Sad Workers May Make Better Workers

June 15, 2001
The popular belief in the area of\r\norganizational psychology has been that\r\nhappy workers are better workers, however, new research questions that belief.

In the past few decades, the popular belief in the area of organizational behavior and organizational psychology has been that happy workers are better workers.

However, new research at the University of Alberta shows that sad workers are more productive.

Psychologist Dr. Robert Sinclair and his former Ph.D. student Carrie Lavis recently conducted a series of four studies addressing the effects of experimentally induced happiness versus sadness on work productivity by asking the participants to build circuit boards.

In the first study, sad people committed significantly fewer errors than did happy people (approximately half the number of errors) but there was no difference in the number of boards completed. Thus, sad people were more productive.

In similar studies Sinclair and Lavis found the same results along with evidence that happy people might not devote as much energy to the task in order to maintain their happy moods -- they perceived that task as something that might detract from their present feelings.

Conversely, sad people appeared to be devoting energy to the task in order to distract themselves from their sad feelings.

"It is important to know that the moods were unrelated to the task," said Sinclair. "Unhappiness is coming from something else."

These findings are not surprising, said Sinclair, since there has been a growing body of literature in the area of social psychology demonstrating that sad moods lead to more contemplation and, often, more thoughtful or accurate judgments.

In Sinclair''s subsequent studies, when people believed that the task would make them feel good, they devoted more energy to the job.

The bottom line, said Sinclair, is that it is important for organizations to take into account the emotions of their employees.

It seems it could be beneficial to creating situations that lead people to believe that performing their jobs will cause them to feel good: this could cause increases in motivation and superior performance.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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