Replace happiness with meaning
Over the last 10 years book after book have been published about the importance of corporate happiness. Their shared message is pretty clear: as long as you make sure employees are happy, the rest will take care of itself. Happy employees simply create more profit. Southwest Airlines is often highlighted as one of the companies living and breathing this philosophy with great success. The motto of the airline is: “If employees are happy, they’ll take real good care of the customers. When the customers are happy, they come back. And that makes the shareholders happy”
To be honest I don’t really buy that idea. It is far from my perception of what it takes to create substantial, lasting results. If you strive to create something that hasn’t been created before, to deliver something excellent that is far above the average, it takes hard work when no one is watching, a lot of delayed gratification, it will make you stressed at times and you might get too little sleep. If something extraordinary is to come out, then something extraordinary must go in – and I don’t think happiness is enough.
If a company’s main goal is to create happiness among their employees they will have a hard time justifying that the journey towards excellence is often not fun and does not at all guarantee happiness in the process. Therefore we need to stop talking about increasing productivity and creativity by making people happy and serving gourmet coffee in the lunch break. Instead, leaders and managers should talk about meaningand how to create a substance that is worth going the extra mile for – what McKinsey & Company has called the “meaning quotient”.
Happiness might be the byproduct of stretching yourself, pushing through obstacles and delivering something valuable and meaningful to others, but it should never overshadow the source of true high performance: meaning.