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Happy Workers May Resist Change

21 Mar 2012

Workers might become resistant to change if they are too happy in their jobs, according to an expert from London Business School.

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The School's Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, Costas Markides, has indicated that employees might not necessarily work better just because they are content in their current roles.

Instead, he told Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "Having happy employees has many benefits—but also costs that can sometimes outweigh the benefits.”  Happy employees tend to enjoy the status quo so much they might resist changes to it or refrain from taking on new challenges. This can create a challenge where in today’s world, agility and embracing change is necessary for success. 

Professor Markides refers to the notion of 'the glass' being either half-empty or half full and leans on past research to emphasise that positivity does not always lead to the best outcomes.

The same principle applies to the belief that "happy employees are more productive," he goes on, stating that whilst there are obvious benefits, sometimes the costs can outweigh these.

"As we all know, dissatisfaction with one's current position leads one to search for alternatives and innovate," he says. "But the biggest cost to having happy employees becomes evident when we ask the question: "Why are our employees happy?" One possible reason: We have tried to keep them happy by never saying no to them - an attitude that any parent can tell you all about."

The crux of the debate lies in the fact that whenever a tough decision in the workplace is taken by management there will always be those who are happy with the outcome and those who are not. "Some people will win and some will lose," as Prof Markides puts it.

"It's impossible to make everybody happy all the time. If everybody in your organization is happy, that may be because you're failing to lead them," he concludes.