Does Employee Happiness Have an Impact on Productivity? (with Clément Bellet and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve)
Management Science, 2023, In Print
Abstract: This article provides evidence from a natural experiment on the relationship between employee affect and productivity. We link highly detailed administrative data on the performance of all telesales workers at British Telecom with survey reports of employee happiness we collected on a weekly basis. We leverage variation in the interaction between a worker’s access to windows while at work and the presence of gloomy or bright weather outside of each call center, in order to derive quasi-experimental estimates for the causal effect of happiness on productivity. We find a strong effect of happiness on sales. This effect is driven by changes in labor productivity – largely through workers converting more calls into sales, and to a lesser extent by making more calls per hour and adhering more closely to their schedule. We find no effects of happiness on various measures of high-frequency labor supply such as attendance and break-taking.
(Un)Happiness and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Lyle Ungar, and Johannes Eichstaedt)
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2021, 120(2), 370–383
Abstract: A rapidly growing literature has attempted to explain Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as a result of a wide variety of differences in individual characteristics, attitudes, and social processes. We propose that the economic and psychological processes previously established have in common that they generated or electorally capitalized on unhappiness in the electorate, which emerges as a powerful high-level predictor of the 2016 electoral outcome. Drawing on a large dataset covering over 2 million individual surveys, which we aggregated to the county level, we find that low levels of evaluative, experienced, and eudaemonic subjective well-being (SWB) are strongly predictive of Trump’s victory, accounting for an extensive list of demographic, ideological, and socioeconomic covariates and robustness checks. County-level future life evaluation alone correlates with the Trump vote share over Republican baselines at r = −.78 in the raw data, a magnitude rarely seen in the social sciences. We show similar findings when examining the association between individual-level life satisfaction and Trump voting. Low levels of SWB also predict anti-incumbent voting at the 2012 election, both at the county and individual level. The findings suggest that SWB is a powerful high-level marker of (dis)content and that SWB should be routinely considered alongside economic explanations of electoral choice.
Happiness and Voting: Evidence from Four Decades of Elections in Europe
American Journal of Political Science, 2020, 64(3): 504-518
Abstract: There is a growing interest among policy makers in the use of subjective well-being (or “happiness”) data to measure societal progress, as well as to inform and evaluate public policy. Yet despite a sharp rise in the supply of well-being-based policymaking, it remains unclear whether there is any electoral demand for it. In this article, I study a long-run panel of general elections in Europe and find that well-being is a strong predictor of election results. National measures of subjective well-being are able to explain more of the variance in governing party vote share than standard macroeconomic indicators typically used in the economic voting literature. Consistent results are found at the individual level when considering subjective well-being and voting intentions, both in cross-sectional and panel analyses.
The Asymmetric Experience of Positive and Negative Economic Growth: Global Evidence Using Subjective Well-Being Data (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Femke De Keulenaer, Bert Van Landeghem, Georgios Kavetsos, and Mike Norton)
Review of Economics and Statistics, 2018, 100(2): 362–375
Abstract: Are individuals more sensitive to losses than gains in terms of economic growth? We find that measures of subjective well-being are more than twice as sensitive to negative as compared to positive economic growth. We use Gallup World Poll data from over 150 countries, BRFSS data on 2.3 million U.S. respondents, and Eurobarometer data that cover multiple business cycles over four decades. This research provides a new perspective on the welfare cost of business cycles, with implications for growth policy and the nature of the long-run relationship between GDP and subjective well-being.
Do Job Seekers Value Workplace Happiness Information? Evidence from a field experiment
Abstract: For over a century, organizational researchers and practitioners alike have been interested in the role played by employee happiness in shaping workplace performance. Whereas prior work has focused on the potential effects of happiness on productivity and retention, in this paper, I study the effects of workplace happiness on a firm's ability to compete in the labor market and attract workers. I provide evidence from a field experiment involving over 23 million job seekers on a large online jobs platform in the USA, in which treated users were shown aggregated information about the happiness of incumbent workers at over 20,000 of the companies to which they were considering applying. I provide experimental evidence that providing information about others' happiness increases application selectivity, with treated users redirecting applications away from companies with low levels of worker happiness to happier ones. These effects on labor supply are driven largely by job seekers "screening out" low happiness firms from their job search, a finding that is replicated in subsequent field experiments on the platform in Canada and the UK. Using a discrete choice experiment embedded in a follow-up survey of a representative sample of the US labor force, I find consistent evidence that people value workplace happiness and are willing to trade off salary to work at happier companies. Taken together, the findings suggest that people are motivated to work at happier firms and, ultimately, that employers face incentives to invest in organizational and management practices that are conducive to worker happiness.
Distinguished Paper Award in Behavioral Strategy, AOM Annual Meeting 2023
Selected for the Best Paper Proceedings at AOM 2023
Workplace Wellbeing and Firm Performance (with Micah Kaats and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve)
Abstract: We use novel large-scale data from Indeed, a major jobs website, to assess the relationship between workplace wellbeing and firm performance. Our measures of employee wellbeing include self reported job satisfaction, purpose, happiness, and stress, which we aggregate to over 1,600 listed companies in the United States. Using company-level employee wellbeing measures to predict firm performance, we find that wellbeing is associated with firm profitability and that companies with the highest levels of wellbeing also subsequently outperform standard benchmarks in the stock market. Overall, these descriptive results show a strong positive relationship between employee wellbeing and firm performance. We discuss a number of limitations to the analyses and point to future directions for further research.
