Is Happiness the New American Dream?

by Pranav Ramesh
May 26, 2021
Happiness: The New American Dream

What happens when success isn’t created by titles or pay scale anymore? Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, left a six-figure job at Cisco WebEx because he was not happy and struggled to find the motivation to go to work. It was a risky move that could have created an unfortunate gap in his work history. But Yuan was confident and his decision ultimately became the impetus to him finding an entirely new career leading a company that changed the way we work.

The Link Between Happiness and Success

The definition of success was always seen as a ladder that begins with a college education and continues to a well-paying job, a happy family, a home, one or two sensible cars. And at the top of the ladder was a healthy and comfortable retirement. However, things have changed over the years, and new definitions have evolved.

Happiness management is a new term finding a place in every board room meeting and HR conference. Research on ways to prevent burnout, building a positive approach to problem-solving, and reducing stress are on a high. The average cost of lost productivity per year accounts for around $200 billion. Approximately 550 million working days lost in the US are stress-related and cost around $30 billion. Workplace stress could drain and de-energize even the most passionate employee.

So, are the classic definitions of success no longer applicable? Is there a new unmeasured variable that could lead to success? Millennials have newer ideals, and the ladder of success is now reduced to fragments. Research suggests that the new generation of employees measure their success in job satisfaction, autonomy, and work life balance.

An average person spends over 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. With the bulk of our lives spent toward earning a living, what can be done to make it more directly correlated to happiness as well? . A Deloitte 2018 Human Trends found that over 40 percent of the employees suffer from stress, which takes a toll on their performance.

While the cost of stress on employees’ mental and physical well-being are already high, the additional costs of lost productivity are 2.3 times higher. On the positive, happy employees are less likely to miss work or quit a job, which means that organizations will not have to spend a fortune on replacing them. A study by the National Library of Medicine found that happy 18-year-olds were more likely to have a stable and secure life by the time they are 26.

Changing Priorities

For generations, people have believed that contentment lurks on the other side of the rainbow of a happy marriage, a great career, or a luxurious retirement. Neuroscience research proves that happiness is a key driver of success. However, most organizations fail to understand the importance of having a happy workplace. This disconnect is leading to over 60 percent of the workforce feeling stressed while at work. Is this because we are running on the hamster wheel of success in the search for an all-elusive happiness that will never come?

The American dream of chasing success like the carrot on a proverbial stick no longer entices millennials. However, research suggests that the equation might work backwards, meaning success does not lead to happiness. Instead, it is happiness that leads to success.

Research published by the Department of Psychology, University of California, found that happy employees performed better, earned higher pay, and were preferred over their less happy colleagues by employers. Leading economists and national leaders across the country have suggested measuring America’s success in terms of happiness rather than its GDP.

Understanding the company and the individual’s “why” or purpose is the driving force in the new-age organizations. Eighty- seven percent of employees crave growth opportunities.

Employees who receive constant feedback, and have the scope to improve and grow are happier and more productive. With these changing priorities, organizations are adopting an employee-first approach to their success. Employee satisfaction acts as the new driving force for the organization’s success rather than the other way round.

Happiness and Productivity

Oxford University’s Saïd Business School’s research found that happy employees are 13 percent more productive at work. A satisfied employee understands their role, feels appreciated, and well-compensated. They find the intrinsic motivation to be more focused and productive on their tasks. Owl Labs, like most organizations, have embraced work from home over the past few months. During a research across the organization, they found that around 91% of their employees have a healthy work-life balance while working from home. And hence they were more productive and creative at work.

A six-month-long study on 1800 call center employees found a positive correlation between happiness and productivity. This study by Saïd Business School found that happy employees worked faster, achieved 13 percent higher sales, and were more productive. These employees are motivated and will likely clock in more hours than their discontented colleagues.

How can organizations increase the happiness quotient of the teams? The solution isn’t higher pay or fancy amenities at the workplace. Instead, it focuses on the cultural aspects, fostering a healthy work-life balance and flexibility. According to McKinsey’s Organization Health Index organizations with ‘top quartile cultures’ post higher returns to their shareholders than the rest!

Cost of Replacing Unhappy Employees

According to recent research, an employee who stays in the same organization for over two years earns 50% less in their lifetime. While pay is not the only driving force for a happy employee, it is one of the key contributors. When employees are paid less, they are more likely to be unproductive and unhappy. While it seems logical to replace unproductive and unhappy employees, it could cost the organization a fortune. Most organizations are willing to invest in retaining employees versus taking on the cost of replacing them. Retaining an employee by increasing their pay would motivate them to stay, increase their morale, and enhance their productivity.

A happy employee is ready to deal with the changing demands of the business and embraces a customer-first approach. When the COVID-19 pandemic led to a global lockdown, organizations were forced to embrace the work-from-home culture. Video conferencing became the only way for organizations to stay connected with their employees, schools to stay in touch with their students, and freelancers to interact with their clients. This led to the popularity of Zoom, a global video conferencing tool, and it soon evolved into an eponym for video conferencing.

The organization’s customer base grew from 10 million users in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020. The spike in users and the increase in workload did not add to the employees’ stress levels. Instead, Zoom became the top company with the happiest employees for the second year in a row.

Yuan wanted to build a product that had happy customers and a happy workforce. The company’s meteoric rise is a reflection of its passionate and dedicated employees, which the organization continues to prioritize? Yuan passionate about creating an organization where he would want to work in the next few decades. He believes that the workplace should employ people who care about each other and want to make their customers happy. To care and strive for happiness could seem like an insignificant element. Organizations that have prioritized the need for happy employees say that it’s the holy grail of success. In the words of Albert Schweitzer, “success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

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