The Economist: An unhappy worker is a productive worker

Why does The Economist have not only anonymous scribes, but anonymous bloggers? Perhaps so they can be refreshingly honest.

There’s no taint of political correctness, no whiff of sympathy, in the latest offering in the paper magazine by their “Schumpeter blogger” (named for Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter), who turns out upon investigation to be none other than Mr. Adrian Wooldridge, an Oxonian philosopher who serves as the magazine’s editor on management.

Mr. Woolridge frets about a growing movement in which companies concern themselves with their employees’ mental health:

“The biggest problem with the movement lies in the assumption that promoting psychological wellness is as axiomatically good as encouraging the physical sort,” he writes.

Just when you thought it was safe to assume that wellness was all well and good.

Mr. Woolridge has no quibble with the notion that physical wellness is good for employees–it keeps their backsides out of  hospital beds, no doubt, and planted in their office chairs. But when it comes to mental health, he contends, crazy just might be better for business:

Few would doubt that good physical health makes for good productivity; but it is not self-evident that a positive mental attitude is good for a worker or his output: history shows that misfits have contributed far more to creativity than perky optimists. Besides, curmudgeonliness is arguably a rational way to cope with an imperfect world, rather than a sign of mental maladjustment (or so your occasionally curmudgeonly columnist would like to believe). Companies that chase the will-o’-the-wisp of “positive attitudes” may end up damaging themselves as well as sticking their noses where they have no business.

via The Economist.

Will-o–the-wisp indeed. Had Mr. Woolridge been led to concern about his reputation by something so bold as a byline, he might not have penned this insight into office culture. It may even explain why the one perk we can count on from an American office is bad coffee.

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