Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Employee happiness and business success are linked (economist.com)
690 points by benryon on July 30, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 221 comments

I use a book called "first break all the rules"

It is also based on gallup data. They determined that employee happiness was not correlated to company success. They did find that the following questions in order were highly correlated to company success.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

These questions are also rephrased versions of questions mentioned in most management books I've read that are focused on employee development. The more I dig into employee development and management the more I realize a lot of startups, claiming they're data-driven, just skip over all data related to actually managing people, managing work spaces, etc.

Bingo. I see this all the time with companies who claim to use some variant of "agile methadologies": heavy use of tracking and upward visibility, but a complete disregard for the parts that protect developer productivity and independence.

>I realize a lot of startups, claiming they're data-driven, just skip over all data related to actually managing people

Absolutely. We started Cally [0] to help people be more data-driven about leading & building teams. There is tons of research on what actually makes a team high performing, engaged, inclusive, but most managers are taking shots in the dark

[0] https://www.cally.ai/

What do you mean when you say employee happiness? Because this list is pretty much what I'd reckon constitutes employee happiness.

Happiness can come from many sources not on that list. For example, you could hire cheerleaders to entice your male team and make them happy, but that is unlikely to make them more productive. Sounds ridiculous, nobody would do that right? But a company in China did.


For you.

Some people just want to sit for 8 hours, go home, and watch football.

So you let them sit for 8 hours, go home and watch football. What's next? They're happy forever and don't bother you? No, it's likely something from the list.

The list seems likely to be important, but I note that no form of material compensation is listed, and even people who don't particularly care for material wealth will probably put food-and-shelter above most or all of that list (with a possible exception for point 8, with people and companies that have a particularly strong Cause).

Study after study provides evidence that compensation is the most important motivator up to some individual range/level, at which point its leverage quickly tapers off. Food & shelter would definitely be below the cut-off but a 5% increase could be huge for some and meaningless for others. The challenge is everyone's curve is going to be different.

This list jives with the internal motivators that appear to drive really great work above the survival level: safety, opportunity and recognition.


Why be abrasive for no reason? Is this the attention you where looking for?

you can have goals outside career advancement

sure, but don't blame the work in case of missed happiness, if you don't actively make something proactively

What does that mean, to you?

Why does that matter?

I would imagine happiness of employers: "How happy are with your jobs on a scale from 1 to 10"

Could be 8 because of hours and location.

I agree this is a pretty good list. However I feel like a lot if this should be a side effect of the general culture in the company.

I've seen several times people going to management seminars where they teach this kind of stuff and it can come of as extremely off-putting when just boxes like that try to be checked.

Faking personal interest or friendship is worse than showing no interest. People previously telling me to fuck off now addressing me by first name and giving praise with a smile (but still telling me to fuck off between the lines) I quit at least one job because of things like that.

I answered no to a lot of these... not exactly an eye-opener, as I'm looking for a new job. Still, I'm not super unhappy with my current role, but this does help put into perspective why I want a change.

The ones that stand out most to me are 6 and 11. My old manager definitely encouraged development and would talk about progress. Company's shuffled around a lot and now it just seems like everyone's kind of going through the motions, just trying not to screw up or get let go. No one's discussed advancement, opportunities, growth, etc. for a while now, and that coincided with my decision to leave.

You highlight an important point: your direct manager can really make or break a lot of these but they're ultimately beholden to the same macro environment as you. I try to shelter my direct reports but if we M&A, cancel major projects or change strategic direction my teams are not isolated from the impact which can be really hard on things like working towards specific career goals and directions.

My biggest self learning while becoming a manager is that the developer acid test of "smart, gets stuff done and not an a-hole" still applies, maybe more than before. I used to get personally invested in my work and now I care about each person.

A former employer got Gallup in, intending it as a self-congratulatory exercise for management. Imagine their surprise when Gallup reported we were in the bottom 6%...

Nevertheless at the time and for a few years after, that company dominated its sector.

Can confirm. Love my job, answered pretty much yes on all of these. Company's doing pretty damn well.

Where do you work? :)

Red Hat.

I wonder how other IBM employees would answer! I genuinely hope you guys manage to carve out a niche and survive. Good luck.

I worked at IBM and it was a no to most of those questions...

Thanks! I'm optimistic.

Same here.

it seems to me that most of those questions should influence positively employee happiness.

That's the point: those questions influence both employe happiness and company success. But employee happiness does not _directly_ influence company success.

But OP claimed that the two aren't even correlated.

Correlation just means that when goes up, the other tends go up (or down, as the case may be). It doesn't make any claim on whether there's a direct influence or not. Hence the common refrain: correlation is not causation.

I read it as "happiness is not correlated to success when you control for these questions".

Which I read as "happiness is not correlated to success when you control for most of the factors that influence happiness in the workplace"

I thought the claim was that happiness and company performance were not correlated, but good results on these questions and performance were.

I'd be surprised if any single factor directly and unambiguously influences success.

You could hire a bunch of jolly simpletons, have the happiest company in the world, and go bust before the year is out.

You could make it perfectly clear what is expected of everyone, give them all the kit they need, implement all their valuable suggestions then depress them by paying them minimum wage and discouraging fraternisation and have a similar outcome.

It does seem like it would correlate, but one might also think free food would contribute to it, too. These points help focus on precisely what kinds of things to perhaps focus on to contribute to happiness in certain ways.

I’ve read the book, and it’s a good one.

Those are all excellent questions. The last question is very important, since employees who feels like they're 'stuck' in their position will become downhearted and lose motivation.

The study this article is based on uses the same Gallup client database and the same questionnaire.

(Table A6: The Gallup Q12 Instrument)

Interestingly that sounds like almost exactly the same points the book The Progress Principle brings up (which is based on one of the largest qualitative diary based research projects on company success.)

Oh god. Two and a half out of twelve. Time to create that LinkedIn profile...

