Definition of Happiness at Work: Analytical Essay

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In the debate surrounding the psychological state of employees at the workplace, there is an argument suggesting that the aspects of work environment are to be assumed as causes of happiness or unhappiness and stress in organizations. There is a great deal of literature showing that salaries, superiors, motivation and other features of the workplace have been found to be influencing employee satisfaction and productivity. Recent studies, however, have reconceptualized the Human Recourses function; from basic need satisfaction to well-being, job satisfaction and even happiness at work. In fact, happiness at work is particularly relevant to our existence, just as for the workplace as it brings a range of positive benefits for individuals as well as organizations.

Indeed, moods and emotions of employees have attracted the lion’s share of research attention. In fact, studying emotions while working is no longer an issue for HR seniors, but psychologists and social scientists are much more concerned as their HR managers counterparts. Such emotions are crucial for human behavior, as it is described by Pekrun et al. (2002) they “help to envision goals and challenges, open the mind to thoughts and problem- solving, protect health by fostering resiliency, create attachments to significant others, lay the groundwork for individual self-regulation, and guide the behavior of groups, social systems, and nations’’ (p. 149). From this perspective, Fredrickson (2001) argued that positive emotions act as tags of optimal well-being which is, in fact, the role of positive psychology as to allow individuals and societies to flourish. Also, its implications for the workplace have not gone unnoticed; well-being, job satisfaction, engagement, and namely happiness at work are essentially its production (Luthans and Youssef 2007).

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The pursuit of happiness is no longer just an occidental obsession, “but instead it is becoming ever more global as people seek to fulfill the promises of capitalism and political freedom” (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005). It seems that laypeople move heaven and earth toward ever greater personal well-being. John Locke noticed that the eagerness of men to reach happiness has urged them to make various and contrary choices (John Locke 2017). In effect, happiness is beneficial to both individuals and society to the extent that happier persons are more resilient to illness, survive longer, are more productive, perform well in their work, and are socially successful (Böckerman et al. 2017).

Happiness at work is associated with positive organizational outcomes such as an increased output, high commitment, high involvement, high performance and various performance-related concepts (Allen and McCarthy 2016; Brinck et al. 2019). Apart from the organizational outcomes, happiness at work involves also factors related to the workforce. From this, the positive affective state of employees is related to objective health outcomes (Howell et al. 2007), success in multiple life domains (e.g. marriage, friendship, income, and positive moods) (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005), and work performance which postulates happier employees are more productive, more resilient to occupational burnout, and build positive relationships with teammates (Allen and McCarthy 2016). Thus, positive emotion within the workplace yields positive outcomes for the organization as well as the employee which makes it a field of interest for many researchers.

The focus on optimizing human potential, particularly, the potential for happiness, was welcomed by nearly all researchers. However, cultivating positive traits in the workplace necessitates higher-than-average performance: working on personality traits, enhancing core self-evaluations, fostering the person-organization fit – which can be boosted by Job Characteristics Theory (JCT) and motivating job redesign by employees –, and supporting high-performance work practices lead inevitably to happiness at work (Tinsley 2000; Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2001; Luthans and Youssef 2007; Oerlemans and Bakker 2018; Brinck et al. 2019). Thus, work environ¬ment and personality traits issues that give rise to dissat¬isfaction need to be removed or changed and those that contribute to satisfaction should be imple¬mented or augmented. In this study, individual, work environment factors, and the relation between them that may be related to employees’ happiness are explored.

Despite the growing number of studies of happiness-related concepts in the occupational environment, many issues remain untackled. Research related to organizational behavior has extensively scrutinized some personal, environmental, or the interaction between the two (personality traits, environmental factors, and person-environment fit) and some behavioral constructs (well-being, job satisfaction, and engagement). Exploring the antecedents of happiness in the workplace, in particular, has received little attention. This article aims at addressing happiness at work by placing particular stress on the antecedents of happiness.

First, we address the question of “how has happiness been defined” For this question, we discuss the positive psychology literature, and then move to defining happiness in general, and after that exploring happiness in the workplace. Second, we raise the question of “what are the antecedents of happiness at work? An overview of literature, for this issue, is being examined by emphasizing on personality traits (extraversion and locus of control), environmental factors (high involvement and environmental-climate), and person-environment fit (Theory of Work Adjustment and Needs—Supplies fit). Finally, studying positive-related concepts in the vocational setting entails, indeed, a range of positive outcomes like job satisfaction, engagement, motivation, job performance, and well-being, this article will shed more light on the employees’ happiness.

