Happy Performing Managers: The Impact of Affective Wellbeing and Intrinsic Job Satisfaction in the Workplace

Peter J. Jordan (Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 6 June 2008

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Keywords

Citation

Jordan, P.J. (2008), "Happy Performing Managers: The Impact of Affective Wellbeing and Intrinsic Job Satisfaction in the Workplace", Personnel Review, Vol. 37 No. 4, pp. 460-462. https://doi.org/10.1108/00483480810877615

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Before Cervantes first pitted Don Quixote against the windmill philosophers, researchers, teachers, and lay people have worked tirelessly to prove or disprove myths. Some myths are worthwhile dispelling. For instance, the work involved in proving the Earth was not flat extended our desire to explore (without the danger of falling off the side of the earth), and the dispelling of the myth that miasma (smells) carried disease has saved countless lives. Other myths are still cited despite the lack of scientific evidence supporting them. I still teach Maslow's hierarchy of need despite the lack of evidence for it and my students still argue that it makes sense – even after I explain to them that there is no evidence for this. Another myth that persists despite a lack of scientific evidence is that of the happy performing worker.

For as long as I have been working, first as an employee, then a practicing manager and now as an academic, there has been the popular myth that happy workers are productive workers. Indeed, in my consultancies and teaching I still ask the question “Are happy workers productive workers?” and overwhelmingly the response is “Yes they are”. It is the “happy productive worker” hypothesis that is the focus of this book. As the authors quite rightly note in their introduction to this book, decades of research have failed to establish a strong empirical evidence for this relationship. Hosie, Sevastos, and Cooper contend that this book provides such evidence by “evolving the ‘productive worker’ thesis into the ‘performing managers’ proposition” and using “statistical analytical techniques not available before”.

As a researcher who has now spent a decade looking at emotions in organizations (admittedly far less than the combined experience of the authors of this book), I still have problems with this assertion. The early practical training I received in business and later formal education in academia has drawn on Occam's razor “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” or in common language “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one”. In academe, Occam's razor has been used to emphasise parsimony in testing and analysis. The arguments developed in this book are far from simple or parsimonious.

The authors rightly note the enormous task they have undertaken and should be commended on writing a book that goes beyond “vox pop” psychology texts that tend to be persuading in the distance of a short to medium airplane trip. While these books can be enjoyable to read and can be motivating, they suffer when scrutiny is applied or one actually tries to put some of the recommendations into practice. The authors of this book have taken the opposite tack by producing a book in which the research evidence is clearly articulated (and original) and open to scrutiny. For this they should be commended.

The authors should also be commended for their review of the literature – it is comprehensive and balanced. They clearly describe the emotions literature and provide structure to what can be a confusing morass of information. The literature review in this area is both current and appropriate. Hosie, Sevastos, and Cooper also provide a good critical review of the literature in the area of managers' roles and managerial performance. Again, these chapters were extensive, well structured and up to date.

When the authors move to outline specific studies they used to test the happy performing managers thesis, however, the book becomes difficult to read and its intent somewhat confusing. These chapters are, as the authors have described them in their introduction, part statistical testing information, part empirical study, part theoretical argument, and part speculation. Trying to satisfy these broad aims is not an easy task as you are really writing for a broad number of audiences. I can only say that I found these chapters difficult to read.

Because of the complex analysis used in the book, the authors have included some basic explanations in the text of the purpose of statistical tests and the assumptions underlying these tests. Chapters in the book therefore jump from explanations of phenomenon such as kurtosis and skewness and multicollinearity to detailed statistical analysis including factor analysis, invariance analysis, and analysis of Multi Trait‐Multi Method Matrices and the Goodness of Fit of those matrices. While most of these analyses are impeccable, as an academic I am left wondering how this study would have fared as a peer reviewed journal submission. Given the study involves cross‐sectional data collecting involving self and peer data and a sample in the studies of over 200, it would have been an interesting journal submission.

On the question of whether this book substantiates the happy performing manager thesis, I remain to be convinced. Examining the method used for the study and the data presented I still have some doubts. For my money, Fisher's (2003) argument that high performance produces happiness (or to be more accurate that workers are more satisfied when they are performing well and less satisfied when they are performing poorly) is still a much more viable explanation of this relationship. I also note that Weiss and Cropanzano (1998), when proposing Affective Events Theory, noted that positive emotions could distract from work performance as well as contribute to it, depending on the work event. This theme has been carried through in Mayer and Salovey's (1997) work on emotional intelligence that suggests that there are appropriate emotional tones for completing tasks and that these tones may be both positive and negative. As the authors themselves note, in a somewhat circular argument in their conclusion that the book “explain(s) the process of upward and downward spirals of managerial effectiveness, whereby positive or negative affective well being and intrinsic job satisfaction lead to increased or reduced performance. These in turn either enhance positive or exacerbate negative affective well being and intrinsic job satisfaction” (p. 241).

In summary, reading this book reminded me of reading an overly long doctoral dissertation. To fully understand and critically evaluate the authors' arguments, one requires a substantial knowledge of psychology statistics. The authors' efforts to provide this knowledge for the layperson in the text distracts from their central message. The use of complex statistical methods (e.g. Factor Analysis and Multi Trait‐Multi Method analysis) in this book will discourage some, confound some, confuse some, convince some and result in blind trust for some who will jump over the statistics to read the discussion. This results in a confusing book without an obvious focus. It tries to be all things to all people and achieves this by presenting chapters that have a mixture of simple to complex methodological explanations, theory development, hypothesis testing and general discussion. All in all, a book that everyone will get something out of – the question is how much and whether you will be happy with what you got.

References

Fisher, C.D. (2003), “Why do lay people believe that satisfaction and performance are correlated? Possible sources of a commonsense theory”, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 24 No. 6, pp. 75377.

Mayer, J. and Salovey, P. (1997), “What is emotional intelligence?”, in Salovey, P. and Sluyter, D. (Eds), Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Educators, Basic Books, New York, NY, pp. 331.

Weiss, H. and Cropanzano, R. (1996), “Affective events theory: a theoretical discussion of the structure, causes and consequences of affective experiences at work”, in Staw, B.M. and Cummings, L.L. (Eds), Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 19, JAI Press, Greenwich, CT, pp. 174.

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