Sometimes you hear something that is so obvious you wonder what planet you’ve been on all your life not to have realised this yourself.
I recently read an interview with Professor Jochen Menges, in which he talked about this thing he has called ‘Emotional Diversity’. As he explained it, “ ‘Happy’ means different things to different people”.
Well, bugger me, who’d have thought, eh?
He had done some actual research to come up with this blinding insight because obviously statements of the perfectly bleeding obvious won’t be accepted in the boardrooms of high commerce unless they can be backed up with empirical evidence.
Makes you wonder how our titans of business manage to cling to the earth’s surface without having gravity proved to them, doesn’t it?
Anyway, I am being a little harsh on the good Professor because this statement of the bleeding obvious had also escaped my notice, although once it had been pointed out to me I was happy to accept the good sense of it on it’s own.
He goes on to point out that leaders often project what happiness means to them onto the organisations they lead, embodying it in the happiness and wellness programmes they provide. So if they get great results from running and colouring books, they make sure those things are in the programme. They then get very disappointed when these programmes don’t elicit the same sense of bliss in everyone who works for them. I mean, I don’t suppose they make that sort of mistake in any other areas, do they?
It seems the ‘one size fits all’ happiness programmes actually fit hardly anyone. But if you’d ever bought a pair of ‘one size’ socks or gloves you already knew that.
What is needed are interventions that are tailored to each persons definition of happiness. What we get is a smearing of yoga and mindfulness and free fruit in every office.
It’s not that these interventions are bad, they are better than nothing. They’re just not much better than nothing for the majority of the people.
So why do these ‘one size fits all’ approaches persist? Well, partly because leaders lack the awareness that their worldview isn’t necessarily shared by everyone else, as the good professor points out.
However, it’s also a case of ease and control. A single programme is easier to roll out and to manage than one that attempted to meet everyone’s definition of happiness. That would be complex, hard to define and difficult to measure. It would mean giving control to individuals to determine the actions that would promote their happiness and have some control over the implementation. It would mean having conversations with every person and exploring their needs and desires. It would mean starting the process without being certain of where it would go, what it would entail and when it would end.
In short, it’s a hard thing to do properly and it means giving up (perceptions of) control and predictability of the programme. So they allow easy to trump effective, tick the box and move on.
This is a pattern that is repeated across all sorts of other areas. It’s part of the crapification of work. A “one size fits all” approach is really treating people like interchangeable cogs, ignoring their uniqueness, differences, strengths and talents.
And that’s how they can make it worse even when they try to make it better. It’s not just happiness that is different for everyone. It’s everything.