Saturday, September 6, 2008

Measuring Happiness

"I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs" Samuel Goldwyn (1882-1974)

Dr. John Helliwell, a world-class economist (and fellow Canadian) was recently interviewed for the Gallup Management Journal about the relationship between trust in the work place and life satisfaction.

"Dr. Helliwell has discovered a number of factors that affect life satisfaction. Work is chief among them, says Dr. Helliwell, and trust in coworkers and management has an enormous effect. That's because trust is essential to both workplace engagement and life satisfaction in general."

Not surprisingly, life satisfaction is related to engagement in the workplace, which in turn is related to trust. Which begs the question, can trust be measured and manipulated? Can it be systematically built with the sole purpose of improving a co-workers happiness?

According to Dr. Helliwell, "economists have talked about utility; they haven't known how to measure happiness, so they've ended up using income as a substitute." Instead, employee engagement and measures of trust are a more direct and reliable method to measure happiness.

Applying those measures, Dr. Helliwell was able to find correlations between paperwork, negativity and unionization and low trust environments. He also believes when people do things together for other people (such as pro bono work) it builds satisfaction.

I'll take it a step further. I think Jack Welch knew what he was talking about when he stressed the importance of candor by management. A great leader will identify a noble goal then be open and honest with people about whether that goal is being achieved.

In terms of clinic wait times, that means focusing on the patient rather than the provider. Health care providers will go to extraordinary lengths for those in need. On the other hand, nothing will demoralize them more than selfishness or egotistical behavior on the part of their co-workers. Every clinic should take a hard look at themselves and ask exactly what is your purpose? Altruistic work is not hard to find in health care and according to Dr. Helliwell, it may be the key to employee happiness.

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