From well-being to “well performing”: happiness factor to the forefront | Sunday Observer

From well-being to “well performing”: happiness factor to the forefront

12 March, 2023

Happy people become more productive. This has been repeatedly reinforced by research. A recently published study involving a million employees highlighted the same reality. Do we give adequate attention to employee satisfaction? How is it relevant to the post-Covid workplace? Today’s column will shed light on this happiness factor, in the context of Sri Lankan organisations. 


A large-scale study by Paul B. Lester, Ed Diener, and Martin Seligman involving one million military personnel in the USA  found that well-being predicts outstanding job performance. They advocate that “If leaders want to improve employee happiness, they must model that which is taught so that it becomes integral to the organisation’s lexicon and culture. We learn best by watching others, so let your employees learn to be happy by watching you”.

As they further observe, “since the advent of positive psychology in 2000, there has been a tremendous amount of research in the field, with well-being mentioned in over 170,000 academic articles with findings on happiness leading to higher work performance”. 

It also reminds me of a brief video clip on YouTube featuring Sugathapala as the happiest person in the world “Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels,” said Bertolt Brecht.

We have one solid Sri Lankan example in this respect. He is W.V. Sugathapala from Damameellawatta, who is a security guard of a popular confectionery shop in Payagala. While struggling to survive with a family of five, he enjoys every bit of his job. At the age of sixty years, If you doubt me, log into YouTube and he will show you how and why. 

“I always like to smile. I want to make my customers happy. Then I am also happy. My body becomes healthier”. These are the utterances of Sugathapala, who had gone through a transition from a desperate job seeker, having fired from a well-established firm for no valid reason to a contended, committed, and caring employee.  

Happiness in the management context 

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”, so said Mahatma Gandhi. It is a state of well-being and satisfaction. The key word that associates workplace happiness is employee satisfaction.

Employee satisfaction is the terminology used to describe whether employees are happy and content and fulfilling their desires and needs at work. Many measures purport that employee satisfaction is a factor in employee motivation, employee goal achievement, and positive employee morale in the workplace. 

During the 1930s a series of management studies were conducted at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois. Researchers wanted to learn the effect of working conditions on worker productivity, and the executives of the company saw an opportunity to boost productivity without increasing costs. What they really found was the increase of attention and care resulted in a boost of productivity. 

Employee happiness has always been measured as job satisfaction. If you’re happy, you’ll like your job. Wright pointed out that job satisfaction is arrived at after an evaluation of job activities. A happy person could poorly evaluate a job with difficult working conditions and yet still be a happy person.

An unhappy person could favourably evaluate a job with good working conditions yet still be an unhappy person. The connection to productivity was being lost. Wright suspected that this simple mistake had confounded all these earlier studies, so he decided to find out.

For decades organisational psychologists have searched for what exactly makes work most enjoyable. There’s still no magic formula for job satisfaction, since people have their own preferences for what they need and want from a job environment. Some would rather get work done and leave, while others seek a greater sense of community. 

Happiness studies 

The “World Happiness Report 2021” noted that within the workplace happiness before the pandemic was largely due to employees’ sense of belonging within an organisation and among coworkers, the flexibility afforded to workers, inclusivity, and a sense of purpose to their work (in descending order of importance).

As noted by Paul Ed and Martin, things changed dramatically during the pandemic: Having a supportive manager became the largest predictor of happiness — nearly twice as important as the next ranked workplace happiness factor, purpose. 

Optimism increases life satisfaction and creates positive business outcomes. Strong human relationships have a direct impact on the quality and length of life, and developing strengths is more powerful than trying to fix weaknesses. These are being applied in the military, health care, education, and the highest reaches of several governments. Happiness studies, broadly defined, even won psychologist Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize in economics.

In business, while no one has shown a direct correlation between happiness and stock price, “There is a lot of compelling evidence — across industries, continents, sectors, that positive practices pay off,” said Kim Cameron, a positive organisational scholar at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “Companies make more money, they are more productive, they produce higher quality, higher customer satisfaction and higher employee engagement” when they focus on positive practices.