I've read the cliff-notes version of first break all the rules. (its floating around the web). It has the list - and also interesting discussion of talent and having employees in positions where their talents are used. IIRC - it also suggests never trying to change people - which I've taken to heart in both work and personal aspects of my life.

Answering yes to these questions indicates a happy employee... how did the book authors determine the opposite?

Employees who answer no to many of those questions can still be happy and employees who answer yes to all of them can still be unhappy. I'd wager that they are strongly correlated, but it is still important to separate them.

We use the anonymous employee feedback via "office vibe" to monitor various things like employee happiness, engagement, wellness, personal growth, relationship with peers and managers, etc. And questions like the above often pop up in the surveys.

Can only say good things about the tool.

Fitting title. I remember close to 10 years ago I proposed a lot of these ideas on my company as a low level manager. I was only asked "how old are you?" And told "your paycheck is us telling you you're doing a good job." Aha

13. In the last two years, has my salary increased more than my costs of living?

Oh jeeze. My employer obviously uses this book as well. We get these survey questions all the time and now I know where they came from.

"Can know all the math in the 'verse but take a boat in the air that you don't love?" ― Joss Whedon

These are really good set of questions to test "human" nature of the company

Sadly this book is not available on kindle.

13. Am I a capitalist?

*Bookmark this

I've seen these arguments repeatedly, yet I only see this mattering to those companies where employees have a relative level of power and choice (e.g. non-game industry programmers, etc). Elsewhere, the attitude appears to have remained: "use them as much as possible". Consider assistant managers at your local chain store. Pick a chain! Outside of a handful of companies that are well noted for their bucking of the trend, regardless of market, these employees will be used and abused, year after year. If my anecdotal experience is representative, the more they actually care about the job, the more they'll be abused. Managers get the same, and by the time you get to district or regional managers, they are mostly the people that survived the lower levels...where "survived" means "did the abusing" not "got burnt out and quit for greener pastures".

This is true even within tech companies, but for hourly workers. Hourly folks are treated like trash. I’m talking people who live in the bay, and work side by side with other professionals in SF.

In a position like that you almost have to take a “durrr, I dunno!” attitude to everything, because if you try to talk to salaried people about what you need to do your job, you are looked at like a dog who just started reciting poetry.

Every now and then a salaried person will try to engage, take you seriously, but once it bounces up the chain of command that an hourly person is acting like they have something to contribute, it will be quietly shut down.

Seems like the business model requires hourly people stay out of the “brain space” entirely. Otherwise you’d have to pay them a living wage.

Really despicable way to treat people IMO. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want people to be proactive about solving problems.

The again, I’ve seen similar attitudes from engineering managers towards their direct reports.

What kind of jobs to hourly people hold? I mean, if the company hires consultants then some of the Exalted Developers themselves will be hourly.

Exactly, I thought that in some areas in US was not that that uncommon to get north of 150/200 per hour? And that wouldn’t seem so despicable to me...

None of that is true at my company, in my experience. It is a large company, so I might not have the full picture, but my little corner of it is not like that at all.

Seems pretty common to me. I have worked in smaller companies where everyone was an integral part of the business, and that isn't most large companies I worked at since then. I think it is partly a cargo cult thing. Very successful business can afford to threat people as disposable, be elitist or inflexible. So they end up thinking that is part of what makes them successful, without realizing they are throwing away opportunities. Maybe there are some larger companies that does things differently, but I haven't really seen it.

Good ideas come from all skill levels. But good idea vs bad idea ratio is fundamentally what separates those in or out of brain space. To get your ratio up, you need training and experience in making good ideas more frequently and bad ideas less frequently. And then you get placed in a space where your ideas are your core output. Those people tend to be salaried the most often. And they don't like to spend their time sifting through the bad ideas of untrained people when they could instead be generating more good ideas per unit time. I don't see the problem here

What your casual elitism disregards is that people who actually do the work can have different ideas, especially related to the work they are doing. Put another way, since they have a different perspective than the higher-ups, they are sometimes able to find potential efficiencies and product improvements that wouldn't occur to others.

Additionally, front-line workers can see real problems with how customers experience the product that may not be reflected in the metrics used to evaluate the product, since metrics are inevitably gamed.

The ratio of good to bad ideas doesn't matter if you miss the one good idea you really needed. A company that invests in ways to effectively use the ideas of 'untrained people', as you so delicately put it, can derive a lot of value from those ideas.

I think you're right. The front-line workers often have a certain level of ground-truth about how processes actually work in practice. They may not have all the same information as the higher-ups, but they have a very unique and valuable perspective that can be used to improve strategic decisions.

IMO, this is one of the reasons why distributed command (as opposed to centralized command) models often work better, particularly in a fast moving environment.

A CEO only has to be right 51% of the time to be successful.

That really depends.

Sure, my statement is merely metaphorically true. It's meant to communicate the point that the CEO must optimize for being right enough frequently enough to be successful. Competition surely drives whatever that number is up, and good managers surely listen to the ideas from their line workers. And they must mentally triage ideas to be worth considering more deeply. The best managers credit the line workers and encourage more idea sharing. But the manager must do the triage, and the manager must ignore ideas that don't pass the bar, and the manager must empower only those that have a track record of producing good ideas and not the others.

So do you think Donald Trump has good ideas to improve things for poor people ?

Empirically, it turns out the answer is yes.

But reality is the complete opposite.

Why, this makes sense.

In every industry, there are employees whose influence on the company success is outsized, and who are hard to hire or train. In software industry, they are experienced engineers and product managers. In a fashionable restaurant, they are experienced cooks. In an airforce, they are experienced pilots and repairmen. Etc.

When these people are happy with their work, they achieve great results. When they are unhappy, they look for ways to conveniently jump ship, because they have a number of opportunities elsewhere waiting for them to become available. They are in short supply. Every boss has an incentive to keep these people content and loyal.

