Happy smiley

“The positive brain is 31% more productive than the brain in a negative, neutral or stressed state.”

This quote is from a September 6, 2016 article in The Conversation, How happiness improves business results by Professor Petrina Coventry, University of Adelaide. The article notes that “Surveys from the American management consulting company Gallup continue to find that only 13% of employees are actively engaged at work. In the US alone, this could mean a cost of up to US$550 billion in lost productivity annually. A 700-person study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happy employees were 20% above the control group in terms of productivity”


Professor Coventry outlines the two theories which link culture and happiness: Maslow’s needs theory and comparison theory. Maslow’s 5 stage hierarchy of needs leads to motivated, happy employees. Comparison theory  (benchmarking) identifies successful organizational  approaches for employee growth, satisfaction and creativity. The link between culture and happiness is not new and the article notes that “3M adopted a program in 1948 that allowed employees to use work time to follow their passion and hatch ideas. The concept is called “15 Percent Time”. The scientist Art Fry invented the Post-It Note through the use of this program.”


Professor Coventry also gives recent examples and links to Google and Hewlett-Packard Labs successes.


However, it seems our Public Service is still struggling with these concepts. Our July 2016 article The Innovation Culture Debate gave differing views from public service mandarins on how to address the “pain points”. Now a September 27, 2016 article in The Mandarin asks “How do you re-engage employees when lived experience doesn’t match the rhetoric?”.  In Innovation fatigue? Stop tune-out at all levels of an organisation, Victoria Draudins, former federal Treasury analyst and current public sector knowledge analyst for The Boston Consulting Group, answers that question with  links to the Australian Productivity Commission and to lessons from abroad and the private sector.


The Productivity Commission has identified five areas that technology can revolutionise the ways government works. However, the article warns that the wrong public service approaches may actually discourage  innovation, quoting UK and US experiences which bear this out, e.g.

Mike Bracken, former head of the UK GDS says, “we are at the start of a third wave of technology … and so far it’s barely made a dent in government and government systems.

Brian Sivak, former CTO of the US Department of Health and Human Services, notes that people often associate innovation with technology. But he found that “technology is very rarely a solution … what tends to solve problems is people and culture.”


The article concludes with advice on creating an environment conducive to innovation, giving examples, e.g.

  • Optus commissioning their internal staff platforms to mirror those of their customers
  • Department of Communications and the Arts using Google Docs so that Question Time briefs can be updated for ministers in real time.

Advice from the US comes in a 6 September 2016 ScienceDaily article from the American College of Physicians, describing research on how public service issues can impair the productivity and happiness of hard working  medicos and affect the lifestyle of their patients. The article, Heavy burden of EHRs could contribute to physician burnout, notes that “For every hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly two additional hours is spent on electronic health records (EHRs) and other clerical work within the clinic day.”  The research was based on observing  57 U.S. physicians in four states, who also completed diaries about their after-hours work, amounting to “another 1 to 2 hours each night on clerical work, mostly related to EHRs.”

The article notes that the American Medical Association and the have initiatives aimed at reducing administrative burdens so that physicians can focus on the patient relationship. The author agrees that “such changes could help physicians rediscover the joy of medicine.”


Are there lessons here for Australian politicians engaged in the ongoing Medicare privatization debate?

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