Are you happy ? Your boss asked.

Garry Ridge, who heads the chemical company WD -40, has a leadership style guided by two models – Aristotle and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.

Posted at 11:00 am

Emma Goldberg
The New York Times

“Job satisfaction puts perfection in work,” Ridge said first, quoting the Greek philosopher.

He then picked up a recent internal memo from BlackRock. “Companies that have developed strong relationships with their employees have experienced lower turnover levels and higher profits throughout the pandemic,” Ridge read aloud.

He echoed this reading with his own comment: “Well, duh! »

The WD-40, which comes in the form of a bright blue and yellow canister familiar to many homes with vibrating doors, is a cleaner with a secret formula to loosen a rusty bolt, erase a pencil marks on a wall, to remove bug stains from a car or rust from bicycle chains. Mr. would like to remind. Ridge to more than 600 employees in his 17 offices the usefulness of their work.


PHOTO OF ARIANA DREHSLER, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Garry Ridge (right), WD-40 executive, and Jeff Lindeman, who works in corporate human resources

But he also thinks some are driven by the company’s unusual culture. The WD-40 is nothing superior, just coaches. Workers can receive “Mother Teresa” awards for sharing their “time, talent and wealth” with the community. They can remind co -workers at meetings to create “positive and lasting memories” together.

Long before the pandemic, many were skeptical of companies presenting themselves as having a mission to make workers happy. There are tech companies whose college campus-style offices have ball pits and slides. There are offices with lunch buffets and frozen rosé. An increasing number of employers measure the happiness of their staff using surveys, and often hire consultants to create a place of recreation.

For some, the pursuit of happiness in the workplace – and its price tag, such as an $ 18,000 program for seniors on how to lead happy teams – may seem like corporate alchemy trying to make productive feelings. It’s like an incentive to smile and set aside requests that don’t suit employers, such as long -distance work or higher salaries.

Those criticisms took on a new dimension as workers and employers clashed over plans to return to work, in a labor market that economists continue to describe as tight. Some workers say they prefer flexibility or inflation-adjusted increases than corporate carrots like the Lizzo concert for Google employees and beer tasting at Microsoft.

It’s “I’m not going to help you stabilize your schedule in advance in a way that will help you, but here’s a discount code,” says Jessica Martinez, 46, a program manager at a foundation. organization that has long owned “Wine Wednesdays” and now offers back-to-work freebies such as bottled water.

“People try to bring everything back to‘ normal ’, but the reality is that normal is horrible for some people,” he added. “Why not give people what they really want? »

In some workplaces, “happiness” can mean allowing employees to choose their own supervisors. This could mean removing performance reviews. It also usually means measuring happiness levels, although not everyone agrees on what happiness means. See the Dalai Lama, Dale Carnegie and Barbara Ehrenreich to get started.

Justified

In recent years, economists and behavioral psychologists have shown employers that their adjustment to positivity is economically justified. A study published in Journal of Labor Economics found that people given chocolate to eat and comedies to watch – common creators of happiness – were 12% more productive than a group left to their own devices. Another study published in Journal of Financial Economics showed that companies on the 100 Best Workplaces list have higher shareholder returns than their peers.

“There’s evidence that we’re wrong about the cause of the happiness arrow,” said Laurie Santos, a cognitive scientist who teaches Yale’s famous course on happiness. “You think, ‘I feel productive at work, things are going well at work, so I’m happy.’ But the evidence seems to suggest that the other arrow also exists, that happiness can really affect your job performance. »

The notion that businesses should care about happiness has emerged with the rise of non-manual jobs, says Alex Edmans, professor of finance at London Business School. As it became more difficult to measure job performance – it was now the quality and quantity of ideas, not the number of pins made or screw caps on toothpaste tubes – the superiors decided they needed to make sure they were motivated their employees. Compensation is important, but so do people at work.

But many see danger for workers who believe their employers are cultivating an emotional relationship with them, where in reality the relationship is about money.

“Your boss doesn’t have to make you happy,” says Sarah Jaffe, author of Work won’t Love You Back. “No matter how much they say they focus on happiness, they focus on income.»

“Someone pays to bring this exciting new culture of happiness to work,” Sarah Jaffe added. I want to know how much my boss spends. »

The flexibility of working from home has made it more comfortable for some workers to tell employers what really makes them happy – the freedom to spend time with family, not the free dinner at the office.

“Having cereal in the break room doesn’t get your kids out of trouble,” says Anna King, 60, who works at an energy utility company in Portland, Oregon. “The real concerns are: do your employees feel that they are part of the team, not because they play ping-pong together, but because they achieve real goals and work decently?»

While millions of workers are making bold requests to their employers, including for permanent flexibility, some say the focus on happiness is a distraction. “Mother Teresa” awards, after all, do not improve working conditions – and may in fact encourage workers to devote more time to their corporate community at the expense of their personal lives.

“I think these things like meditation or anything employers can do to improve well-being are bad initiatives,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. . “But they are not a substitute for decent wages, decent benefits, healthy hours.»

This article was originally published on The New York Times.

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