OTOH every industry has positions for which supply is plentiful, compared to demand. Aspiring game developers without experience, dish washers, burger flippers, etc, can be readily hired, paid little, and easily fired, too. There is no incentive for their bosses to walk an extra mile to keep them happ, especially when pressing them a bit more yields an extra bit of performance, so they mostly aren't happy about their jobs.

Look at the success Trader Joe's and Costco have had. Either company could replace the happy, experienced checkers, who care about what they're doing and how they're doing it with $10/hr people who have no stake in what's going on. The important distinction is the stake that your employees take in what's happening.

The people who are closest to and most affected by problems are the best suited to solve them. If you hire a fleet of people who don't care about solving those problems, they won't get solved. You hire a fleet of people who give a shit day in and day out, you're going to get those nagging issues that, in the long run, cost you the most.

Those companies that think that boots on the ground are replaceable in any industry overestimate the importance of management.

I rely on my people to keep me abreast of the issues, as a manager, that I need to be aware of. I expect them to fix the issues that are within their power to fix and escalate the rest of them.

Reminded me of a Jocko Willink quote I just came across today:

"People that don't love what they're doing, that don't like what they're doing, they have problems. They're not enjoying it, they're not putting in the extra hours, they're not being creative in trying to find new solutions. So when you love something and you're passionate about it, you put the extra effort into it naturally, you try and get creative with it naturally, and you end up more successful naturally because it's something that you care about."

Ultimate stake is that the employees are also the owners themselves.

This is why a (small) grant of stock, or at least options, is a typical way to pay part of the compensation for higher-level employees.

Another hypothesis that equally well explains the data: employees at successful companies tend to be happy because the rising tide lifts (almost) all boats. Companies that are doing poorly will tend to look to cut staff, wages, and benefits, which could be a source of unhappiness. Etc. I don't really think the evidence presented here gives much reason to believe that seeking the well-being of your employees will do anything for the bottom line. OTOH, it's easy for me to believe that improving the top line will improve your employees' happiness.

My point is that you have to keep your key people content, else they will leave. During a downturn, you especially want your key engineers, best sales reps, most well-connected customer liaisons to stay around. If they leave, this will hit the bottom line, and getting a replacement will be expensive, or often impossible. This is a known way into oblivion [1].

There are booming industries where the boom mostly floats top executive boats, though. Ask an Uber driver, or an Amazon warehouse worker.

[1]: https://steveblank.com/2009/12/21/the-elves-leave-middle-ear...

Hey I'm an Amazon warehouse worker, and while I would have to agree, I love the chances to climb to management or an actual career. I'm part of the career choice program which pays for 95% of my college tuition, fees, and books for an IT program (which I chose). The job is boring but not too difficult. I know others might say otherwise though.

Great to know!

Now you need the job more then the job needs you; eventually you may find yourself in a position where employers compete to have you in the team instead.

> Another hypothesis that equally well explains the data

As noted in other comments, this DID check for causation and found employee happiness led the benefits, not the other way around.

You can't check for causation unless you manipulate a subsample of the companies randomly.

Article: "However, the authors cite studies of changes within individual firms and organisations which seem to show that improvements in employee morale precede gains in productivity, rather than the other way round."

A theory could be that employers see the improvement in productivity before they are measureble by the methods employed and therefore are happier. E.g. bad processes are replaced which gives happier employees before the gains are evident.

Right. Sometimes you can eliminate obvious correlates, but it's quite difficult to eliminate all of them.

> There is no incentive for their bosses to walk an extra mile to keep them happ, especially when pressing them a bit more yields an extra bit of performance, so they mostly aren't happy about their jobs

That's the theory - but I don't see the distinction you listed ever proven. People do it because it's the easiest thing, that doesn't make it the best thing. I can just as easily theorycraft that happy employees improve production ACROSS THE BOARD, with lasting and compounding results. The studies that argue this never make the distinction you've listed.

Yes, having everyone happy is likely the best long-term policy.

Pressuring a bit on the suckers that got to cling to their jobs still looks like a good short-term policy, especially if the higher-up executing it is also not very happy but is clinging to the job.

That is, the best org is where everyone is level 4 or 5 on the "Tribal leadership" scale [1], but a lot of orgs are at level 2 at the lowest rungs.

[1]: https://emergentbydesign.com/2012/06/28/a-step-by-step-guide...

I suspect one aspect behind these connections in both directions - agency. Those who have outsized influence can make increasing demands and gain more control over the enterprise. If they are competent their changes will have a positive impact, they feel motivated and both company and them will experience growth. If not well either it gets corrected or things go pathological and they and/or the enterprise goes downhill.

The reverse where employees feel restricted is bad for both productivity and morale. While procedures have their place (more consistentcy) they also have costs. That sort of strategy may actually work in some cases or be neccessary but it often caps or bottlenecks growth both individually and institutionally. For example medicine is a conservative field partially because of the complexity of the body and the stakes. For every "germ theory" introduction of experimental ideas there are thousands of "just try high doses of amphetamines or radium to strengthen the heart"!

Most of the happiless business seems susceptible of robotization.

Robots aren't going to give you feedback on how to improve the customer experience, or implement kaizen workflow improvements.

This comment just gave me hope for humanity :)

What's being left out is unhappy, discardable employees cost you customers. Customers you would otherwise have never get put in the spreadsheet.

I agree that there are many companies that ignore this correlation, but I'm not convinced those companies are making the most rational choice.

If Burger King significantly increased the salary of their workers or otherwise found ways to improve their morale, would it benefit Burger King in the long run? I tend to suspect so, but it would be hard to prove.

The burger joints known for taking care of their people are also usually seen as being pretty good burger places, and that may be causal, but it also may be that they're just slightly "upscale" of the other burger places and also spend more on the ingredients.

They tend to be somewhat upscale in terms of ingredients, employee training, overall experience, etc.

That's not to say that Burger King or McDonald's couldn't do better. I don't really have enough experience with them as a customer or anything else to have a real opinion. But I suspect that, if Burger King were to try to improve their experience in a way that forced them to raise prices by 25% they'd lose a lot of business from people basically just looking for the cheapest burger.