Workplace Wellbeing and Employee Retention: Large-scale evidence from an online jobs platform
Abstract: This paper investigates the empirical link between worker wellbeing and employee retention. We use large-scale data from a leading online jobs platform, analysing data from over 5 million workers in the USA, Canada, and the UK. Investigating the links between workplace wellbeing---including measures of job satisfaction, purpose, happiness, and stress---we find that workers with lower levels of self-reported wellbeing subsequently click on and apply to substantially more jobs. Using a post-hire survey of job seekers who have been hired through through the platform, we investigate the extent to which wellbeing predicts retention. We show that company-level aggregate wellbeing measures strongly predict retention rates. Linking individual-level wellbeing surveys to retention surveys, we show that wellbeing predicts subsequent turnover. The results provide evidence for one mechanism through which workplace wellbeing may shape firm performance.
Working Culture: Work Centrality Shapes the Relationship Between Stress and (Un)Happiness (with Mike Norton and Ashley Whillans)
Abstract: While global wealth has risen over the past few decades, this has not translated into a less stressful life for most people. In fact, stress has risen for people worldwide. Across six studies—including large-scale survey data from over 150 countries—we show that the typically observed negative association between stress and unhappiness depends critically upon work centrality, which we think of as the extent to which individuals, societies, and cultures value productive work as a good in itself. Individuals and societies that place a strong intrinsic value on work are better able to weather higher levels of stress without a corresponding negative impact on their overall happiness, a find that emphasizes the importance of the "psychological fit" between actions and values in shaping subjective well-being. Using large-scale time-use data, we show that the moderating role of work values can be largely explained by the extent to which these values shape how enjoyable leisure activities are, rather than how they affect people’s experience of work-related activities themselves.
The Role of Negative Affect in Shaping Populist Support: Converging Evidence from the Field (with Andrew Schwartz, Salvatore Giorgi, Jochen Menges, and Sandra Matz)
Abstract: Support for populism has risen substantially during the past two decades. We investigate the extent to which the rising electoral demand for populist parties and causes can be explained by negative affect. Globally, negative affect has risen rapidly in recent years and has even been referred to by some as a "blind spot'' for politicians and policymakers who have failed to recognize its significance. We use a multi-modal, multi-method empirical approach, using data from a diverse set of geographical and political contexts. Across four studies, we demonstrate that negative affect – measured via self-reported emotions as well as automated text analyses of over 2 billion Tweets – predicts i) individual-level populist attitudes in global survey data (Studies 1a and 1b), ii) longitudinal changes in populist party vote shares at general elections in European countries (Study 2), iii) area-level Brexit voting in the 2016 UK referendum (Study 3) and iv) county-level vote shares for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections (Studies 4a and 4b). We find that negative emotions—such as fear and anger as well as more often overlooked low-arousal negative emotions like depression and sadness—are predictive of populist beliefs as well as voting. We establish a boundary condition by demonstrating that the relationship does not hold for populist politicians who are already in power: Like other incumbents, governing populists do not benefit electorally when their constituents continue to experience negative affect after they have been elected. With negative affect being fertile ground for populist support, our research calls for politicians to alleviate rather than avail themselves of negative affect.
Education, Expectations, and Job Satisfaction
Abstract: This paper investigates the causal link between years of schooling in adolescence and workplace subjective wellbeing in subsequent adulthood. I use a law change in the United Kingdom in 1972, which raised the minimum age at which teenagers were allowed to leave education from 15 to 16 years old, in order to estimate the effect of an additional year of schooling on job satisfaction. In line with existing literature, I find a positive effect on income, but I show evidence of a negative effect of education on job satisfaction for those affected by the law change. In order to help understand this, I estimate the effect of education on various sub-dimensions of workplace satisfaction: while education raises respondents' satisfaction with their pay and job security, it has a negative effect on satisfaction with the job content itself. For cohorts receiving the additional education, this evidence suggests that it likely increases people's reference points and expectations, which are not ultimately matched in the labor market.
The Origins of Happiness: The Science of Well-Being over the Life Course
(with Andrew E. Clark, Sarah Flèche, Richard Layard, Nattavudh Powdthavee)
What makes people happy? Why should governments care about people’s well-being? How would policy change if well-being were the main objective? The Origins of Happiness seeks to revolutionize how we think about human priorities and to promote public policy changes that are based on what really matters to people. Drawing on a uniquely comprehensive range of evidence from longitudinal data on over one hundred thousand individuals in Britain, the United States, Australia, and Germany, the authors consider the key factors that affect human well-being. The Origins of Happiness offers all of us a new vision for how we might become more healthy and happy.
"Rooted in the best-available evidence for each stage in life, The Origins of Happiness provides an ambitious and comprehensive analysis of what leads to a satisfying life, from childhood to old age."―Alan Krueger, Princeton University
"The Origins of Happiness is a wonderful book. It presents a new look at what causes human well-being, and carefully analyzes the policies and programs that can enhance it."―Ed Diener, coauthor of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth
"If policymakers want to improve lives, it is important to understand how people feel―and why. This book charts new territory, providing the first map of the long-term drivers of people's happiness."―Martine Durand, chief statistician, OECD
"This work is a must-read for the academic, policymaker, and informed citizen alike."―Carol Graham, author of Happiness for All?
What Makes for a Good Job? Evidence Using Subjective Wellbeing Data (with Christian Krekel and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve)
in M. Rojas (Ed.), The Economics of Happiness, Springer, 2019, pp. 241-268
Abstract: We study what makes for a good job, by looking at which workplace characteristics are conducive or detrimental to job satisfaction. Using data from 37 countries around the world in the 2015 Work Orientations module of the International Social Survey Programme, we find that having an interesting job and good relationships at work, especially with management, are the strongest positive predictors of how satisfied employees are with their jobs, along with wages. Stressful or dangerous jobs, as well as those that interfere with family life, have the strongest negative correlation with job satisfaction. We discuss implications for firms and other organizations as well as for public policy-makers, and point toward future avenues for research in the area.