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Should employers screen for “happy employees”?

The Happy-Productive Worker thesis, Explained

The Happy-Productive Worker thesis, Explained

Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

Noble laureate Paul Krugman


Happy productive workers are, in their simplest sense, happy and productive members of the workforce. They are individuals who’s overall happiness seems to be linked with their productive output.

The Happy-Productive Worker thesis has been studied by organisational psychologists for several decades under a multitude of parameters. Early 2000s research conducted two field studies looking at both trait (emotional well-being) and state (positive/negative mood). This original research found that these measures are indeed predictive of job performance. Later research involved individuals receiving “happiness shocks” and real world “unhappiness shocks.” They found that those “shocked with happiness” found 12% greater productivity than a control group.

In creating work environments filled with happy-productive workers, the following phases are commonly integrated: (1) the composition and selection of the workforce, (2) training techniques for the existing workforce, and (3) situational engineering such as changing the work environment so that it more closely fits the needs of its employees.


The question therefore is this: Should employers screen for “happy employees”?


This is a complicated and even controversial question that lacks a simple answer. There is an age-old belief that asserts when you become successful happiness will follow. Happy-productive worker research says that happiness may actually precede success. This leads to our next overarching question: What is happiness?

Happiness does not have one definition, in fact, like success, it looks different for everyone and is hard to quantify. Research has used happiness indicators such job satisfaction, positive affect, negative affect, lack of emotional exhaustion, and psychological well-being.

Not only does happiness have an individual impact, but it has a collective positive influence. This is called the Pygmalion effect which is essentially a trickle down effect; happy people have a propensity to invest more time and energy into the success of their colleagues and subordinates thereby stimulating overall workplace well-being and prosperity.

There seems to be a direct lucrative impact when employees are happy. In fact, it may even be economically prudent for employers to begin screening for happiness in their employees.


At VBT, we have found that our clients cite feeling an overall sense of improved mood and well-being with the continued implementation of prioritised, lost, or forgotten values into their lives. In other words, happiness is inextricably linked to well-being and the balance of our everyday values. When we pursue our values it can be deduced that we will be happier.


While there appears to be no direct psychological research highlighting the reasonableness of actually implementing strict composition and selection techniques for hiring “happy” employees, human resource literature concludes that talented human capital at the outset is the key to building a successful, longstanding business. Individuals and corporations worldwide, however, lack a framework to effectively incorporate values into daily living and working.


Our final question is this: How do we confront ethical concerns in an unfair and unequal world where sometimes happiness can seem a privilege?


While we don’t have all the answers, we firmly believe that everyone (both individuals and workplaces no matter their socioeconomic makeup) should have access to tools like VBT to make people happier. Through value exploration, we will help employers hire happy workers and cultivate the well-being of existing employees. Happiness, like our pursuit of our values, is a balancing act that is worth focusing on not just for individual contentment but for overall output and productivity.



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