Hello: I am a Junior Research Fellow (Stipendiary JRF) in Economics at Somerville College, University of Oxford. I completed my Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I was based at MIT Sloan School of Management. 

Email: george.ward@economics.ox.ac.uk

Office: LH4, Somerville College, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX26HD

[cv] [google scholar] [twitter]


Does Employee Happiness Have an Impact on Productivity? (with Clément Bellet and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve)

Management Science, 2024, 70(3): 1656-79

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.

[pdf] [supplementary materials][replication materials][working paper]

Media: The Economist, Financial Times

The Role of Negative Affect in Shaping Populist Support: Converging Field Evidence from across the Globe (with Andrew Schwartz, Salvatore Giorgi, Jochen Menges, and Sandra Matz)

American Psychologist, Forthcoming

AbstractSupport for populism has grown substantially during the past two decades, a development that has coincided with a marked increase in the experience of negative affect around the world. Across four studies, we use a multi-modal, multi-method empirical approach, with data from a diverse set of geographical and political contexts, to investigate the extent to which the rising electoral demand for populism can be explained by negative affect. We demonstrate that negative affect---measured via i) self-reported emotions in surveys as well as ii) automated text analyses of Twitter data---predicts individual-level populist attitudes in two global surveys (Studies 1a and 1b), longitudinal changes in populist party vote shares at general elections in Europe (Study 2), district-level Brexit voting in the 2016 UK referendum (Study 3) and 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 and election results at scale.

[working paper]

(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.

[pdf] [online appendix] [replication files]

Media: New York Times, Financial Times,  El Mundo, The Hill (op-ed), Character & Context (SPSP)

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.

[pdf] [online appendix] [replication files] [old version]

Media: BBC News (TV), BBC News, The Times, Prospect, The Economist, HuffPost, CNN, New York Times

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.

[pdf] [online appendix] [replication files]

Media: Financial Times, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review

Working Papers

Do Job Seekers Value Workplace Happiness Information? Evidence from a field experiment

AbstractFor 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.

[MIT Sloan Working Paper 6607-22]

When Valuing Work Predicts Employee Wellbeing: The Role of Work Centrality in the Relationship Between Stress and Wellbeing (with Mike Norton and Ashley Whillans)

Abstract: Stress is a pervasive feature of modern society and is on the rise worldwide. In this paper, we explore the degree to which work centrality---the importance of the role that work plays in one's life---moderates the relationship between the experience of stress and subjective wellbeing. We theorize that for highly work-centered individuals, as well as for those living in cultures where work is particularly central to people's lives, the negative effects of stress on wellbeing will be less pronounced. Across six studies, including data from over 2 million employees living and working around the globe, we8 present empirical evidence that the negative impact of stress and measures of job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and affective happiness depends critically upon both individual and cultural work centrality. Investigating mechanisms using time-use data, we find evidence that much of the moderating role of work centrality can be explained by the extent to which it shapes how enjoyable leisure activities are, rather than how it affects people’s experience of work itself. These findings emphasize the role of the cultural and psychological fit in shaping the downstream impact of behaviors and circumstances on subsequent organizational outcomes like worker wellbeing.

[working paper]

Workplace Wellbeing and Firm Performance (with Micah Kaats and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve)

AbstractWe 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.

[Wellbeing Research Centre Working Paper 2304]

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. 

[in progress]

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. 

[in progress]


The Origins of Happiness: The Science of Well-Being over the Life Course

(with Andrew E. Clark, Sarah Flèche, Richard Layard, Nattavudh Powdthavee)

Princeton University Press


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.

[Read the Introduction][PUP] [vox column] [WHR summary] [online appendix] [replication files][jstor version]

Selected Media

 Financial Times, FT Editorial, Guardian, Independent, BBC News, Business Insider, Newsweek, HuffPost, Vice, Le Figaro, Folha de S Paolo, WBUR, Telegraph, Vanity Fair, Grazia, The Conversation (op-ed)


"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?

Book Chapters 

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.

[online appendix & replication files]

Happiness and Voting Behavior: What we know and future directions

in J. Sachs, J. Helliwell, & R. Layard (Eds.), UN World Happiness Report , 2019

Does Work Make You Happy? (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve)

Harvard Business Review [online], 2017

Happiness at Work (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve)

in J. Sachs, J. Helliwell, & R. Layard (Eds.), UN World Happiness Report, 2017