Open Office: Managers Control Happiness!

New, world-leading research from Identity Realization demonstrates that whether working from home or the changing, Covid-19 office; the key to good performance – and the key to success for every business – is ‘happiness’ powered by employee autonomy.

Running a survey and an experiment titled, “Covid-19: The Value of a Creative Culture,” Identity Realization enquired about the population’s emotional and mental temperature, and its intellectual performance as people contemplated a return to workplace. The project explored the upsides of working from home and the elements of the old workplace that employees were missing, as well as the psychological effects of Covid-19 on feelings, performance and function.

During lockdown, a happy employee was seen to be autonomous, and connected to both friends and colleagues. Pandemic notwithstanding, these psychological engines delivered a strong sense of wellness. This in turn, meant better engagement across the organization, less stress, higher feelings of creativity and sustained performance. Unhappy workers, meanwhile, suffered across all fronts including their noticeably inferior intellectual performance.

“Our research found that organizations should allow conversations, stop monitoring and allow autonomy; all of which results in a happy and engaged employee,” said Dr. Craig Knight, Founder of Identity Realization who is a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, and Registered Occupational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council, as well as an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Exeter. “The results of the research were dramatic and found that happiness is engendered by a combination of active social and business connections, and of being allowed to manage the work flow as the employee saw fit.”

In a connected experiment exploring colour, respondents working on a quiz with a red background performed significantly worse than colleagues doing the same quiz on a white or blue background.

“Autonomous, connected workers felt more psychologically comfortable when doing their jobs with reduced stress, better engagement at all levels of the organization, higher feelings of creativity and sustained levels of performance,” adds Dr. Knight. “Unhappy workers, meanwhile, suffered across all fronts including their intellectual performance which was significantly worse than their happier peers.”

“Nobody needs a pool table or ‘happy hour’ at the office,” says Dr. Knight. “The research indicates that what they do need is trust from their employer, meaningful contact with others and freedom of choice.”

Survey Details

The survey was issued to people who were working at home as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown imposed in March 2020 on the Work Mind platform. Survey responses were collected from June 24th to July 4th 2020 when lockdown restrictions were beginning to lift which allowed employees to be assessed about lockdown and ahead to the new, uncertain world unfolding before them.

The survey queried 124 people from the United Kingdom, North America and Australia with a median age of 41.6 years old.

This research conducted by Dr. Craig Knight, Identity Realization, was commissioned by Catherine Thomas of Art Acumen in consultation with Zefa Mongan of The Future Collective and supported by Obo Life, workplace advisors. Dr. Knight has been investigating how to improve the lives of people at work since 2003. His work has been published globally and he has appeared in print and on television around the globe.

Performance Data

The data was split in terms of happiness. The happiness scale is the average of all positively scored answers across the entire survey. In the “Covid-19: The Value of a Creative Culture” survey, 24% of people were unhappy, scoring under 50/100 on the scale; 48% were OK (50-70/100) and the remaining 28% classified as happy.

“The key variables that management and organizations can control or encourage are autonomy and strength of networks with friends and colleagues,” says Dr. Knight. “Compared to their happy counterparts, unhappy people felt that their networks were 67% weaker. Their levels of autonomy were 70% reduced. These data are directly linked with a sense of wellness (or psychological comfort) that is 62% lower for unhappy people.”

In turn wellness is associated with stress where happy employees have 30% lower levels of stress, claim to be 66% more altruistic (which means going beyond the bounds of their contract for no extra pay, and helping others even at personal risk) and an extraordinary 177% more creative.

Meanwhile, unhappy people have largely disengaged from their organizations, their peers and even their country with levels down by 52%, 57% and 70% respectively compared to happier peers. Perhaps most significantly, happy staff performed at a level that was 38% better than their unhappy peers. The implications for an organization’s bottom line are stark.

“There was no significant difference across our variables at all in terms of age, gender, or position on the organizational hierarchy,” adds Dr. Knight. “For example, the idea that Millennials would be more miserable than Boomers was just not supported.”

About Identity Realization Limited:

Based in Scotland, Identity Realization Limited (IDR), was founded by Dr. Craig Knight and established at the University of Exeter in 2003 to explore and develop business design, change management and leadership. IDR’s evidence-based work develops an identity centered, psychological approach to improving organizational effectiveness. IDR’s focus is on evidence-based leadership, management and employee retention.


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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