Happiness how? 

How can an organisation make employees happy? This might be the critical question for all concerned managers. Udai Pareek came up with an interesting and insightful approach with regard to this. He called it OCTAPACE, which is an acronym for openness, collaboration, trust, authenticity, proaction, autonomy, confrontation, and experimentation. Let’s look into them in detail, in the Sri Lankan context.


Employees feel free to express their ideas when the climate has openness as a key feature. There is hardly any risk of employees being punished for telling the truth or for constructively being critical. It is in fact a mature state of affairs with sound communication practices across the organisation. 

Sri Lankan organisations in general have a long way to go with this respect. What we mostly have resembles a part of a nursery rhyme, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full”. Ability to say no to seniors even when it is the reality is sadly lacking in some cases. 


The point here is to confront the issues without hiding them under the carpet.  It is a case of tackling a bull by the horn. Highlighting the issues will pave way for solutions without stagnation. 

We have a cultural disadvantage here.  Confronting issues may be perceived as asking for troubles. Delaying and delaying as much as possible has become the practice in resolving issues.  This escape route is not healthy for any progressive organisation. Perhaps, why people are not doing it enough could be deficits in communication, training, and performance management. 


How much the employees trust one another is the focus here, with specific reference to leader behaviour. Some seniors become micro-managers in checking each and every step of their subordinate movements. It indicates a low level of trust. In contrast, there can be a climate where people are encouraged to take their own initiatives to achieve agreed targets. 

We see both the above scenarios in Sri Lankan organisations. It again reflects the link between deep foundations of culture and what can be seen. A climate of trust has been the proven way forward. 


It is the value underlying trust. It is the willingness of a person to acknowledge the feelings he or she has, and accept himself and herself as well as others who relate to him and her as persons. The call is to be genuine, without posing as what one is not. When employees demonstrate authenticity, relationship building becomes much easier. 

The Sri Lankan scenario is often a mixed one with this regard. A lot depends on the leadership style. There are model organisations where authenticity is fostered, with fullest support from the top.


This is the call to be proactive rather than reactive. Employees should be action–oriented, in making things happen. It is a case of anticipating issues and exploiting opportunities appropriately. 

Sri Lankan organisations can improve a lot in this respect. We are more reactive than proactive. Waiting till the last moment to make key decisions has become a national habit. Prolonged union issues were seen in the past when proactive steps were not taken by the respective managers.


It is the willingness to use power without fear, and helping others to do the same. Employees should have some freedom to act independently within the boundaries imposed by their role. The essence is empowering the employees.

We have a long way to go in the local context. The consolation is that HRM is increasingly taken more seriously by the corporate leaders, and degree of empowerment is also on the rise.  


Collaboration involves working together and using one another’s strength for a common cause. Individuals, instead of solving their problems by themselves, should share their concerns with one another and prepare strategies, work out plans of action, and implement them together. It essentially refers to teaming together. 

We see a growing emphasis on teamwork and collaboration in Sri Lankan organisations. Especially in the private sector, the team concept is highly emphasised. However, in some cases working as a team is just confined to wearing a T-shirt with team details (Team X, Team Y), which obviously limits collaboration. 


Experimenting as a value emphasises the importance given to innovation. It involves risk taking and trying out new ways of dealing with problems in the organisation. Unless there is a tolerance of failures, experimentation will not foster. The encouragement should come from the organisation to encourage people to experiment within a reasonably accepted risk level.

We can do more in this regard in Sri Lankan organisations. Whether we are more creativity oriented or compliance oriented is the fundamental question. The challenge is to strike a balance between experimentation and expected results.

Way forward

Happiness is something the leaders and managers cannot simply ignore. Happy employees have been producing higher results, globally, regionally, and locally. What is required is to streamline it in order to make it the way of life.

As Richard Branson of Virgin Group said, “My employees should have fun and enjoy themselves, in a family-like atmosphere”. Creating such a climate where contended communities commit for concrete results is the need of the hour. At least we can light a candle without cursing the darkness.