Books Special: Happiness at Work, by Jessica Pryce-Jones

Being happy at work is partly about self-awareness. But it's also about acting on that knowledge.

by Alan Kemp
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I picked up Jessica Pryce-Jones’ book – ‘Happiness at Work: Maximising your psychological capital for success’ – with all the misgivings any busy manager would have about a book with this title. Will it be flaky? Will it say anything new? What will it have to do with me or my organisation, where everyone’s happy all of the time (or at least that’s what they tell me…)

Starting to read it, I half-hoped it would be what I expected. Then I could set it aside and get on with something useful. But I kept reading and, a little less than 200 pages later, was glad of it.

Disarmingly, Pryce-Jones anticipates a typical reader’s reactions. They are pretty much the same as her own and those of her colleagues at iOpener, her training firm. Conscious that a woman brandishing the ‘H’ word around hard-bitten company boards might be poorly received - if received at all - she goes to lengths to bring practicality and rigour to the book’s analysis, drawing copiously on guidance from the businesses and business schools whose help she acknowledges.

Unlike most management authors, she writes in plain English, free of jargon even where concepts like business ‘culture’ invite ambiguity and confusion. By addressing readers directly and assuming that happiness at work matters to them personally rather than in any more abstract or altruistic way, Pryce-Jones has written more a training manual than an academic text.

By making readers responsible for their level of happiness while highlighting their room for manoeuvre and choice, she both plays to her own strengths as a trainer and draws the reader, chapter by chapter, towards the self-awareness she sees as a prerequisite for personal happiness at work.

She does not advocate happiness at work solely as an end in itself, far from it; the benefits to productivity, retention, motivation and much else are quantified and stressed repeatedly. With improvements to these the outcomes from being happier at work, the contributions of each of the inputs that lead to such gains are equally carefully charted. The psychological and, ultimately, financial costs and rewards of getting wrong or right everyday management tasks like goal-setting, incentivising and communicating are examined forensically, factor by factor.

There were instances while reading the book that I thought: I know all this. I’ll skip on. But, in truth, I also know how imperfectly I act on that knowledge. Good trainer that she is, Pryce-Jones works hard to convert knowledge to understanding, and finally, to practical action. This is a ‘How To’ book for grown-ups who recognise they can try harder and deserve better.

Despite headings like: ‘Are You Leading the Life You Choose or Managing the One You’ve Got?’ hers is no invitation to opt out. She is much more about opting in through obvious but neglected devices like listening and encouraging as a means to engaging. Neither is the book in the slightest bit soft-centred, recognising as it does just how much engaging people at work and becoming more engaged oneself requires of managers.

If you’re still sceptical, click on and take the test there. At least then you’ll know whether your scepticism is justified. Mine wasn’t.

Happiness At Work: Maximising your psychological capital for success
Jessica Pryce-Jones
Wiley-Blackwell £12.99

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