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Fed up with your job? Move somewhere flatter TEXT & PHOTO: STEVE FLINDERS
This year’s UN-sponsored World Happiness Report lists all the usual suspects in its top ten countries – the five Nordics plus Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and the Netherlands. For the first time the editors took inequality into consideration since there is now a wellargued case (in The Spirit Level et al) for linking happiness with greater equality. And it is striking that the World Governance Index lists almost exactly the same countries in its own top ten: Austria comes in ninth this time and Switzerland 11th. Good governance and happiness go together. This made me wonder whether there is a correlation between general happiness and happiness at work. There is plenty of research evidence to tell us what makes people happy in their jobs. Employees thrive when they have frequent opportunities to satisfy three basic human needs posited by self-determination theory: competence, relatedness and autonomy.
Happy workers perform tasks that have significance for them. They perform a variety of tasks. They exercise their skills. They receive feedback and recognition. They enjoy autonomy in what they do, and in how and when they do it. Their employers provide a good physical environment in which they work and the resources they need to do the job properly. They enjoy the company of the colleagues they work with. I could not find an International Happiness at Work index so I turned to Dutch interculturalist Geert Hofstede who claims to be able to measure hierarchy and perceptions of inequality – what he calls power distance – transnationally. If hierarchy is broadly the opposite of autonomy, then he provides an indicator of at least one important aspect of happiness in the workplace. All of our ten happiest countries have low scores on this scale. My experience is that people working in flatter organisations, departments and teams enjoy more of a voice and feel more empowered
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, now based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally: email@example.com.
than those who do not. My prejudice is that they are happier and more productive too. And the happiest country this year? Denmark: a flat country both geographically and organisationally. Our roles as cultural change agents in organisations may be limited, but we will be doing ourselves, our colleagues and our countries a favour if we all do our bit to make things a bit flatter and a bit more equal.
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