COVER STORY Don’t Worry Be Happy – Should work be fun?

Back in 1940 an automotive worker on the production line at Henry Ford’s River Rouge plant made the mistake of smiling at work – and was sacked. He’d already been warned about laughing and in Ford’s work world, productivity and play did not mix.
This sad little story is cited in new book by American business consultant and author Daniel Pink that sets out to explain why the ground has shifted so much that the wise employer is now actively promoting play and laughter in the workplace. It’s all to do with moving on from the information age – where linear, logical thinking tended to dominate – and into the “conceptual age” where once frivolous aptitudes such as empathy, humour, playfulness and joyfulness will, says Pink, increasingly determine which organisations or individuals flourish and which don’t.
There’s whole bunch of factors at play here but in Whole New Mind Pink focuses on the three “As” that are helping change both the content and emphasis of work in the developed world.
One is automation which is steadily taking out all the linear, logical, analytical sort of work computers can do better than people. The second “A” is Asia which is busy hoovering up manufacturing work as well as lot of traditional back-office jobs in areas such as computing or finance.
Then there’s “abundance”. People in the developed world have so much choice of stuff that they are now seeking something different (in terms of concept or design); they’re also after objects or experiences that can deliver deeper sense of meaning – even spirituality.
Pink’s take on all this is based on how the brain works – and why what he describes as right-brain or R-directed thinking is now moving into the ascendant because it does the intuitive, conceptual, lateral, big-picture, emotionally intelligent stuff that computers can’t do. It’s also the sort of thinking that thrives better in less-structured and more fun-filled environment.
But it’s not just this sort of shift in work emphasis that’s prompting more people to look at happiness or fulfilment in the context of work.
There’s also increasing evidence for what seems like bit of no-brainer – happy workers are more productive. And increased productivity is generally regarded as one of the holy grails of organisational as well as national endeavour. It’s also an area where New Zealand is playing catchup as, according to latest OECD figures, we’re bit of laggard on the productivity front.
While economic productivity was once squeezed from workers largely at the expense of their health and happiness, now the flow is reversing and links are being made between employee satisfaction and company’s bottom-line success. As management consultant and author David Maister discovered from his international study of 139 offices – companies that do best on employee attitudes are measurably more profitable and it is attitudes that drive financial results rather than vice versa.
If all this isn’t convincing enough – then try putting it in the context of today’s skills squeeze which is becoming an increasing problem for local companies. Our tight labour market is prompting employers to pay some serious attention to developing an employment brand that can attract and retain skilled staff. Recruitment ads now sport rash of “fun” places to work and companies are making the most of their “great place to work” credentials.
Many are very aware of catering to employees who do want to “have it all” – great work life and time to spend enjoying family and friends, playing sport, travelling or getting involved with community work.
It seems that people’s expectations of what life has to offer them have risen on the back of rising economic wellbeing. They want more than decent level of pay for their efforts – they’re also after higher levels of job satisfaction, sense of meaning and the ability to enjoy their lives both within and outside the workplace.
So how do organisations ensure they have happy workforce?

Positive psychology & the Dalai Lama
The big stress bogie is fairly recent but increasingly high-profile workforce issue.
Many people are working longer hours, juggling family commitments, dealing with greater deluge of information from more sources, and having to make more choices in world that offers an abundance of options but less time to pursue them.
At the same time, more people than ever before are being diagnosed with depression, now described as reaching epidemic proportions in the developed world and, according to the World Health Organisation, on its way to becoming the second most burdensome disease in the world. It is ironic that in world of increasing abundance, more people are committing suicide.
That’s not to say stress is primary cause of depression but there is increasing evidence that the flow goes the other way and that happiness provides good antidote to stress as well as contributing to better health. For example neuro-immunologists have found that laughter decreases stress hormones, boosts the immune system and increases aerobic function.
Such findings reflect shift in mindset of those who study psychological welfare. Instead of focusing mainly on finding and fixing what’s wrong with us as human beings, they’re now looking more closely at how to build on our innate strengths. It’s called “positive psychology” and it’s increasingly informing approaches to boosting individual and organisational health.
Wellington-based organisational psychologist Dave Winsborough says he started offering stress and resilience courses in “furious frustration” at all the negative attention being paid to stress.
“I insisted we get on the other side of the ledger and talk about resilience because most people cope pretty much most of the time. The question is how can we build on those strengths rather than trying to stop stress.”
At the heart of resilience, says Winsborough, are three factors.
“First is an optimistic outlook on life – that’s the glass half-full approach; secondly, profound sense of personal control, that sense that I am master of my own destiny and that if bad things happen I’m not helpless or victim; and thirdly it is experiencing sense of engagement and involvement with the nature of the work itself (a state often described as being ‘in the flow’).”
Having now assessed some 800 people in New Zealand workplaces, Winsborough says the ones who show better coping skills (and less stress) have those three factors lined up.
Some are naturals in the resilience/happiness equation. Research now suggests that people are generally born with happiness set point that, while impacted by life’s circumstances, doesn’t shift too radically over time.
So once miserable curmudgeon – always miserable curmudgeon?
Well, no. It’s not that depressing, according to Australia’s “Dr Happy” Timothy Sharp – founder and director of the Sydney-based Happiness Institute.
“There is evidence we are born with set happiness range… and that range is fairly large so there’s reasonable amount of room to manoeuvre. Depending on the research you look at, it seems biological factors account for about 50 percent of happiness, so that means at least 50 percent is under our control and can be shifted.”
The good news, says Sharp, is that achieving happiness requires nothing more than practising few simple but powerful disciplines every day. Which is what his Institute is all about.
Set up two years ago, it was logical extension of the services he already provided through well-established clinical psychology practice that had been attracting increasing demand from unhappy executives. Sharp had observed the growing influence of the positive psychology movement offshore and realised no-one was really taking it on in Australia.
“I think we’re riding wave of interest in health and wellness – though in some ways we’re slightly ahead of the wave. In the corporate field, we’re now being flooded with inquiries from organisations seeking to get the best

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