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Sad but true – miserable workers are more productive


In the regular FTdynamo column this week, we learn that contrary to popular opinion it's not the happy workers who are most productive, but the unhappy ones.


We all may have thought for many years that happy workers are the best workers. Sad to say, recent research appears to suggest the opposite – the more miserable workers are the better they work.

Recent research at the University of Alberta by psychologist Robert Sinclair and PhD student Carrie Lavis looked at the effects of experimentally induced happiness versus sadness on work productivity. They asked participants to build circuit boards. In the first study, sad people committed significantly fewer errors than did happy people (approximately half the number of errors), although there was no difference in the number of boards completed. In effect, the sad people were more productive.

Sinclair and Lavis found similar results in further experiments along with evidence that happy people might not devote as much energy to the task in hand in order to maintain their happy moods. The implication is that they perceived the task as something that might detract from their happy feelings. Conversely, sad people appeared to be devoting more energy to the task in order to distract themselves from feeling bad.

According to Sinclair, the findings of the research are not that surprising. There has been growing evidence that sad moods lead to more contemplation and, often, more thoughtful or accurate judgments. On the other hand, further research by Sinclair has shown that when people believed a task would make them feel good, they devoted more energy to it.

What all this means for companies, says Sinclair, is that they need to take into account the emotions of their employees. Especially, they need to convince people that performing their jobs will make them feel good, increasing both motivation and performance.

Now we may have heard that bit before!


FTdynamo features writings and opinions by leading people in the the world of work and business.


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