Campus - 16.07.2012 - 00:00 

The Profitability of Happiness

With business as usual continuing to lose legitimacy, a conference at the University of St.Gallen examines a new business model by focusing on the link between happiness and profit.

$alt13 June 2012. It’s a common understanding that the motivation of a worker is solely based on their pay check and bonuses. However, a conference at the University of St.Gallen (HSG) on 11 June, challenged that assumption. The conference entitled “Happiness and Profit- Well-being as alternative objective function for business” focused on the link between employee happiness, social responsibility, and productivity, founding that one alternative business model might be a happy work environment.

Motivations of money vs. commitment
Is the only way to keep an employee productive by offering a financial reward? Does that keep a worker at peak proficiency? The morning of the conference was spent examining “Well Being” as an alternative objective rather than monetary rewards.

The speakers – ranging from Buddhist philosopher Dr. Kai Romhardt to the CEO of the socially conscious bakery Maerkisches Landbrot Joachim Weckmann - challenged the ideas of what motivates workers to operate at peak efficacy, saying that salary is not the most efficient means. People tend to work with more dedication and consistently if they are happy in their job and feel they are contributing to a greater good.

In a sense, satisfaction is the reward and salary is the additional benefit. “People are more productive when they feel they are part of something bigger and important,” said Wolff Horbach, of Factor Glueck, one of the speakers. By creating a socially aware environment and valuing each employee’s participation, people feel the value of their work and will work harder to provide that value.

The evolutionary view of happiness
One of the reasons that happiness may not have been linked to profit or productivity before is that the predominant view on happiness has been flawed. According to one of the speakers, bestselling author of “The Happiness Formula” Stefan Klein, happiness isn’t a state we reach and maintain. Happiness is an emotional reaction to a positive change, and then goes away quickly when we adjust to the new situation that caused the reaction. We must find more positive change to maintain the happy state.

“Happiness is a sign of our needs and how we learn,” said Mr Klein. “Like our reactions of fear of anger, happiness is meant to teach us something… we react with fear to something, it’s because we see it as dangerous and want to run away. We react with happiness, it’s because we’ve achieved something good for us.”

Salary vs. satisfaction
A number of speakers argued that a sense of contributing to a community or following a passion is more important motivator for efficient work. One example that Mr Klein brought up was the comparable success of Encarta, the Microsoft produced online encyclopaedia, and Wikipedia. Encarta, was produced by Microsoft from 1993-2011. It was full of content that the company paid to have produced. They discontinued Encarta in 2011 due to lack of subscription. Most people were using Wikipedia, which was free, and all entries were produced voluntarily. Now, people may have used Wikipedia more than Encarta because Wikipedia was free. However, Wikipedia was only able to compete with Encarta because of the individual volunteers who produced its entries. They felt like they were contributing to a greater community and valued their work for Wikipedia higher than they otherwise might have.

“Make happiness a business objective,” said Mr Klein, “and don’t hesitate because you might regret it.”

The Conference was hosted by the Humanistic Management Network.

 Picture: Photocase /Steph-anie

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