I just read a post that quoted Shawn Achor stating that happy workers produce more, and I wonder how many people (i.e., employers) are surprised by this.  I like to follow Shawn’s stuff.  He’s a Texas guy who ended up going to Harvard and has stayed on as professor after graduating.  His research focuses on “Happiness” – how fun is that!  He’s a good writer and speaker, and I heard him speak in Dallas a few months ago.

He quotes that optimistic sales people outperform their pessimistic counterparts by 37%.   The article lists examples of what some of the bigger companies are doing to try and keep their employees happy, including things like on-site child care, free meals, recreation breaks, and giving employees time to work on their areas of personal interest while at work.

While all of these amenities and options are nice, most small and medium sized companies cannot afford them.  But what all companies can afford is to do a better job in matching an employees gifts to the work they ask them to do.   That is where they can get some huge increases in productivity.

Think about the ROI for improving the job fit equation:

  • Research shows that top performers outperform average performers in office/professional roles on average by 32%, and outperform the poor performers in the same role by 64%.  For a job that pays $50,000 a year, the difference between getting an A-player vs. a C-player into the role is a performance gap of $32,000/yr.  ($50,000 X .64)
  • To be conservative, now let us assume that by creating a valid benchmark for this role that we can help to identify an A-player only 50% of the time.  ($32,000 X .50 = $16,000)
  • Now assume that it cost about $5,000 to build the benchmark

The ROI in this example would be: $16,000 / $5,000 = 320%

How many other investments can companies make that have a ROI over 300%?

In some ways we are talking about the same thing – employees who are a good fit for their role are happier employees – because what they do on their job is what comes naturally for them.   If just by being myself at work makes me more productive, why wouldn’t I be happy?

The really cool part is that when companies take BOTH approaches (improve the employee amenities / work environment AND build benchmarks for key roles) they can have a compounding effect on productivity.  How do I know?  One of our clients was  rated as One of the Top 20 Privately Held Companies to Work For in America before we ever started working with them and they already had in place almost all of the employee perks mentioned above.  Yet we were able to show them how effectively implementing benchmarks could improve their productivity even more.

So companies shouldn’t shy away from trying to create an environment that makes their employees happy, but should realize that happiness can also come from great job fit.