above quote from the Google corporation, the team provide evidence that it does

In two experiments, a comedy movie clip is played to a group of subjects. Their productivity is later measured on a standardised task and is found to be substantially greater than in groups of control subjects who did not see the clip.

In a third experiment, a table was first laid with a variety of snacks (several large bowls full of miniature chocolate bars from the Cadbury’s Heroes and Mars Celebrations range and various different types of fruit) together with bottled spring water. This managed to raise productivity by a staggering 20% for a short period.

Although the results suggest that this particular intervention increases people’s productivity by a sizeable 15-20%, it is not possible here to be sure how long such productivity boosts would persist in a real-world setting. If this were to translate in a lasting way into the busy offices of the real world — as Google’s spokesperson apparently believes — it could be expected to outweigh the additional costs. If the boost is a short-lasting one, however, it could not. This issue seems to demand attention in future research..

In the final experiment, subjects are quizzed about recent tragedies in their families’ lives.Those who report tragedies are disproportionately ones who show significantly lower productivity. Those individuals also report lower happiness. Those subjects who have recently been through a bad life event are noticeably less happy and less productive

Overall, the consequence of a bad life event is empirically strong if it happened less than a year ago, and becomes insignificantly different from zero after approximately 3 years.

This study provides evidence of a link between human happiness and human productivity.