Do Happy Employees Make Successful Companies?

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NOTE: This article first appeared on LinkedIn in June 2014.

There has been so much focus on Employee Happiness recently. There is even a National Workplace Happiness Survey Information Session coming up soon right here in Singapore to talk about – you guessed it – Workplace Happiness!

Not too long ago, I came across a blog on Twitter written by a senior consultant from a huge international HR consulting firm saying that Happy Employee = Successful Company.

It certainly sounds great at first glance and I’m certain that most people would agree with it.

However I respectfully disagree.

You see, it all depends on how you define “Happy Employee” and how you define “Successful Company”.

If you simply took this at face-value, you would likely come to the conclusion that as long as you keep your employees happy, they will do good work for you and positively contribute to the success and growth of your organization.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Happy Employees ≠ Successful Companies

I have worked in companies and organizations with very happy employees, but the performance of most employees were at best mediocre. Those companies were successful but they weren’t wildly successful. So what was holding these “happy” employees from performing at their best and taking their organization to new heights?

I have also come across companies that place too much emphasis on Employee Satisfaction (aka Employee Happiness) and they pull out all stops to ensure they get the highest scores on their once-yearly employee satisfaction survey results. And some of the things they do to desperately keep their employees satisfied are to organize dinners, social get-togethers and Karaoke sessions.

Unfortunately, most people – managers and organizations alike – have grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted the true meaning of “happy employee”.

The Case of a Happy Employee and a Very Unhappy Manager

I was recently told of an incident about a head of a department who chided a manager for not giving an employee the option to “consider??? being deployed to a branch office on a temporary assignment.

As I was told, the company had just set up a new branch and needed to deploy existing employees from the head-office to the branch.

The manager was not able to hire new employees due to a headcount freeze, and therefore had no other options but to redeploy existing employees from the head-office to the branch to ensure operations at the branch would proceed as planned on opening day.

However the employee who was to be assigned to the new branch objected violently and protested against being assigned to the branch.

The head of the department got to know about it and chided the manager for not considering the feelings of the employee who protested. And so the head of department sat down with the employee to “listen??? to her complaints. The final decision was to give the employee one month to decide if she wanted to accept the assignment to the branch.

The decision by the head of department to allow the employee one whole month to think about the assignment led to huge backlash that almost derailed the opening of the branch. And in the end, someone else still had to be assigned to take the place of the employee who protested!

So was the employee happy? Absolutely!

But was it productive? The answer is obvious.

Why did the head of department decide to give the employee a full month to consider the assignment? Well, you guessed it – their recent employee satisfaction survey results were not good!

So in a desperate attempt to do better in their next employee satisfaction survey, the head of department decided to pander to the wants and demands of his employees.

Know the Difference between Happiness and Contentment

It should be obvious by now that keeping employees happy does not mean pandering to their wants and demands, because pandering to their wants and demands may make them happy but is not going to motivate your employees to do their best for your organization. In fact, it will do just the opposite and will do more harm than good.

It is vital that managers and organizations understand that there is a fundamental difference between a motivated and genuinely happy employee, and one who is simply contented.

Employees who are genuinely motivated will naturally be happy with their jobs. They see challenges as opportunities to do better and to improve. They are always looking to do more and achieve more. Motivated employees are naturally happy and that in turn translates into higher productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.

In contrast, an employee who is simply contented will not be motivated to do a better job, to improve or to achieve more. Contented employees are happy (no pun intended) with what they have, happy with what they are doing and will not seek out challenges or opportunities to do and contribute more.

The Bottom-Line

Happy employees create a successful company – only if the employees are genuinely motivated and happy. Contented employees (who are incidentally also happy) do not contribute to the success of any company. Contented employees breed mediocrity.

So if you want your organization or department or team to achieve peak performance, you will need genuinely motivated and happy people doing the jobs they love. And in order to motivate people to love their jobs and the company they work for, you will require a certain type of leadership.


About the Author


STEVEN LOCK is a Speaker, Trainer, Author and a Leadership Coach. Steven brings with him two decades of corporate experience.

Steven is passionate about helping organisations transform their teams into high performing teams. He does that by first helping organisations identify and hire the right people, and then training their leaders and managers on how to manage and lead their people to achieve peak performance consistently.

He is the developer of The CAAP® High Performance Model. This model focuses on Culture (cultural fit), Attitude, Aptitude and Personality dimensions of their employees and job candidates. It is a highly practical, effective and proven approach. Steven believes that for organizations to be truly successful and perform at their highest levels, they need to shift their mind-sets to having the RIGHT people on-board – and not necessarily the best or the brightest.

Steven is the Author of two books:

• “Hiring for Performance: The CAAP® Model to Hiring and Building High-Performance Teams.”
• “The Right Talent: The Agility-Focused Interviewing Approach™ to Hiring the Right Candidate Every Time.”

He is also the developer of The Leadership STYLE Report™ that is based on Dr. Daniel Goleman’s research on leadership styles.

Steven has been featured on MediaCorp’s live radio show The Breakfast Club on 938FM, and has contributed numerous articles to Singapore Business Review, ST Recruit, SHRI Human Capital and other publications. His comments on Team Collaboration was quoted in the Spring 2014 Edition of the Harvard Business Review OnPoint Magazine.

Steven holds a Master of Business (Information Technology) from Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia. He is a certified DISC & MBTI® (Step I & II) practitioner.

Recently Steven was invited as a guest speaker to share about his CAAP(R) High Performance Model with over 600 delegates at the Vietnam HR Summit 2016 in Ho Chi Minh City.


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August 4, 2015

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