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Searching for happiness at work

A recent article, by Professor Warr, in the December issue of ?The Psychologist? magazine takes a look at happiness in the workplace. Professor Warr is a leading psychologist at the Institute of Work Psychology in Sheffield. He writes about the complex nature of happiness and discusses his framework for research and practice. Warr suggests that it would help if investigators and practitioners in organisations could think about happiness in 6 different ways. These are detailed below.

Multiple aspects
There are many indicators of happiness, not just one. According to Warr, It is essential to think in terms of multiple aspects.  Positive and negative emotions are differently related to several variables in the workplace.  For example, high demands from the environment is associated with ?anxious? unhappiness rather than ?depressed? unhappiness.   Senior members of staff suffer from less depression but more anxiety than young staff, but are usually both similar in their job satisfaction. When looking at indicators of happiness, there must be consideration of the differences between context, domain and facet rather than looking at a single indicator.

Environmental sources
Warr has developed a framework which looks at the environmental features involved in happiness. There are 12 aspects which a ?psychologically good? job will score well across (see below). Warr?s model can be used to look at individuals in different contexts such as unemployment.  For example, unemployment may be ?good? or ?bad? in this respect.  Forms of unemployment may be psychologically better than a ?bad? job!


1/Opportunity for personal control ? discretion, decision, latitude, participation, etc
2/Opportunity for skill use and acquisition ? a setting?s potential for applying and developing expertise and knowledge
3/Externally-generated goals ? ranging across job demands, under load and overload, task identity, role conflict and so on
4/Variety ? in job content and location
5/Environmental clarity ? including role clarity, task feedback and low future ambiguity
6/Contact with others ? in terms of quantity and quality
7/Availability of money ? the opportunity to receive income at a certain level
8/Physical security ? different forms in different settings; in job settings and degree of hazard
9/Valued social position - the significance of task or role
10/Supportive supervision ? the extent to which one?s concerns are taken into consideration
11/Career outlook - job security, or the opportunity to gain promotion or shift to other roles
12/Equity ? as justice both within one?s organisation and in that organisation?s relations with society

Non-Linear patterns
In Warr?s model he argues that some of these desirable factors can be overdone, and can become undesirable.  He illustrates the results with a U shaped graph.  For example, with externally generated goals, more is not better.  From the research this is noticeable across all levels of the organisation.  Warr?s model is named the vitamin model because, like vitamins, these factors are good in certain doses, but like some vitamins they either stop having and effect or can be dangerous. Happiness, for example, rises with income however beyond a certain point it does not continue to have an effect. Warr believes that non linear happiness patterns of this kind?deserve more consideration than they have received?

Happiness-related thinking.
Employment researchers have paid most focus on the environmental consequences of happiness; however they have tended to focus less on the individuals themselves.  Warr gives examples of influential mental processes people use when appraising a situation.  Here are some key judgements people make: Comparison with others, comparison with other situations, comparisons with other times, personal salience, situation-related self-efficacy and novelty or familiarity.  The article gives more detail about these judgements.

Personal baselines
In respect to happiness, Warr suggests that we need to investigate further, the fact that people are consistent across time and settings in their behaviour and mental processes.  This will have an impact on how people alter aspect of the environment to increase happiness.  Warr also suggest that we need to investigate the gender differences in job satisfaction.  It has been found that woman have higher levels of job satisfaction than men despite the fact that they have lower pay and benefits than men.  Older people also report more job satisfaction than young people.

Unhappiness and happiness
Warr points out there are false beliefs that happiness is always desirable and that the goal should be the removal of unhappiness. However, Warr points out that failure, setbacks and challenges are an inevitable part of life.  It requires effort to reach goals and many projects may involve failure, boredom, discouragement or pain.  He suggests that we must learn more about the multifaceted nature of unhappiness ?What are the causal relationships between a person?s happiness and his or her unhappiness??

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