See also the experience of JC Penney and Ron Johnson. A lot of people are pretty much in the position where they have to shop on price.

> A lot of people are pretty much in the position where they have to shop on price.

Keep in mind, though, that if a larger portion of money went to the workers, less of them would be in that position.

Only if that happens across the board, not in one particular company.

No? Even if only the employees of one particular company get a wage increase, that's however-many-people-work-there who now have more money to spend. It might not be a very large number of people, depending on the company, but it doesn't have to happen across the board for the people to exist.

>If Burger King significantly increased the salary of their workers or otherwise found ways to improve their morale, would it benefit Burger King in the long run? I tend to suspect so, but it would be hard to prove.

It would not benefit Burger King as its clientele’s main goal is purchasing at the lowest price and they will happily go to McDonalds if prices went up. Not all businesses have the luxury of selling to people willing to spend more than rock bottom, and you can see that in most cities, only one or two areas where the upper middle class live will have the business that pay more than the minimum.

Worker wages could go up without increasing the cost of a burger (or other food item), it would just mean the owners make less money per sale. If the decreased stress leads to Burger King workers being more productive (and/or more pleasant to customers), that could mean more sales and more money for everyone involved.

Restaurants are notoriously low margin businesses, I doubt there’s much room to move up in wages, which is also their greatest cost.

"Low margin" is relative. If the owner is taking home more money than the employees, there's room to shift things. I would bet quite a lot that most Burger Kings are in that position.

Profit margin is the amount left for the owner after all expenses are paid. Googling shows restaurants in general have single digit profit margins, so there isn’t much room for pay increases, especially if the owner wants to save for capital improvements like renovations, equipment, or new restaurants.

"Single digit profit margins" is in terms of percentages. I'm talking absolutes: However low the profit margin is as a percentage, as long as it's positive and the owner makes more than enough to live on, it could be made lower by a pay increase.

In my limited experience big chains vary greatly based on locale, presumably due to those particular stores being owned by different franchises.

> I'm not convinced those companies are making the most rational choice

Neither am I - they're just making the common choice.

Remember the analysis of Losers/Clueless/Sociopaths in corporate life.

The Losers are low level people who know they have lost the battle to be a big shot.

Clueless are the strivers, the first level or two of management, who think they have a chance to be a big shot.

The Sociopaths actually do have a chance. Not all of them are evil but they all know 100 hour weeks won't do it for them.

Lumbergh in Office Space is classic Clueless. He has surrendered any chance of human contact in his job, but he will never get any higher than he is.

Sociopaths? The groups should be audience, losers, contenders and winners.

GP is talking about the Gervais Principle analysis https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-...

Oh, interesting, but quite simplified and dogmatic principle. Anyways confusing labels for the groups. The group labels should rather be e.g. A,B and C since the labels don't really corresponds the their literal meaning.

The labelling isn't confusing at all. Not only do top-level managers cluster around sociopathy, but corporate structures specifically reward selfish sociopathic behaviours and punish empathy and context-awareness.

You have to be a certain kind of person to cut staff - some dedicated and valuably skilled - in order to boost the short-term return on your stocks. Likewise, you have to be a certain kind of person to think of customers as a resource that can be farmed and exploited with dark patterns and other manipulations. And in more extreme cases - you have to be a certain kind of person to make non-payment of contractors a deliberate policy.

People who score high on empathy won't be comfortable with those kinds of actions.

Anything customer oriented tends to benefit

They did look at causation: "the authors cite studies of changes within individual firms and organisations which seem to show that improvements in employee morale precede gains in productivity, rather than the other way round."

Many of us understand the other causation arrow (corporate unsuccess leads to unhappiness!)

Seems obvious for anybody that's had a job. I'm more self-motivated than the average person. I'll go above and beyond on tasks and take pride in my work, which benefits the company. But if I work in a shitty workplace, even my work ethic and quality will drop and I might even start doing less than is required.

A preceding B does not imply that A causes B, it only implies that B doesn't cause A. Which doesn't really reduce the world of possible causal relationships by all that much, since there may be any number of other factors that weren't considered.

For example, it could just as easily be the case that adjustments to dysfunctional aspects of the company's internal politics improve both morale and productivity, but the morale change becomes apparent more quickly.

Correlation does not imply causation.

Little known trick to establish that A causes B is to trigger A at will and see if a B is observed.

If you trigger A 100 times and it precedes a B 98 times then you have established causation to a degree. Similar to the correlation coefficient there must be some causation coefficient.

You might imply it, but not triggering A should give less B than triggering A, too.

"Turning on my TV at 5 a'clock causes channel 4 to broadcast The Simpsons."

Good point. If B was just happening all the time, then a B would always happen after A. Have to make sure the inverse is true.

Though if B happens all the time, but also A causes B. Then there's really no way to establish causation.

"The Channel four studio has electrical sensors that will trip and broadcast the simpsons either at 5pm or when I turn on my TV at 5pm."

Sure. There is a subtle difference between "things that make employees happier also improve business performance" and "making employees happier improves business performance", but in both cases you generally want to do things that make employees happy if you want business success (you just might want to be a bit more selective about which happiness-boosting things).

Yeah, confounding* variable C causes happiness and profitability (A and B).

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confounding

In some cases corporate unsuccess leeds to happiness. I've seen this in my case once. And hope that I'll not need to see this again.

Does it go something like: when the company tanks due to mismanagement > shareholder value suffers > employees feel vindicated?

I've seen a simpler version many times -- a chronically under-resourced group overworks itself until people leave and catastrophe strikes, and only then is it funded/etc.

I've seen it in the form of an employee desiring a negative outcome for the business because that outcome is tied to vengeance for another employee's perceived professional mistake.

E.g., "I'm not going to help that team because they need to feel the pain of the decision I didn't like."

Sometimes you just don't have ability to help. You are only observer and fail makes you happy, because you predicted it and you tried to stop it. But no one was listening.

