How Happy Is Your Shop?

We may not be able to measure with certainty the level of happiness in a workplace, but it is an undeniable factor in personal and corporate productivity.

Columns From: 2/21/2014 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

Sailors and seafarers of old often spoke of a “happy ship.” A happy ship, it seems, was marked by a competent and compassionate captain, sympathetic officers and a congenial crew. Life on a sailing vessel could be hard and dangerous, so it was indeed a good fortune to be on a ship that could be described as a happy one.

I’m sure that in our industry there is such a thing as a happy shop, too. Such a happy shop must have some of the same characteristics as a happy ship. Foremost would be an owner or general manager who knows that keeping the business afloat is paramount but who doesn’t make profit the only basis for decisions, especially those regarding the investment in people. Likewise, you’d find foremen and supervisors who are leaders, coaches, mentors and teachers, as well as expert, go-to-individuals who can solve problems. Working with a band of fellow shop mates who respect themselves and others is essential. A clean, safe and well-equipped production area is part of a happy shop, too. Following Lean principles also helps.

I’ll wager that many of the Top Shops we’ve identified in our annual survey of best practices would be classified as happy shops by their employees. I’ve seen numerous references to studies that seek to prove the obvious: Workplaces where employees report being happy and satisfied tend to be more productive and profitable than “less happy” workplaces.

The concept of measuring happiness is an interesting proposition. The topic is, in fact, quite timely. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of a country’s economic output. Despite the warnings of its original developers, GDP has been used as the main, and often the sole, indicator of national prosperity.

However, economic prosperity is not the only concern that matters to most people. We all know that producing, owning or even sharing a lot of goods is only part of what can make us feel happy or content. The danger that worried the inventors of the GDP was precisely this—that policymakers would base decisions on this metric without considering other social and personal values.

About 40 years ago, the small country of Bhutan grabbed headlines when it began assessing Gross National Happiness as an indicator of its citizens’ well-being. The government there set out to guide its attempts to modernize the country based on improvements in GNH as well as GNP. A mix of objective and subjective factors, the methodology  used to derive the GNH as a useful, reliable index became remarkably well-developed and logical.

If the results of an online search are an indication, quite a few thinkers, consultants and management psychologists are focused on measuring workplace happiness. After visiting websites and looking at their proposals for about an hour, I’ve come to a simple conclusion. We should ask this question and then act on the answer: What can I do today to make my workplace a little happier for myself and my coworkers?

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