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Economics 101: The More We Get Together the Happier We’ll Be

By Tom Culham

I attended John Helliwell’s[1] lecture to a business crowd at the Wosk Center for Dialogue in Vancouver some years ago where he presented the results of his economics research on well-being in the workplace. He began with his conclusions by singing The More We Get Together[2] and asked the audience to join in. Needless to say it took some time for the well coifed folks in attendance to warm up to singing about togetherness in the workplace, after all isn’t business all about competition and dog eat dog? Well, according to Helliwell not so. At least it shouldn’t be so. His econometric research[3] surveyed working folks in Canada and found that well-being in the work place depends on trust, and meaningful engagement with co-workers. Further, trust-worthy environments support and are supported by frequent successful (human) contacts. He concluded that people value trust and engagement with others. This challenges the myth of the economic man who maximizes his or her self interests resulting in the maximum benefit of all. For example, pay for individual short term output may reduce trust and create unhappiness in the workplace, reducing the overall performance of the business. Helliwell, consequently argues that employers need to think how they treat employees and each other because “life satisfaction effects of workplace trust are so large as to suggest that there are large unexploited gains available for trust-building activities by managers, shareholders and employees”[4]. I have argued for the need to put heart ahead of dollars in an earlier post on sustainability and it seems that in the matter of leading and managing people with heart should be put first and the dollars will follow.

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Throughout 2018, City University is hosting senior business, community, and environmental leaders to lecture and engage in a dialogue once a month about how we can put the heart first in business as a way to move towards sustainability.

Tom Culham teaches TRANSFORMATION THROUGH ETHICAL LEADERSHIP, A certificate program designed for Executive and Middle Management Leadership, offered through CityU’s Continuing Education programs. You can learn more about the next series beginning February 28, 2018 HERE. The program is taught over 5 consecutive Wednesdays 9am – 1pm, Feb 28 – Mar 28. Download a program flyer HERE.

Tom Culham, Ph.D., Program Director School of Management City University in Canada Co-Chair, Contemplative Inquiry and Holistic Education, Special Interest Group of the Comparative International Education Society. Representative at Large Research, Management, Spirituality and Religion Special Interest Group of the Academy of Management.

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[1] John F. Helliwell is Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and co-director (with George Akerlof) of CIFAR’s program on “Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being”. He is also Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of British Columbia, a member of the National Statistics Council, and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was previously visiting special advisor at the Bank of Canada in 2003-04, visiting research fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in 2003, of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, in 2001, and Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard in 1991-94.

[2] The More We Get Together” is a traditional British folk song and popular children’s song mad popular in Canada by Raffi.

[3] Helliwell, J. F., & Huang, H. (2010). How’s the job? Well-being and social capital in the workplace. ILR Review, 63(2), 205-227.

[4] Helliwell, J. F., & Huang, H. (p. 21, 2010).