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Every business owner wants his or her employees to give 100 percent to the company. Productive employees show up on time, they tackle their work without complaint and they give their best effort. Research suggests that the level of a worker’s happiness is the single greatest predictor of his or her ability to work creatively and productively and commit to his or her company.

How can you make your workers happier? The answer isn’t in beefing up salaries or just giving more benefits. What employees want is to feel as though they are making progress and doing meaningful work. Luckily, you can support your employees in their accomplishments by removing obstacles to their success, giving them the help they need to succeed and acknowledging their efforts.

The Link Between Happiness and Productivity

Researchers at Warwick Business School in England have discovered a strong relationship between happiness and productivity. Andrew Oswald, a professor of economics at the school and leader of the research team, told The Guardian, “We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings, while negative emotions have the opposite effect.”

The researchers evaluated the influence of emotional state on productivity by asking a group of students to add five two-digit numbers over a 10-minute period. Afterward, some of the students were shown a short comedy film by a well-known comedian. Another group saw no film, and a third group saw a placebo film consisting of a clip that showed colorful patterns of sticks. After watching the film, the test subjects were asked to report on their happiness levels, before doing the mathematics task again.

The researchers found that test subjects who reported more happiness after watching the comedy film were 12 percent more productive than those who did not report higher levels of happiness after watching the film. Those who reported lower levels of happiness after watching the film were 10 percent less productive than they had been before. Subjects who saw the comedy clip, but did not experience an increase in happiness, did not demonstrate any increases in productivity. The researchers also found that study participants who had been through an illness or death in the family within the previous two years were 10 percent less productive than study participants who had not.

The Cost of Unhappy Workers

Employee happiness and engagement isn’t something businesses can afford to ignore. A 2010 Gallup study found a direct link between worker and happiness and decreased economic performance for the entire company. Lost productivity due to unhappy, disengaged workers costs the American economy $300 billion each year. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index has polled more than 1,000 adults daily since January 2008, and it has determined that at least one-third of people in all age groups and all income brackets are unhappy at work and feeling disconnected and disengaged. Disengaged, unhappy workers don’t show up on time, they’re less productive and the overall quality of their work just isn’t as good.

Ending the Employee Disengagement Crisis

Fortunately, all hope is not lost. After analyzing the data, researchers have come up with a solution. The secret to employee engagement and productivity is to ensure that workers experience their work as meaningful, and to help them feel as though they’re making progress in that work.

As a manager, you can facilitate worker happiness and engagement by giving your employees the support they need to do their jobs well. Let your employees work autonomously when you can but make sure to offer them the resources they need to get their jobs done. Give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and challenges, and apply those lessons going forward. When an employee feels the work he or she is doing is meaningful, even a small amount of progress will make him or her happy. That happiness will make him or her more productive and improve his or her performance, which will make him or her even happier, which will lead to even more improvements in performance. That’s a chain reaction you want to spark.

Not only will your employees be more productive when they’re feeling happy and engaged with what they do, they’ll also have more good ideas. Groundbreaking, innovating companies are those who foster employee happiness and encourage their workers’ accomplishments. Supporting your employees’ happiness and well-being can involve providing more resources, answering more questions and supporting a healthier work-life balance. Sometimes, making your employees happier is as simple as addressing technical problems or doing away with those tiny, insignificant day-to-day irritations that, over time, can really sap a worker’s spirit.

One thing’s for sure — when you take steps to make your workers happier, everyone wins. Your employees spend most of their time at work; they deserve not to be miserable all day long. If you don’t take steps to ensure their satisfaction, someday they may well leave to take positions where they will feel more fulfilled. Don’t put your profits and your company on the line. Make employee happiness a priority.

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