A study
June 15, 2001 2:29 AM   Subscribe

A study from researchers at the University of Alberta concludes that unhappy workers perform their tasks at the same rate as happy workers, but with about half as many errors (more inside).
posted by hazyjane (11 comments total)
Artists and writers tend to perform their best work when miserable. Why should office workers be any different?
The study authors stress that the mood wasn't related to the task. So no matter what you're working on, you would do it better when unhappy.
So perhaps the best way for a company to get the most work out of their employees is to try to make them miserable, at least during an economic downturn when they would probably be afraid to quit?
(It's unfortunate that this article doesn't list details of the study, including the number of participants, measures used to determine happiness, etc. I did search for a better one but couldn't find one).
posted by hazyjane at 2:39 AM on June 15, 2001

And you just thought your employers were incompetent by hiring PHB's, squeezing you into ever-smaller cubicles, reducing benefits, and making you work longer hours. It's actually all science!

Of course, this study also points out the obvious: that people tend to work harder when they find their work to be fulfilling in some way. If you were already happy, you wouldn't find the work quite as compelling or fulfilling, and you would lose productivity.

As for me, I browse the web and read metafilter just as well whether I'm happy or sad...
posted by gyc at 2:45 AM on June 15, 2001

gyc-- are you saying browsing the web and reading metafilter is your job?
posted by FPN at 3:16 AM on June 15, 2001

I think the study would have to add unhappy workers that still fear losing their job. I know if I hated my job, I'd do it half-assed...it's the american way.
posted by samsara at 7:17 AM on June 15, 2001

Ignorance is bliss. There was another study that said competent people tend to be more critical of their own performance. Maybe the same phenomenon is at work in this study. Unfortunately I can't remember where I read about the other study, so I have no reference to back up this statement. That doesn't bother me though, so I must be incompetent.
posted by hwright at 7:23 AM on June 15, 2001

i'm skeptical. first off, this article only mentions that sad workers made half as many errors as "happy" workers did in the FIRST study, not in the other 3 referenced. furthermore, how is sinclair quantifying "happy" and "sad"? having had to critique psychology studies before, these are the questions off the tip of my tongue.

of course, a corporation could never try to make their workers miserable or any such thing, as that would be completely unethical.
posted by moz at 7:29 AM on June 15, 2001

in a study i conducted on my own work habits, i came to the opposite conclusion. if unhappy, i work at a slower rate, work less often/goof off more, and i'm prone to making more errors because my attention is divided between the work and the repetitive thought going through my head, "i hate my job, i hate my job."
posted by tolkhan at 8:26 AM on June 15, 2001

Aren't they contradicting themselves?

"It seems it could be beneficial to creating situations that lead people to believe that performing their jobs will cause them to feel good: this could cause increases in motivation and superior performance. "

But they just told us if we start feeling good we won't perform as well! Oh, there's just no way out of this vicious cubicle! D'oh! (or if you prefer "Doh!")
posted by witchstone at 8:57 AM on June 15, 2001

"So perhaps the best way for a company to get the most work out of their employees is to try to make them miserable, at least during an economic downturn when they would probably be afraid to quit?"

This was my reaction when I first read the article. In rereading, however, I find a couple of points that are contraindicative of this thesis:

1) The study looked at SAD people, not frustrated, angry, or pre-postal people. Most conditions that companies could inflict on their employees would lead to the more hostile emotions rather than sadness. (Of course, there's always the latter-day Machiavelli who would commission a few grandma-killings just to keep the product flowing.)

2) In a similar vein, one of the researchers noted that the moods were unrelated to the job -- that the unhappiness was coming from somewhere else. I can't think of a time when a sad mood was caused by my job.

Or maybe not...now that I think about it, I'm saddened by the fact that the numbnuts who run my company might misinterpret this study and put their new "Blue Mood Management" theories into action. Hey, it's working already -- no typos in this last paragraph.
posted by joaquim at 10:24 AM on June 15, 2001

I think this is also most likely true in situations where you're miserable and working to not be miserable.

I loved highschool. I never missed many days, enjoyed the people and the teachers I met, and had fun with my fantastic group of friends. I didn't do poorly, but I always got grades in the mid B range.

I wasn't particularly fond of the university I attended the last few semesters. I was living at home and missed my friends. I wanted to get out. I came out with a 3.67, with my absolute lowest grades through the year being Bs. In classes that I hated, such as Economics and Philosophy, I did well throughout and finished finals in amazingly small amounts of time. In classes that I really enjoyed, such as comp sci classes, I never got anything but As and it was extremely rare that I would get a test question or assignment question wrong.

When you're not comfortable where you are, but you see light at the end of the tunnel, you go for it.
posted by tomorama at 10:31 AM on June 15, 2001

From my own experience, I am a MUCH harder and more effective worker when my life outside of work is misearble than when it's all good. If, however, it is my job that's making me miserable, as others have said, the opposite is true.
posted by fooljay at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2001

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