How are you feeling? Your answer to this deceptively simple question will likely determine how productive you will be at work today, according to new research.

A team at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School has produced evidence of what many people have long suspected – happier people do a better job.

Its six month study of 1,800 call centre workers at British telecom firm BT found a clear causal effect of happiness on productivity. The workers were asked to rate their happiness each week via an email survey comprising five emoji buttons, from very sad to very happy.

Happy employees not only worked faster, making more calls per hour, but also achieved 13% higher sales than their unhappy colleagues.

The University of Oxford team says its research provides the first causal field evidence of a relationship between happiness and productivity.
Image: Social Science Research Network

Interestingly, the happy staff did not put in more hours than their unhappy colleagues to achieve their superior results. They just used their time more productively.

Previous studies have shown that paid work ranks quite low in most people’s idea of happiness and employers generally need to make a bigger effort to ensure employees are content in their jobs, according to Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, one of the authors of the Saïd Business School report.

“There seems to be considerable room for improvement in the happiness of employees while they are at work,” he has noted. “While this is clearly in the interest of workers themselves, our analysis suggests it is also in the interests of their employers.”

Rainy days and Mondays

Some things, though, are beyond anyone’s control. The study found that bad weather had a universally depressing effect. Rain, snow and fog were capable of making even normally happy people feel unhappy. However, they found no correlation between weather and sickness.

Another intriguing aspect of the research relates to the question of whether happy workers are successful because they are happy or just happy because they are successful.

On this, the team concludes that because routine call centre work might not in itself be considered enjoyable and fulfilling, the results show that the happy employees bring their happiness to work rather than deriving it from the job.

It also says the effects of happiness on employee performance are likely to be strongest in service industries, where work is directly customer-facing. Being happy improves social skills, which should lead to happier customers and more sales.

The Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum calls on employers to rethink their approach to hiring and motivating employees in the age of extraordinary technological advances, known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

Meanwhile, the Forum’s Preparing for the Future of Work project is investigating how to reskill employees to empower the individual and emphasize human skills in a future where people and technology will work closely together.