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Happiness at Home and Work

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Research done in conjunction with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has shown an “incredibly high correlation” between the level of an individual’s happiness and meaning at work with how they feel at home. According to the study’s authors, including best-selling business author, Marshall Goldsmith, “those who experience happiness and meaning at work tend also to experience them outside of work. Those who are miserable on the job are usually miserable at home.”

This part of the research fits snugly with the work of Gallup – that for those employees who said they had three or more “vital friends” at work — of that cohort — 85% of them rated their entire life as “extremely satisfactory.” This also works in the other direction. In more than 50 years of experience working with CEOs all over the world, CEO Membership Organization Vistage International has seen a clear connection between what goes on in the home for CEOs and how they feel and perform at work.

Close (and we would add “safe”) friendships at work have a direct correlation with employee engagement that in turn leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction. So this part of the research fits nicely with a larger body of study.

However, the authors take a strange turn when they try to interpret their data. Not understanding the role of attachment theory and how safe and secure attachments impact our overall well-being, the authors conclude the following: “since work at home are very different environments, our experience of happiness and meaning in life appears to have more to do with who we are than where we are. Rather than blaming our jobs, our managers, and our customers… for our negative work life experience, we might be better served by looking in the mirror.”

While a blog post is probably not the right place to fully explore the wrong headedness of their conclusion, I suspect their wrong turn began with their assumption that “work and home are very different environments.” While this may be physically true, our growing understanding of emotion — and how much of our behavior it controls — informs us that the neurons in our skull don’t create artificial categories of response and feeling based on location. If your life at work is miserable, our feelings don’t shift or simply “switch” when we walk in the house after a day at the office.

Perhaps the most disturbing statement in the author’s column in the December 21, 2009, issue of BusinessWeek, is as follows: attempts to “increase employees’ experience of happiness and meaning at work… encourages dependency” (meaning — don’t do it). Their advice? Push the problem off of management and shove it in the face of employees. “Managers can encourage employees to ask themselves, ‘What can I do to increase my experience of happiness and meaning at work?’”

What a perfect excuse for management to transfer the blame for dissatisfaction in the workplace to the employees. While I’m not saying that employees might well bring some of their own issues into the workplace, shifting the responsibility for employee engagement entirely to workers, to in effect point a finger at employees and blame them for their unhappiness represents a two or three decade reversal of what we now know about employee engagement.

We now know, based on decades of empirically validated research on emotion and attachment, that “effective dependency”, or stated another way — safe and secure attachments — is probably the closest thing to a silver bullet ever discovered for increasing our felt sense of well-being — both at home and at work.

BEST PRACTICE TIP — learn more about attachment theory on ours and other sites and about the role of emotion as a driver of human behavior. Explore this blog for more insights or give us a call.

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