One day, when her daughter got sick and her manager refused to let her leave until she’d completed the month’s budgets, she stopped feeling as happy about her work environment .

If Caitlin’s manager was working smart, and understood that her happiness at work was likely to impact her commitment to her role, he might have given her the time to take her daughter to the doctor, and she would more than likely have come in early the next day and completed her budgets on time. She may also have organised a baby sitter to pick her daughter up that afternoon and worked until late, getting three days work done in a day. Being happy in your workplace breeds commitment.


But, because her manager didn’t think long term, he didn’t work smart and give her the time off, Caitlin went home at one minute to five. The next day, she came in at two minutes past nine and was slightly less effective because she was unhappy about how unreasonable her manager had been. Four days later, she found herself spending her free time searching career sites for a new position elsewhere.

Sustainable productivity in an organisation is about making sure people work smart and are happy. The two feed on each other in a virtuous cycle.

Working smart is about doing the right thing at the right time. People who want to do things do them better than they would have done had they not wanted to be doing them. Doing things we want to do usually takes less time. This leaves room for creative thinking, which leads to new ideas about how to do things better. Ideas about how to be smart about the goals we set for ourselves.

And isn’t it satisfying to complete what we set out to achieve well? This gives us a sense of fulfilment and inspires us to achieve even greater things. Being happy leads to being smart, and the cycle feeds itself.

Funny how some managers tend to think – in typical army style – that breaking teams down and building them up at a later stage is the best way to manage. Are we likely to create the virtuous cycle of happy people working smart if this management style is used? Issues can easily be rectified through constructive criticism and proper training, while poor self esteem can take years to build back up, and result in the person under performing until they attain enough self-worth to convince themselves they are good enough to over-achieve.

A training budget so that employees can take courses that will help them build up skills in the areas that they are lacking has an overall positive outcome. Firstly, people feel more happy and committed when their company cares about their knowledge base and wants them to better themselves. Secondly, feeling cared for fosters loyalty towards an organisation. Having happier, better skilled people brings us back to the virtuous cycle of sustainability. It is cheaper and more pleasant to keep and train good people than to constantly be on the look out for new, well-skilled and motivated employees.

Having happier, better skilled and hence more creative people leads to an evolving organisation. Industries and market structures change over time. If a company were to remain stagnant in that context, it would more than likely not be around for too many years because it would no longer be meeting the needs of the consumer.

The creativity required for people to think of ways to help an organisation evolve is more likely to exist in an environment where people are personally happy.

But, what is this elusive concept we all want, but are never sure if we’ve attained?

Happiness is all about acting in line with one’s own value system. If your aspirations are towards seeking the truth, maintaining integrity and honesty, then you are more likely to be happy operating within a context that essentially shares that same value system.

Being happy is also about achieving balance. This does not mean working a fifteen hour day, then rushing home to cook dinner, bath your children, have a five minute conversation with your husband before squeezing in five hours sleep and getting up to pack the lunch. Such a routine can do little to foster creativity. In fact all it is likely to foster is exhaustion, frustration and eventual burn out. A better balance might include a trip to the gym before work, a sit-down dinner with your family in the evening and the chance to bond with your partner after your children have gone to bed. The latter is undoubtedly more sustainable.

And, creating an environment where people are encouraged to lead a balanced life is likely to give others in the office something to aspire to. Quips like: “Half day huh?” when you leave the office at 6 in the evening are not beneficial. This leads to a culture of coercion, rather than commitment. You might start wondering if leaving at that time when everyone else is still typing away at their desks means you are working less hard or achieving less. In fact you might have been more comfortable, creative and therefore productive all afternoon and finished the work they will only get to tomorrow.

On a personal level, being happy, productive, creative and balanced means you’re less likely to dash home in a distracted fashion, frustrated by another day in an environment that doesn’t sit well with your values system.

You’ll be more likely to drive home safely, give your children a big hug and enlist their help in managing dinner while finding out about their day and telling them about yours. The transition from work to home will be less of a jolt and more of a smooth transition from one environment you are comfortable committing yourself to, to another. Don’t you think that could be sustainable? Don’t you think that sounds smart?


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