It's not often you hear serious financial guys talking squishy subjects. But there was Ben Bernanke Monday talking happiness and economics.Here's what he had to say in a videotaped speech to a gathering in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Economics isn't just about money. It's also about "the enhancement of well-being."Well said, Mr. Bernanke.
This isn't a first. According to the article in yesterday's Boston Globe, Mr. Bernanke has been talking about the economics of happiness since he addressed grads at the University of South Carolina in 2010. I personally would like to applaud his thinking outside the safety deposit box.
While Mr. Bernanke may be talking large-scale economies, inflation, and Federal Reserve, the happiness or well-being index is a pretty powerful indicator on a smaller scale, too. If peoples' well-being in society is a good indicator of how well your economy is running, their well-being inside your company is a good indicator of how well your business is operating. Why? I've said it before: happy people are effective people. They work better, they're absent less, and when things go wrong, they bounce back faster.
The Hard Science of Well-BeingFortunately, unlike Mr. Bernanke and his economy, employers can actually affect happiness. Unfortunately, just like some of the traditionalist financial wizards raising eyebrows at the Fed chairman, too many folks on the organizational level think such well-being concepts are not hard enough to be taken seriously. Let's face it: it's a whole lot easier to sell leadership on a concrete benefits package that addresses the usual suspects medical, maybe dental, a couple of personal days, a week of vacation than it is to embrace the less conventional stuff that takes into account how people are feeling. But that's exactly what we should be doing.
Because, here's the thing - the unconventional stuff really works. And it's really not squishy. Research shows that how people feel affects how well they work. And by offering some supports you can affect how they feel. So it's not merely warm and fuzzy to say to an employee, "Here, let me help with some of those responsibilities." It's actually good business. It expresses, "You're not just an inanimate cog." It says, "I think of you as a person." Such concepts may be unconventional, but they're not without precedent. The fact that "best employer" lists are full of thriving companies is no mere coincidence or accident of nature.
So whether you're talking big economies or smaller companies, it's time to re think the numbers and embrace well-being, happiness, or whatever you want to call it as an important indicator of what will make us successful.
And if Ben Bernanke has anything to say about it, we will.