Study: Workers Who Appear Too Happy Get Career Penalties

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Dec 12, 2016

If you're happy and you know it, don't clap your hands. In fact, try to avoid giving any outward indication of your overwhelming joy, at least at the office. This is because a recent study has found that people who are perceived as very happy by others will tend to get more biased advice and be seen as a weak negotiating partner, according to FastCompany. The study, which appeared in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, found that outward perceptions of happiness varies when expressed at high versus moderate levels. If you're perceived as very happy by others, according to the study, then you're more likely to be perceived as naive than those perceived as moderately happy. 

This perception can have cascading impacts. Because the very happy are perceived as naive, according to the study, they are more likely to receive biased advise from people with conflicts of interest, and people are more likely to try to cheat them when negotiating. In both cases, it's because they're seen as an easier target than someone who's slightly less happy. 

The results stand in contrast to an earlier study done that concluded happier people are, in fact, more successful in their careers. They earn more money, have superior performance and perform more helpful acts, according to this 2008 study. Overall it found that happiness at work not only is correlated with workplace success but in fact leads to more positive workplace outcomes as well. 

One thing to note, however, is that the 2008 study looked at actual happiness (how people felt) while this more recent one looked at perceptions of happiness (how people perceive you as feeling), which might explain the difference. Regardless, the researchers said that there needs to be more work done looking at the relationship between happiness and work success. 

"Our findings challenge existing assumptions in organizational behavior and psychology by identifying a significant disadvantage of expressing happiness, and underscore the importance of examining emotional expressions at different magnitudes. We call for future work to explore how the same emotion, experienced or expressed at different levels, influences judgment and behavior," said the study abstract. 

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