Bringing rigour to the study of happiness in business

Bringing rigour to the study of happiness in business

Happiness is hot in leadership circles, and the academics are hot on the heels of the trend; studying, measuring and critiquing the role of happiness in business success.

Harvard Business Review featured a cover story on “The Value of Happiness” in January, while in April, a proponent of “Conscious Capitalism”, MIT Professor, Raj Sisodia, spoke to a packed breakfast on the subject of capitalism’s “higher purpose”.

However, there is little evidence to support a correlation between wellbeing to productivity, Lindsay Oades, the director of the Australian Institute of Business Wellbeing, told LeadingCompany today.

The Institute, which Oades started a year ago, is part of the University of Wollongong’s Sydney Business School, and has 24 doctoral students studying all aspects of the hot trend of applying psychology within workplaces.

“There are a lot of people talking about business wellbeing, and what you find is there are two camps,” Oades says. “The psychologists are talking about the wellbeing of individuals, and the human resources folk and accountants are talking about absenteeism rates and the financial performance of organisations and economies. The institute talks about all of those things, and in particular looks at the relationship between them.”

In August this year, the Institute will start a course on the subject of business wellbeing, a graduate certificate, in which students will cover four areas:

“Positive psychology looks at issues of employee strengths and wellbeing and measure of that, as well as what leads to optimism,” Oades says. Students will also assess and measure the financial impact of positive organisations on the bottom line, he says.

“There is a lot of research on ‘virtuous organisations’ and the companies that cope well with lay-offs,” he says. Speaking at the institute’s recent conference on the issues was a prominent researcher in virtuous organisations, Kim Cameron, a professor of higher education at the Centre for Positive Organizational Scholarship in Michigan.

Oades, who has both psychology and business degrees, says he has received about 30 inquiries for the new course, which costs just over $10,000, from business people, psychologists and coaches.

Optus is a client of the institute, which conducts contract research. Oades expects more collaborative research projects to emerge in big businesses as students of the course conduct business wellbeing projects during their studies.

A paper published from the institute’s doctoral students is on the subject of “Hetrosexism”, a term coined to describe the shift away from open discrimination against gay and lesbian staff.

“The paper is a review of the concept that modern workplaces are not so much homophobic, that is not accurate, but they have a world view that centres around heterosexual relationships, and precludes people who aren’t in those relationship. How does that affect the workplace?”

The course, which is part-time, is taught in intensive bursts. It consists of five two day workshops per unit (20 for the whole course) held on Fridays and Saturdays, starts in August this year and finishes in November 2013.

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