Isn't that still confounded by new management or shift in thinking at the top? You need an RCT to tease everything out.

Yes, this! "Be happy first", per "The Happiness Equation" by Paschra.

People are joking in this thread but I think the REALLY BIG problem is that a lot of American workers are increasingly internalizing their compensation needs above other needs like health, happiness, or social well being. When we should be concentrating on a lot of our personal issues, we kick the ball down the road saying "oh when I have more money" or "oh when my career progresses" when we would be much better served by acting on them immediately and with highest priority.

Perhaps because so many Americans are financially insecure, and long-term health, happiness, and social concerns take a backseat to simply surviving the next month?

Getting out of the hole of "surviving to the next month" requires a few years of developing and investing in yourself to build a valued skillset. It's very hard to do when you don't have a clue about what that path can be. I took a lot longer to get to my current spot because I didn't know this path existed when I was younger because no one around me even knew this industry existed.

Come on, it's incredibly disingenuous to suggest that all folks living paycheck-to-paycheck don't have a valuable skill set. It's also incredibly offensive and elitist, too.

I didn't mean it that way. I meant to say that if you are asking yourself "what can I do to improve my situation" sometimes the answer is to invest in yourself! It isn't meant to be judgemental or to suggest there aren't other factors that influence what financial position you find yourself in. How about offering other suggestions as to what people can do to move away from 'paycheck to paycheck' situatins instead of calling other people names?

If it's so valuable, why are they living paycheck-to-paycheck?

I'd say that their skillset is defacto not valuable enough for their wellbeing.

Financial positions are not exclusively a function of your skillset. Your accreditations also matter (e.g. degrees or certifications). Wealth also begets wealth so if you have connections you can actually get a job without any skillset (not saying its right, but it is a reality). The real question is "what can people do to improve their current financial situation". I'd love to see a discussion on that.

Because workers, including creative and knowledge workers, have very little leverage until they are essentially one-of-a-kind holders of a high-level skill set. Which isn't to say that their skills aren't valuable, just not unique. The remedies are government intervention or collective bargaining, not everyone clamoring for one of the limited seats at the "subject matter expert" table.

Not even all STEM jobs pay 6 figure salaries.

Idk why are some HVAC techs are working paycheck to paycheck in Las Vegas.

It's not just workers. I've repeatedly asked for reduced hours, or more vacation, in lieu of a raise. Every time, my employer's response has been some form of "we can't do that for unspecified technical reasons" or "if you get that, everybody would want it." Honestly I don't get it. The big irony is that several people in the upper strata who are ostensibly making these decisions only work part-time and have at least 2 C-suite jobs

I think their answers are pretty representative. Your requests wouldn't hurt the business per se but if they would bend over to accommodate everyone's small requests, the company would loose the illusion of control they have over their slav... err ...workforce and they can't have that.

Who has two C-Suite jobs? The people at that level are frequently the ones working the longest hours.

Elon Musk has 3 (SpaceX, Tesla, the Boring Company).

Jack Dorsey has 2 (Square, Twitter).

Steve Jobs was CEO of both Apple and Pixar.

So the three celebrity status CEOs out of a C-Suite population in what... the high five figures?

At least 2, at my unnamed company. Three mentioned celebrities who are easily verified. And you're still incredulous. I don't know what to tell you, this isn't that uncommon.

It's not that they don't work too much for their own good, and pay themselves as much as they can get away with. It's that they don't see the need to show up at my company every day, but somehow think that highly creative employees perform better at a grindstone.

I'd sure hope so, since they're getting paid hundreds of times more.

It is a LONG standing dominant philosophy in US business that "morale" is pretty much the last thing to be concerned with. Someone not working well? Get rid of them and replace them with someone better. This has been going on for generations, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's taught all day long, every day, in every business school in the nation.

"Put that coffee down!! Coffee's for closers only."

For all the ways Office Space is dated, I think its meditation on morale won't be for a long time.

It's not.

Conventional wisdom? Or "common sense?" It's too common to be sauna talk.

It is not something taught at any reputable business school.

Then it's one of the many things you "learn on the job". Just because there isn't a course in "Crushing your Employee's Souls 101" doesn't mean sacrificing morale for short-term profits isn't an insanely common practice.

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make, are you claiming my assertion is entirely fictional? Harvard and Wharton aren't reputable?

Compensation is easily measurable and comparable than something like 'happiness' and wellness. I'm definitely not on the company's side for neglecting company happiness, but it so so subjective and it's probably easier for them to set this standard and have people find happiness and balance in their lives.

You can start with true working hours per week. Simple honest rules - checking email at home counts, being paged counts double (because I can happen anytime, so you need to be alert), eating lunch does not. Transit time counts. Divide by 5 - that's your average daily load due to work. You get more than 9 - that's too much, I hope your compensation is superb (i.e. well above average).

> You get more than 9 - that's too much, I hope your compensation is superb (i.e. well above average).

At FAANG, the number is most definitely less than 9. Combine this with the freakishly high compensation, and this looks like the best deal one could predicably get on Earth.

I kind of think it is a great deal. Perhaps not the greatest, but a great one.

Amen to that. It's easy to trade away free time and benefits when you're 25. Once that means not seeing your kids as much, money doesn't seem so important. As my ex's dad used to say: "Not a lot of people lie on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time in the office."

I worked for a company where management tried hard to keep employees happy when it came to benefits and yet, for the most part, they/we were a miserable bunch. It seemed that it was never enough. I'm not saying that the benefits were extravagant but they were very good.

I agree that a happy employee helps a company be better but you can't buy their happiness thru benefits. The way to do it complicated and it starts by hiring the right type of employee and defining the right company culture.

Happiness isn’t just a factor of compensation, it’s also if people enjoy what they are working on, how they work, and the people around them.

I think it's essential to put a moderate load and leave some space for creativity and new ideas to be tried out. I for one get tired of executing, sometimes I want to play out my own ideas.