Developing an epistemological thoughts entails, for researchers in management sciences, a critical thinking. These reflections allow, for researchers, not only to conduct their studies in a consistent and pertinent way, but also to set up validity and legitimacy for their researches. Thus, this research is carried out within the epistemological posture of positivism which considers reason as the best way to produce knowledge about reality; events can be noticed empirically and described with logical analysis (Descartes 1998). This study is premised on the reasoning approach of hypothetico-deductive model which involves formulating hypotheses that can be then by verified or disproved by empirical evidence. This method treats theory as a deductive system

The aim of this article is to address the antecedents of happiness at work. First, we extend personality traits embedded in extraversion and locus of control and their relationship with well-being at work. Then, we explore the environmental factors and its positive relationship with job satisfaction by addressing two circumstantial factors: high involvement and organizational climate. Finally, we tackle the relationship between needs—supplies fit and job satisfaction.

I. Defining happiness

Since the down of history men have always sought to be happy and achieve a desirable life (Pelin Kesebir and Ed Diener 2008). Feeling happy is of paramount importance to every individual, and most people show at least their joy in a mildly manner. Consequently, happiness has attracted the attention of philosophers since the down of written history (McMahon 2006), but has only recently come to the fore in management research. In fact, the rise of positive psychology in the past decade has legitimized attention to happiness and other positive states as opposed to the previously dominant illness model which directed attention to depression, burnout, stress and similar negative experiences and outcomes (Cynthia D. Fisher 2010).

It is becoming clear that the majority of philosophers and social researchers agree that the contents of happiness could be divided into two main theoretical perspectives – hedonic views of happiness as pleasant feelings and favorable judgments vs eudaimonic views of happiness involving doing what is virtuous, morally right, true to one’s self, meaningful, and/or growth producing (Cynthia D. Fisher 2010). The hedonic approach is based on the notion of SWB suggesting that an individual experiences two correlated components: a cognitive component (judgments of life satisfaction), involves pleasure, enjoyment, comfort, and an affective balance (high positive affect and low negative affect) focusing on pleasure versus displeasure broadly construed to encompass all judgments about the good/bad of elements of life (Fisher, 2010; Ryan & Deci, 2001; Huta, 2015). Ryan and Deci (2001) argued that SWB consists of three major components: life satisfaction, the presence of positive mood, and the absence of negative mood, together often summarized as happiness.

In contrast to the hedonic view of happiness as comprising contentment and life satisfaction, eudaimonic happiness, self-realization, personal growth and other related terms suggest that a happy life involves focusing on the self and others (Fisher, 2010; Huta, 2015). “Eudaimonic themes tend to emphasize the functioning rather than affective elements” (Warr, 2016). Social scientists have raised the term of Psychological Well-Being (PWS) to define the eudaimonic psychological side of an individual.

The PWB depends on various settings; one must specify the construct’s desired scope. The broadest scope is in term of life in general without restriction to a particular setting; that is “context-free” well-being recorded in studies of life satisfaction, global happiness and similar constructs. A medium-range focus is directed at one segment of a life-space, such as one’s job, family, health, leisure, or oneself; that is “domain-specific” well-being. For example, job-related psychological well-being is a domain-specific form which reflects positive or negative evaluations of one’s work (Warr, 2012). Diener & Biswas-Diener (2008) have emphasized that PWB is a key aspect of happiness, “and is also central to the construct of mental health which also extends into affective-behavioral themes such as competence, aspiration, autonomy and integrated functioning” (e.g., Warr, 2007).

Generally, many researchers hypothesize two concepts which tend to represent the construction of happiness. Firstly, (SWB) that can be grouped into “three categories: (1) well-being has been defined by external criteria such as virtue and holiness, (2) this definition of SWB has come to be labeled life satisfaction and relies on the standards of the respondent to determine what is the good life”(Diener, 1984), (3) a third meaning of happiness or SWB “comes closest of the way the term is used in everyday discourse—as denoting a preponderance of positive affect over negative affect” (Bradburn, 1969). Secondly, PWS, which tend to define the eudaimonic functioning of individuals, focuses on components of thoughts as well as feelings (Warr, 2012). Warr (2012) argues that PWS measures constructs like thriving and meaningfulness. Those cognitive-affective syndromes, he emphasizes, “overlap in part with established notions such as job involvement and organizational commitment”(Warr, 2012).

II. Defining happiness at work

The rise of positive psychology recently has brought happiness at work into sharper focus. Positive psychology is “not just the study of disease, weakness, and damage; it is also the study of strength and virtue” (Seligman, 2002). Researchers in positive psychology hypothesize that the last foster positive experiences, positive institutions, and positive individual characteristics (Altmaier, 2019). The positive psychology paradigm emphasizes the enjoyment experience, satisfaction, and accomplishment in the individuals’ lives in order to build their personnel strength and to live and work in systems that promote happiness and engagement (Altmaier, 2019).

