I was involved in an opinion poll last month which asked office workers “how important is it for you to be happy at work?” One of the answers was “Not at all. I work to pay my bills, not make myself happy“.

Following the results of the opinion poll I took some time last week to talk to a group visiting Happy. I asked them what percentage they thought chose that option. Answers ranged from 50% to 100%,

The actual figure was 2%. Just one in fifty of those working in offices say they work just to pay the bills. The figure was even lower among young workers, where less than 1 in 200 chose that option. The full answers were:

How important is it for you to be happy at work?

  • Very important. I would not be happy outside work if I was not happy at work: 29%
  • Quite, I like to be happy at work, but it is more important for me to be happy outside work: 51%
  • Not very, I enjoy some aspects of work but put up with the rest: 8%
  • Not at all, I work to pay my bills, not make myself happy: 2%

So 90% of office workers say it is quite important or very important to be happy at work. This result brings to mind Douglas MacGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y, two opposite approaches to managing people. Under Theory X the assumption is that employees are inherently lazy, dislike work and need incentives and to be closely monitored. This set of beliefs leads naturally to a style of management based on close supervision, levels of approval and command and control.

In contrast, Theory Y assumes that people are self-motivated and want to do a good job at work. They want to learn and develop and take responsibility. This set of beliefs leads to a very different style of management, based on trust and freedom. (Yes, its the style outlined in my book, the Happy Manifesto. Download it here for free.)

It would be interesting to know if the responses to this opinion poll would have been different 50 years ago, or in the old production lines. If you take the Ford River Rouge plant in the 30s, where workers were banned from talking at work and there were instances of being sacked for smiling and laughing, people would presumably have answered that they came to work to pay the bills.

But that is clearly not the case nowadays. People need a salary and might well not work if they didn’t. But they don’t see work as simply to pay the bills. They want to be happy at work and want to be valued and motivated. The idea that work is just a job to pay the bills is very much in line with Theory X. And the finding that only 2% see work that way fits with Theory Y,

So is your management focused on making sure your people are happy at work? Because there is a growing body of evidence that such a focus could make more difference to your organisation than anything else you can do.

The research was conducted for Bloomsbury, who are publishing Business: The Ultimate Resource. As well as contributions from the likes of C. K. Prahalad, Gary Hamel and Seth Godin It includes an article by me on why people should be able to choose their boss. The data is from TNS Market Research Omnibus (www.tns-ri.co.uk) based on a sample of 1335 full and part-time workers aged between 16 and 64 between 20th to 29th September 2011 in Great Britain.

One of the core principles of the Happy Manifesto is to ‘Make Your People Feel Good’. Read about the ten core principles.

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