The connection to profitability by industry is interesting:

    manufacturing 0.42
    finance       0.22
    retail        0.14
    services      0.10
Correlation coefficient < 0.20 is very weak correlation.

It would be interesting to see how it correlates with value added. I hypothesize that low in value added businesses like retail or manual assembly in manufacturing, you can't increase profits radically by increasing worker satisfaction. In higher value added sectors like like aircraft manufacturing cough Boeing cough the correlation is probably much higher than 0.42.

You are right. These sectors have higher impacts on profitability by increasing employee engagement. Computer Software, Internet, Information Technology and Services, Marketing and Advertising, Health, Wellness and Fitness

I notice the correlation coefficients there are lowest for retail and services, industries I tend to think of as crappy to work in. That makes me wonder...are companies behaving rationally and only optimizing for happiness where it matters, or is there a statistical artifact here where they can't find a correlation in industries where every company's workers are miserable.

My startup is working on identifying and maximizing happiness for this reason [1]. Largely the reason we believe this is the case, is because people tend to stay where they are happy.

“Tribal knowledge” is the single most important thing an employee can bring to the table. It’s also only obtained through time at a given (or related company). At the same time, hiring and training a new employee is the single most expensive cost to a company. So identifying and keeping experienced employees really improves productivity and reduces costs. Which makes it much easier for a business to succeed.

[1] https://metacortex.me/

Take a look at the SMR/Glassdoor Culture 500 if you're interested in measuring company culture. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/culture500

Ursine genes and woodland defecation also seem to correlate.

Yes, I am also shocked to learn that employees aren't happy in companies that aren't doing well. What's next, are you going to tell me that people who live in successful cities are happier than those in decaying ones?

I know that's in jest, but boy have I experienced that one. There's nothing like being surrounded by a whole city of people who've lost all hope to get you out of bed in the morning.

Actually, I have sometimes done what I think is my best work, in toxic work places. It was fleeting, but the mood at the time was "this place sucks, but boy, am I getting it on".

Overall I agree there is a pope/catholic tree/forest moment here, but this is bell-curve overlap venn diagram stuff, the outliers are amusing, but not informative of the trend.

tl;dr slacker finds life in toxic company can be fulfilling.

At my last case, the company doing really well put a lot of stress on me to maintain. Overworked and undercompensated, I developed a terrible case of Ursine dementia in combination with Grizzly depression.

The fact that this idea is deemed worthy of an article in the Economist, and then hits the front page of HN is, IMHO, a sad statement on the current quality of thinking about how to run companies. It's hard for me to summon anything but 'duh' in response to the headline. For intelligent commentary, give me Peter Drucker's "The Effective Executive".

This seems intuitively obvious, and I say this as a former business owner. However, the causality is backwards (as I’d expect from economists).

If things are going well, it usually means you have a monopoly of some kind, which means high margins, which means that it’s easy and important to keep your people happy (including stimulating/challenging them with non-rote work).

It’s when things go south that it all starts to get ugly for everyone.

The causality likely goes the other direction: successful businesses can afford to create better employee environments. If your business sucks, you’ll likely run out of money if you try to first make employees happy and then let that happiness iterate you to success.

Amazon seems to be doing alright regardless.

I know a lot of engineers that work for Amazon that are happy. Warehouse workers on the other hand...

It's just one random data point but one of my personal friends said: «I still have many friends & family working in Amazon fulfillment centers across the country, and every single one of them says it’s the best job they’ve ever had.» https://twitter.com/chadloder/status/1154275824951943168

>I’m also sure that lots of folks don’t truly understand blue collar working conditions in other industries.

I do agree with this. I briefly had a few blue collar jobs: it's hard for workers to assert their existing rights, culturally and legally.

There's an Amazon warehouse near me. My neighbor works for USPS. Amazon is poaching tons of their employees and it's really hurting USPS because Amazon is so much better. If he wasn't holding out for one more year to get full retirement from USPS he would have jumped ship too. Instead, he's hoping to work for Amazon part time during retirement.

I'm not suggesting that there aren't problems with Amazon warehouses, but I think a lot of the reaction is from highly educated wealthy liberal types who don't know what it's like to work hard labor jobs.

I can't speak for others, but I have never worked for a warehouse job until now, and it isn't as bad as I thought. I was considering working for UPS, but after recently giving birth, I couldn't lift the minimum weight they required for me. So I thought Amazon would be a viable option. I make more than I would at UPS, and it's very easy compared to it. I know because my husband works there. I honestly don't understand why some people would complain about Amazon but to get media attention. That's my opinion.

Warehouse work sucks. Amazon's warehouse work is above average for warehouse work.

By what metric? I have friends that have been working warehouses in Ohio since the early 2000s and they have vented frustrations to me about how Amazon is causing a race to the bottom for warehouse labor.

I've heard a lot of horror stories about Amazon warehouses. I'm sure a lot of it is FUD or whatever, but it seems that even Walmart has better conditions.

Have you ever been in a real warehouse? One that's baking in the sun in the summer, no AC because it's too costly, probably 100 degrees inside, no ventilation, pallet dust everywhere and you get a nice inhale when something is moved on the floor, not being in a technologically present company where machines break constantly and you need to do a lot of manual work in these conditions lifting a 35lb box every 8-12 seconds for 12 hours....

Yes, this was my first job as an 'employee' of a staffing company. They took $11/hour and gave me $7/hour to re-package and re-palletize boxes of P&G products. Literally we would open a box of 4 shampoo bottles, take the bottles out and then repackage then into a box of 6 bottles and stack them back up on a pallet. To open the boxes we put them on a conveyor belt that went through an oven to melt the glue on the box. I had to stand at the exit of the oven and grab the scalding hot glue and rip the tape off the boxes as fast as I possibly could. The scalding hot glue would stick to your hands while hot air was blowing in your face out of the oven. No AC. 8 hour shift 7 to 3 with no lunch break, only two 15 minute breaks to use the bathroom (couldn't go otherwise). No AC in the warehouse in the hot summer in the midwest.

