Bastos, W. and Barsade, S. G., “A new look at employee happiness: How employees’ perceptions of a job as offering experiences versus objects to customers influence job-related happiness” (2020). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 161, 176-187.
Background & Theory:
When buying something from a company, we all have likely noticed a difference in our purchasing experience depending on how employees market a product, service, or event to us. Studies have shown that consumers who receive an experience from a company report greater happiness than those who simply receive a product. This being said, most people have had a positive customer experience from a company due at least in part to the role of an employee. While much research has been done looking at consumer happiness in relationship to receiving experiences versus products, limited research has been conducted on how employees’ perception of their jobs (providing experiences vs. providing material objects) affects their happiness. This study focuses precisely on this: the impact that the perception of providing experiences versus products has on employee job-happiness.
Research was conducted by Wilson Bastos and Sigal G. Barsade to answer the following questions:
- Do employees who perceive themselves as providing customers with experiences versus material objects experience greater happiness from their jobs?
- Do greater involvement with the self and perceived positive impact lead to greater experience-based job meaningfulness?
This study was completed by conducting a field survey of employees holding a variety of jobs in multiple industries. This initial survey was completed with the intention of testing whether the hypothesis held up across multiple industries. 208 participants filled out the survey, which included elements measuring job-related happiness and perceptions of experiential versus material job type, with data collected via Likert-type scales.
In addition to this survey, three experiments were completed measuring (1) whether a planned intervention can manipulate employees into mentally framing their job differently, (2) whether using this mental framing change can be used to successfully sell a good from an experiential or material mindset, and (3) whether a customer’s negative experience of a good affects the job-related happiness of employees selling the good out of an experiential versus material frame.
The results from the first study indicate that employees who believe they provide an experience to customers report greater happiness from their jobs than those who believe they simply sell material goods. The study also points to how experiential framing leads to greater employee happiness. Specifically, employees who claim to work experiential jobs experience greater involvement of their self with the good being sold and perceive having a positive impact on customers. Both of these elements increase the meaningfulness of work for employees, which in turn contributes to greater job happiness.
The second study supported these results. Sales employees who received a mental framing intervention of providing their customers with an overall experience reported feeling greater job meaningfulness and therefore, greater job happiness. The third study replicated and complemented these results, showing that mental framing as experience versus material object elicited different selling behaviors within a more controlled procedure.
The fourth study added to the above results by showing that when a good being sold negatively impacts customers, employees who perceive their jobs as experiential still hold greater overall job happiness than those who perceive their job as providing material objects. This is due only to a greater involvement of the self with the good being sold, which leads to greater job meaningfulness and subsequently job happiness. The results of this study suggest that viewing your job as providing an experience may buffer negative work-related events.
What We Can Learn:
Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insight:
- Employees who believe they provide an overall customer experience feel happier in their jobs than those who believe they provide only a material object to customers. This suggests that framing a job as experiential rather than simply material can lead to greater job meaningfulness and happiness for employees.
For Consultants: Consultants can use this research to demonstrate to company leadership the importance of framing jobs in specific ways. A company may find that encouraging employees to give customers a great experience will actually lead to a better employee experience as well.
For Everyone: If you are not happy in your current job, consider reframing your job responsibilities. Focusing on giving customers a positive experience may lead to greater happiness for yourself.