Oliver Burkeman, author of “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” has recently written an op-ed in the NYTimes commenting on the trend in companies towards making sure employees have fun. There is a burst of titles like “Chief Fun Officers” or “Happiness Engineers.” Burkeman makes the general point that any attempt to force happiness usually is self-sabotaging (this is the paradox of happiness), and he cites a variety of examples (e.g. a study by management experts at Penn State and other universities, published last month, found that while “fun” activities imposed by bosses might slow employee turnover, they can damage overall productivity).
If “fun” isn’t it, what type of culture should a company then foster?
Burkeman proposes that “managers should concentrate on creating the conditions in which a variety of personality types, from the excitable to the naturally downbeat, can flourish. That means giving employees as much autonomy as possible, and ensuring that people are treated evenhandedly.” He cites a Danish study published a few months ago in three scientific journals that surveyed 4,500 public employees and concluded that “a heavy workload has no effect on whether or not employees become depressed. Instead, it is the work environment and the feeling of being treated unfairly by the management that has the greatest effect on an employee’s mood.” A moral sense of injustice has a much bigger dampening effect on employees’ engagement and wellbeing than mere workload. More than a sense of fun, employees care about whether a company is living its moral values. The article reinforces there is no direct line to happiness, and instead must come from pursuing meaning and morals.