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Happy workers are more productive, experts say. 
updated 8/20/2010 7:30:50 AM ET 2010-08-20T11:30:50

For Jackie Donovan, director of marketing and merchandising at Fairway Market, coming to the office every morning is a joy, despite the long hours.

Donovan manages 30 employees and fields approximately 600 e-mails every day. Although she's never worked harder in a role with "no typical hours," she's also never been happier. This happiness, she notes, trickles into her team's productivity and morale as well.

"There's a definite correlation between happiness and productivity on the team," says Donovan.

Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of "Happiness at Work" and CEO of iOpener, says Donovan isn't alone in her assumptions.

"Happiness at work is closely correlated with greater performance and productivity as well as greater energy, better reviews, faster promotion, higher income, better health and increased happiness with life. So it's good for organizations and individuals, too."

The research Pryce-Jones conducted with her team at iOpener showed the old adage is true: The happy worker really is the productive worker.

After building questionnaires, conducting focus groups and compiling results from 3,000 respondents in 79 countries, her findings proved that happiness has a distinct advantage over unhappiness. "What's the evidence that people who are happy at work have it all? The happiest employees are 180 percent more energized than their less content colleagues, 155 percent happier with their jobs, 150 percent happier with life, 108 percent more engaged and 50 percent more motivated. Most staggeringly, they are 50 percent more productive too."

The least happy workers reported spending 40 percent of their week doing what they're there to do, compared with happy workers, who reported spending 80 percent of their week on work-related tasks. "This means they are putting in only two days a week of real [work], while their happiest colleagues are doing four."

Her results also showed the happiest employees taking 66 percent less sick leave than those who are least happy.

As for pay and promotion, Sonya Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, has researched happiness and how it pays off, showing positive outcomes when you're happier in the office. According to her faculty website, benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (i.e., greater productivity and higher quality of work).

Pryce-Jones adds, "People who are at the top of organizations are significantly happier — about 20 percent — in all our key indicators like goal achievement, resilience, motivation and confidence."

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On the other hand, if you're unhappy, you'll be "less creative, less able to solve problems, and you're likely to be spreading your misery too."

Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of "The Happiness Project," refers to this as "emotional contagion" by which people can catch the happy, sad or angry moods of others.

A happy employee will boost the mood of his or her colleagues so it makes sense that "happy people are good for teams." This is "particularly important when that person is engaged with customers, clients, patients or a work team."

Of course, not everyone can work within the confines of a 9-to-5 schedule, and in instances like this, a little flexibility can go a long way. For Ford employees Julie Rocco and Julie Levine, flexible arrangements like job sharing add to their happiness quotient. As managers of the Ford Explorer, "the Julies" each work from home two days a week and in the office on Wednesdays.

Rocco, the mother of a three-year-old son, says, "The job-share arrangement enables me to be 100 percent program manager on the days I'm at work, and 100 percent mommy on the days I am home." "I think that happy and fulfilled people are far more efficient and productive. They can be focused and deliver without the distractions of guilt or regret."

Such productivity is a boon for Ford, notes author Pryce-Jones. "The happiest employees focus 80 percent of their time at work on what they are there to do; the least happy only 40 percent of their time. That's a difference of more than two days a week per person, so you definitely don't want unhappy workers in your team."

Job arrangements aside, a 2007 University of Chicago study revealed that the happiest occupations are not necessarily the highest-paying.

Sandra Naiman, the author of "The High Achiever's Secret Codebook: The Unwritten Rules for Success at Work," points out that many of these happiest occupations, including special education teachers and actors, involve interaction with others and the majority of them provide a service.

For instance, for Elizabeth Kemp, chair of the acting department at the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, happiness at work is all in the creativity. "One is an artist not for fame or fortune, but for love and passion. I am always in the work, whether teaching, coaching or directing."

Vinjaya Selvaraju, on-air presenter and blogger for ProjectExplorer.org, says that her collaborative work environment adds to her happiness. "Working in a collaborative environment means being able to share my ideas openly without judgment, and being able to see how my contributions help shape the outcome of the series. I wake up every morning excited to work, and go to bed every night anxious to get up and do it all over again."

Ultimately this sense of happiness will boost your magnetism and increase the recognition you receive for your work. Pryce-Jones remarks, "Who wants to work with a pessimist? Everyone is drawn to energy naturally, and that's because it's a secret indicator. People who are happiest at work have 180 percent more energy than their least happy colleagues." And that definitely translates into increased productivity.

© 2012 Forbes.com


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