The Secret to Buying Employee Happiness

Money can't buy happiness, or so we've been told. Michael Norton calls the bluff in this TED Talk saying if you believe this, you're spending wrong. If you don't have time right now to watch this video, I'll give you the secret to buying happiness: Be Prosocial. Spend the money on someone else. It doesn't even need to be something large; it can be trivial gifts such as a cup of coffee. Michael's research found the amount spent doesn't matter as much as the act itself.

As I was watching Michael explain how money actually can buy happiness, I was thinking about how organizations can apply this theory to help increase employee satisfaction, morale and engagement. I was starting to weave a plan about how I could convince organizations this would be beneficial for them and lead to actual, measurable ROI. But Michael did that work for us already. They replicated the college experiment again on a sales team. They found the same held true. In fact, the Prosocial teams actually ended up selling more than the teams who were given a personal incentive. The way Michael's calculations work out, an organization lost money if they were giving personal incentives in an effort to buy employee happiness. But the prosocial teams bonded, became happier and more productive, and ultimately delivered value for the organization:

ROI of being Prosocial with Employees

If you're struggling with employee motivation and satisfaction, perhaps it would be a good time to try out your own experiment. Try giving employees money to spend at Donorschoose.org. Leverage an online survey tool to measure employee satisfaction and happiness before and after the experiement, and then continue to measure it for a short period of time. By no means do I think this will solve bigger cultural issues within your organization, but it may give your team the boost it needs to get out of a slump. If the expirement is successful not only could it make your teams more productive, help them bond, and ultimately mean good things for your organization, you also have the chance to leverage your experiment for PR. We already know from past posts (Start Something that Matters, the story of TOMS a Day Without Shoes) that doing something that matters and being philanthropic helps create a loyal customer base. This is a chance to impact employee morale, get the word out to prospective customers, and show off what type of organization you are to job searchers. If the experiment works it's a win all around, if it doesn't, you still get the Goodwill Win.

Have you worked at an organization where they did something like this? Are you considering it for your team? In the spirit of TED, share your stories below!

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