Another fun job was to re-palletize boxes. A forklift operator would lay an empty pallet on the ground, then put a row of 25 full pallets next to it in a long row. You had to unstack the 2nd pallet onto the empty one using a new stacking pattern that was more stable. Then the 2nd pallet would be empty. Repeat the process down the row as fast as you can go getting cuts on your hands from the cardboard boxes, leaning over your back lifting heavy boxes without AC in a hot warehouse.

My plastic factory issued Kevlar gloves, which prevent cuts from cardboard boxes and actually let you work faster due to not having to be careful. A good example where my happiness and business success were linked. Sorry it didn't work out in your case.

I would like for those kind of jobs are staffed by a staffing company so people can cycle through them rather than having to do it full time. I can put up with a lot for a few weeks at a time.

Ahhhh, reminiscing of the good ol' days!

No true warehouse.

This warehouse in specific that I'm referencing is operated by a Fortune 100 company.

This is an important question when deciding whether it's a good idea to boycott Amazon over warehouse conditions.

If true, and if you still buy the same stuff from other retailers (because you still need a coffee maker, for example), the effect is to force warehouse workers into worse jobs.

I'm an Amazon Fulfillment Center worker. I've worked here for two years. Part of my job right now is social media but I assure you that these opinions are my own. I'll answer the twelve questions about my job:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work? -Expectations are very clear. It's hard to complicate warehouse work I suppose.

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right? -Usually, though sometimes day shift doesn't return the hand scanners and I have to look for one, and that sort of thing.

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day? -My managers have made an effort to place me where I am most useful. I was slow at one job so they moved me to a more detail-oriented, slower-paced task. (From stow to count, for those who have worked here. After a few months in count, I learned to pick, though I still count sometimes.)

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work? -I regularly receive feedback. Amazon has "e-swag" which is a point system for doing things well and hitting productivity goals. Points can be redeemed for things like T-shirts. I use my points for grocery store gift cards.

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person? -My managers have been very friendly. A former manager transferred back to my building yesterday after living in a different state for awhile, and he made an effort to stick around and say hi to me after his shift. My current manager and I like to meow at each other like cats in passing.

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development? -People are generally encouraging and uplifting here. We talk to each other and recommend applying for positions that open up, and give helpful tips so people can do their jobs better.

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count? -This is the area that I think Amazon should improve on most. The chain of command is difficult to navigate for an entry-level worker who wants to recommend a change in policy. Lots of opinions and suggestions don't seem to make it to the people who are in a position to act on them. But my immediate supervisors tend to be very responsive to suggestions within their power to act on.

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important? -I feel like I'm doing honest work here, getting orders out to the customers. I see it as a valuable, necessary contribution to society and I take pride in my job, though I do not see this as my vocation.

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? -Many of them are, but Amazon will basically hire anyone. The people who stick around make an effort to do their jobs well.

10. Do I have a best friend at work? -There are many people I look forward to seeing at work every day! I'm always making new friends here!

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress? -I feel like this is the same as #4. We get regular productivity feedback. There's not a lot of room for "progress" when you're doing the same thing every day, besides when the opportunity arises to learn a new task.

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow? -Amazon regularly trains people to do different tasks around the facility. They also offer opportunities for advancement, as well as career skills classes on-site. I'm on an interest list for a CDL class and I just submitted an application to be a trainer. I also had the opportunity to do this social media job!

But, at the end of the day, it's still warehouse work. I haven't worked in a different warehouse but a few coworkers have. The combined pay and benefits seem to be above average.

The overwork has been well reported, but the unpaid time spent in mandatory daily security checks, seems to get overlooked.

Somehow, US courts decided that's allowed. Could've sworn UK courts came to a similar decision recently, but I can't find a source.


...are experiencing pay and conditions that are vastly better than other warehouses. See https://quillette.com/2019/07/19/the-problem-with-tourist-jo...

I can’t tell if that’s sarcasm or not...

That story was basically a plant from Amazon and Quillette is absolutely not a high quality news source.

> That story was basically a plant from Amazon


> Quillette is absolutely not a high quality news source

Really? I find their articles to be written well. They are respectful and balanced in their tone, and provide a lot of evidence for their points.

Are you sure you don't just disagree with their centrist perspective? You've not actually offered any critique of this article.

Quillette does not feature a centrist perspective.

See Media Bias Fact Check’s overview, in which they’re considered “Right” and to feature pseudoscience and poor reporting [1]. Also see the Wikipedia page on Media Bias Fact Check for citations to show that they’re reputable [2].

See also AllSides' overview, in which they’re considered to “lean right” [3].

[1] https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/quillette/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_Bias/Fact_Check

[3] https://www.allsides.com/news-source/quillette-media-bias

Media Bias Fact Check is NOT reputable. Your own Wikipedia link says the following:

> The Columbia Journalism Review describes Media Bias/Fact Check as an amateur attempt at categorizing media bias and Van Zandt as an "armchair media analyst."

> The Poynter Institute notes, "Media Bias/Fact Check is a widely cited source for news stories and even studies about misinformation, despite the fact that its method is in no way scientific."

I read through the Media Bias Fact check article on Quillette and it makes bold claims about Quillette having poor sourcing or featuring pseudoscience but it provides weak or cherry-picked examples from a much larger body of published articles. For example, it mentions 'hereditarianism' as pseudoscientific, even though there is peer-reviewed published research supporting it that is referenced in the Quillette article they are critiquing. It also tries to discredit Quillette based on association - it mentions a couple people who have written articles on Quillette and discusses _their_ reputation, rather than directly factually refuting specific points.

If anything, this write-up on Media Bias Fact Check is itself super biased.

AllSides is more reputable but they have also rated Quillette as Center for long periods of time previously. AllSides also mentions this about Quillette alongside their current "lean right" rating:

> Worth noting: some on the team thought Quillette deserved a Center or Lean Left media bias rating. This is because Quillette features classically liberal arguments, but classically liberal ideas are now more commonly associated with the Right. Our confidence rating for Quillette's media bias rating is "Initial or Low."

