Women & Happiness, Part II

In my last post, I addressed some of the issues raised by Marcus Buckingham’s controversial book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently. Despite the positive slant of the title, I’ve met more women than I can count who took exception to Buckingham telling them they weren’t happy– at least that’s how many interpreted his research.

That book and a number of other studies make the case that women have become less happy even though they have become more successful. The typical interpretation has been that the pressures of work, which in truth often do hit women harder because of their multiple responsibilities, have been toxic to women’s happiness. If women had only been content with their pre-Betty Friedan existence, they would have saved themselves a lot of agony.

I think this approach gets things backward. The problem is not that women are not finding happiness in the workplace, but that most workplaces don’t adequately reflect the values women bring. For example, in a study Julie Johnson and I did in the course of researching our latest book, The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work, we find that men and women often define satisfying work in different ways.

To take just one example, women tend to value work that they find rewarding in and of itself, as opposed to work that promised future rewards. This sounds like a little thing, but it’s a huge thing when you stop to think about it. The whole bargain of the workplace is based upon the idea that people are motivated by the thought of what a job will lead to– where it will get them– rather than the quality of life they experience every day.

Quality of actual experience is something most workplaces don’t even register as important. If they did, women would be happier– and we all would gain.

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