With positive psychology, psychologists namely social researchers have shed more light on the issue of happiness at work, yet the concept has not been extensively used in academic research on employees. This doesn’t mean an interest in the bright side of organizations has not been increased. On the contrary, the organizational life addresses substantial concepts such as engagement, well-being, job satisfaction, or positive affective experiences at work (Rodríguez-Muñoz & Sanz-Vergel, 2013). In fact, many findings have emphasized that job satisfaction appears to have considerable overlap with the term of happiness (Fisher, 2010).

Drawing from the foundation of positive psychology, the positive organizational behavior (POB) is an approach that tend to review positivity in the workplace as it relates to positive traits, positive behaviors and positive organizations (Luthans & Youssef, 2007). Luthans (2002) has defined POB as “the study and application of positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological capacities that can be measured, developed, and effectively managed for performance improvement in today’s workplace”. Generally, POB perspectives focus on employee positive psychological conditions which are associated with well-being in the work environment, work engagement as well as career satisfaction.

It is argued that the constructs of mental health and happiness are inextricably intertwined with each other. Warr (1987) hypothesized that the two concepts influence each other to a substantial degree; suggesting that the broad components of mental health – affective well-being, autonomy, aspiration, and competence – have either a positive or negative impact on our level of happiness. For instance, “Poor mental health almost always embodies negative feelings (low affective wellbeing)” (e.g. Warr, 2016), i.e. poor mental health could affect negatively happiness or affective experience in the workplace.

However, happiness-related constructs in organizations have been extensively addressed by researches, and most of them have classified happiness in the work context in the following groups (Salas-Vallina et al. 2018): job satisfaction, engagement, commitment, and well-being. From which, happiness at work is surely the combination of all the above concepts. Angela-Eliza and Ramona Valentina (2017) argued that happiness at work is “categorically the creation of an environment that allows employees to perform, an environment in which they feel valued and valued, feel comfortable, and determine their involvement”.

From this perspective, work satisfaction has always been considered as a measurement of happiness at work though the last is different from job satisfaction or in a way is a component of it. In fact, job satisfaction can be defined as a reflection of an individual’s values and preferences for a “happy” work environment, promotion opportunities, or affective experiences that may have an effect on the individual’s assessment of his/her work accomplishments (Joo & Lee, 2017).

Job satisfaction is about the degree of an individual’s satisfaction in the work environment, how pleased someone in his/her current job, so it is highly probable for someone to feel satisfied with his/her job but be very unpleasant or unhappy with some colleagues or may be the way the organization is managed (Johnson et al., 2018). Happiness at work, therefore, has a wide interpretation of the employees’ state of mind, it is actually the overall employees’ affective experiences within organizations.

Nevertheless, well-being is another happiness-related concept that can measures the employee’s state of happiness at work. Well-being is in fact related to job performance, physical health, life success, problem solving and whole range of factors that may touch the constructs of happiness. Some positive psychologists, indeed, make a distinction between the two terms – happiness vs well-being – while others consider them as synonyms. Caza and Wrzesniewski (2013) claimed that well-being is often used as synonym of happiness and wellness. With regard to well-being, researchers (e.g. Cropanzano and Wright, 1999; Lyubomirski, 2001; Seligman, 2002) have equated the term well-being with term happiness (Joo & Lee, 2017). Other social researchers define well-being as how people feel and function, how they evaluate their lives, and to which extent they feel satisfied with their lives’ quality.

Furthermore, well-being would imply, to some researchers, to experience positive psychological attachment to the workplace. Rodriguez-Munoz and Sanz-Vergel (2013) emphasize that work-related well-being is the situation where the employee is 1) satisfied with his/her work, 2) encounter happiness and enjoyment, and 3) experience sadness and displeasure. It is suggested that well-being is apparently associated to some happiness-related constructs such as job satisfaction and work engagement.

They also claim that job satisfaction and work engagement are positive indicators of well-being, while happiness at work indicates high degree of pleasure and a moderate degree of activation (Rodríguez-Muñoz & Sanz-Vergel, 2013). Therefore, well-being and happiness at the workplace seem strongly overlapped by conveying roughly the same meaning, albeit the concept of happiness tackles the issue of positive affective experience rather than well-being which may sometimes address infrequent negative emotions.

On the whole, as the field of positivity at the workplace has gained momentum in the past years, several positive-related concepts have attracted the lion’s share of research attention, including work engagement, career satisfaction, well-being, and positive emotions at work. While each of these constructs has some distinguishing features, there is considerable definitional, conceptual, and measurement overlap between them (Rodríguez-Muñoz & Sanz-Vergel, 2013). It’s with these concepts, the term happiness at work has gained relevance and begun to draw the attention of academics and practitioners.


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