Friday, March 18, 2016

The Road To Hell Is Paved With... Happiness?

When happiness is slated as a choice, unhappy employees can be characterized as dysfunctional, which ignores the problems that are making the employees unhappy.  - Will Yakowicz

I've come to the conclusion that "happy" is not simply an adjective, it's a marketing brand.

And I think it all started in the early seventies with those yellow smiley stickers you'd see on grade school notebooks (everyone over 50 will know what I'm talking about here), and then of course the ubiquitous smiley face emojis :) typed into emails and text messages countless billions of times each day, providing free advertising for this product; one that should come with a warning label, especially when used as directed. I'm not sure if all this actually paves the road to Hell, but, I was thinking it might have something to do with the map.

Is this your resume portrait...
or postcard from the eighth circle?
And lest anyone think this is just some well-wishing gone viral among the unwashed masses, even University of Pennsylvania has begun offering the Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree, in which they delve into the latest cutting-edge research, teaching an Ivy League discourse on the art of happiness - and what this brand can mean to you. You can drop over $100,000 in tuition to sit in a chair and force yourself to smile all day, and it seems to be catching on. Has anyone seen Invasion of The Body Snatchers?

Maybe all this happiness isn't really so good for us... and happy employees do not always equate to productive ones. For anyone managing an estate who's been told by their principals at some time or another to "just keep the staff happy," they will certainly understand the value of (and no doubt have witnessed) differentiating between happy and productive, and studying both the causation and correlations of factors which synergize within and without each of those.

Happiness, like any other promise of an elusive emotion or spiritual achievement, can be used as a tool for manipulation. Companies use happiness to get more out of their employees, not because they want their employees to be happy.  - The Surprising Myths About Happiness At Work

And as Mr. Yakiwicz alludes to, the absence of happiness can be the canary in the coal mine - and those same managers would do well to not dismiss this lightly, yet to peel away the domestic household staff onion instead of simply demanding more of a contrived, plastic happiness which is not only a bit creepy to witness 24/7, yet also setting the stage (or table for 12) with some real unresolved damage to contend with down the road. This is nothing remarkably new to reveal, yet easily sidestepped by those seeking short-term solutions to long-term staff and team problems. 

Those wishing to become more adept at systems thinking, organizational development, and more in general, human resources, however, will recognize these themes in The Fifth Discipline, one of my favorites on the Good Citizen Reading List (see homepage sidebar) and, IMHO, should be required reading for all people managers - household, estate, or otherwise. Things happen for a reason, including the realizations themselves. A nice primer interview with author Peter Senge can be found here.

Beyond the scope of The Citizen, yet still interesting enough to merit mention, is the "happiness backlash" detailed by a Newsweek article from way back in 2008, still making me smile big when I read the passage:

The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder, which argues that feeling down after your heart is broken - even so down that you meet the criteria for clinical depression - is normal and even salutary. But students tell him that their parents are pressuring them to seek counseling and other medical interventions - "some Zoloft, dear?" - for their sadness, and the kids want no part of it... Rather than "listening to Prozac," they want to listen to their hearts, not have them chemically silenced. 

And so goes also with organizational, workplace, and worker behaviors. Household Managers or their principals who silence the entire range of normal human emotions in their staff - which crop up for all normal humans as the rule, not simply the exception - are engaging in a perilous enterprise. Not only respecting the differences between happiness and productivity, yet also keeping aware that a certain fluctuation of happiness can be expected and harvested as valuable information - may just lead to some authentic, long-lasting happiness on the household team. Check out the Inc. Magazine article here.

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