Also, AllSides's methodology is US-centric - which is different from centrism more broadly.

> The AllSides Media Bias RatingTM reflects the average judgment of the American people. We don't use a convoluted mathematical or artificial intelligence model, but instead have regular people representing the broad spectrum of Americans blindly rate the bias of articles. That produces a fair, verifiable bias rating.

Centrism also means neutral or truth-seeking to some people, whereas to others it refers to a relative position on a political spectrum. I find Quillette to be generally centrist in that it is neutral/truth-seeking because they are willing to take controversial positions and discuss them logically, in depth, with substantial evidence. By and large, Quillette features high quality articles and significant sourcing. No journalistic outlet is perfect and it wouldn't take me long to pull out examples in the NYT, WaPo, WSJ, or other big publications to try and paint a negative image of them as Media Bias Fact Check did.

And to get back on point, no one has refuted what this particular article claims. Amazon has higher pay, better benefits, and better conditions than other warehouse jobs. There is even a comment in this very HN discussion from an Amazon warehouse worker that says "I'm part of the career choice program which pays for 95% of my college tuition, fees, and books for an IT program (which I chose)." And this isn't the only comment in this discussion from an Amazon warehouse worker. If there are claims otherwise, that other warehouse jobs are better, name them and cite evidence.

on twitter, @amazonnews tweeted a link to that and they got ratioed so hard that they deleted the tweet a few hours later. that is ... not a good piece.

Can you critique the article's points or the author's experiences specifically? Talking about Twitter tropes like ratios is not substantive.

And the entire gaming industry.

It's a shame YC/HN can't find an article that doesn't require signing-up to read.

Given the huge amount of articles that require registration to read, and given HN's supposed freedom of information bend, this seems incomprehensible.

Why can't the mods find a more usable article? Are you that bereft of resources?

How about instead of whining about forcefully-conversant people like myself, you actually allow the conversation to happen with an article that we can all read? That's the point of this site, and if the mods can't allow that, they should step down in favor of someone that can step up to the job.

In before dang and stcb only highlight this comment as 'why people are toxic' while ignoring why they themselves are adding to the toxicity.

If either of you are actually REAL about your site rules, you'll e-mail me explaining why, or you'll talk here.

Only cowards try to hide behind rules without a solid and concise explanation of why they exist.

How do you measure happiness anyway?

When I started in a management role, I set out to make sure my team members were happy. As time goes on, oddly enough, you realise that happiness is not chief among the qualities that make for a well functioning team.

I found it is more about an equilibrium or balance.

People don't always have to be happy, they have to be motivated.

It's generally pretty clear that when a business is failing, the employees won't be very happy.

According to Gallup, highly experienced teams can experience a 20% lift in productivity.

If an employee’s output is X, you can take this to (X)*120% by focusing on employee happiness. To put this in perspective, if a 5 member team experienced a 20% increase in productivity, there will be enough additional output that a sixth employee might contribute, but without the additional pay.

In this scenario, an organisation’s savings can be connected to 1 employee’s salary in a 5 member team. Also, take into consideration the additional revenue generated.

If a 500 employee company saw a 20% boost in productivity, it will mean an output of 600 employees at the hiring cost of 500.

It reminds me some of Peopleware, where an argument is made that through a focus on quality of output, the speed of production is actually faster than if you focus explicitly on the speed of production.

Now the question is how they are linked. Does the business become successful because you make your employees happy, OR can you afford to make them happy by having a business that runs well?

Businesses are systems of people. Those that affect people nonetheless affect the business. You are then in the realm of which organs the people can survive without.

You might be surprised how many otherwise skilled and well meaning people would argue against this in their own companies, especially prevalent in the bay area.

It's the opposite. Business success (e.g. being able to pay people to work less hard and enjoy free lunches, etc) is linked to happiness.

"Founder passion" is everything.

And nothing you ever do will be as successful as something you're passionate about.

can't read the article because limits. do that provide some source with the claim? doesn't appear to be that the fortune 500 are particularly happy places to be and would love to see that list correlated with Glassdoor votes.

> can't read the article because limits.

I often get annoyed at such articles. If they don't want to share, then don't clog Hacker News, reddit and search engines with your amputated text! There are plenty of sources. Same problem for JSTOR articles.

I haven't read an economist article in months and it still gives me limits. Something tells me the limits are bullshit and they just want an annoying paywall by default.

Could someone transcribe the article here? The website wants me to subscribe.

Business success and employee happiness are better linked.

I think business success makes employee happy.

Linked as in causation or as in correlation?

That is kinda obvious.

AKA water is wet.

Serious question, why post something for discussion if it's behind a paywall?

Doesn't The Economist let you read four(?) articles a month without subscribing?

Anyways, here's the relevant excerpt from the HN FAQ

Are paywalls ok?

It's ok to post stories from sites with paywalls that have workarounds.

In comments, it's ok to ask how to read an article and to help other users do so. But please don't post complaints about paywalls. Those are off topic.


I'll bite because it's a reasonable question. I think linking to paywalled content is allowed because there are fairly easy ways around paywalls, but posting a roundabout directly goes (I believe) against HN policy.

An example of how to get around the Economist paywall is already elsewhere in this thread.

> but posting a roundabout directly goes (I believe) against HN policy

Not true; it has long been customary for people to share paywall workarounds in the comments, and the moderators welcome/encourage it.

Comments yes, not as posts (possibly).

True, you’re meant to post the original source, not archive sites like Archive.is or Outline.

But some sites like The Information now have paywall passthrough arguments you can add to the URL, and they seem to be fine.

I use outline dot com to get around paywall :)

Works for The Economist but doesn't work for WSJ these days unfortunately. Anyone got a work around for WSJ?

Put the WSJ link into any URL shortener, then put that link into outline.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact