The world of work is most definitely changing. A whole variety of irresistible social, economic, technological and human forces are combining to revolutionise, not just for how we work, but the fundamental reasons at the heart of why we work and what we expect in return.
Our growing intelligence about happiness at work lies in the engine room of this revolution, encapsulated, informed and enriched by an increasing pressure for higher levels of work fulfilment and our increasing intelligence about what this means – whether this is articulated in the drive for greater employee wellbeing and engagement, or the drive for greater meaning and recognition for what we do, or in the drive for greater flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance in how our work is organised.
Happiness at work as an idea is gaining credibility and traction, but it is still not always easy to present as a call to action inside apparently more important and urgent organisational concerns such as uncertain economies, overloaded work demands, escalating accountability requirements and ever-increasingly complex and insistent customer and staff expectations. Happiness is considered by many as too slight, too subjective and personal, and/or too transient a thing to be the proper concern of a serious workplace.
But our contemporary sciences are building up compelling evidence to show that happiness is so much more than a nice to have feeling.
Happiness at work means feeling that we are achieving our potential. It is mixed and made from high levels of commitment, confidence, conviction, contribution in a culture that aligns with our best selves and provides us with ample amounts of pride, trust and recognition (Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C’s Science of Happiness model)
Or, if you prefer, it is work that brings us high quality positive emotion and engagement and relationships and meaning and accomplishment ( Martin Seligman’s PERMA model for flourishing.)
We now know that, at most, only half of our happiness is comes to us as our genetic predisposition, and, even more surprisingly, only 10% of our happiness is dependent upon our circumstances. This means that at any time, no matter what we are facing, at least 40% of our happiness is down to our own voluntary choices: how we choose to think about things and what we choose to do.
Not only that but real revolutionary discovery has been that happiness leads to better outcomes – greater success, better relationships, higher learning, problem solving and creativity, higher performance and productivity, better and health and even a longer life – not the other way round as we used to have it.
And we can all learn to be happier.
This post pulls together stories from this week’s new Happiness At Work collection that all variously help to fill out and amplify our understanding about what happiness at work means in its fullest, most vital and imperative sense: why it matters, how it matters and what are some of the ways we can learn to harness its potency.
Maybe these ideas will be helpful to progress your own thinking and maybe they will be helpful to bring these ideas more persuasively to people you work with…?
Many people feel that if they become successful at work, they will automatically become happy. But according to Shawn Achor, founder and CEO of Good Think, Inc., that scenario should be reversed. It’s important to become happy, which will then help you become a success. Achor makes it his business to study the psychology of happiness in the workplace. He consults with organizations worldwide and regularly publishes his findings on his website (www.shawnachor .com). His ground-breaking book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, was published in 2010.
It’s important to organizations for employees to be happy, and not just for the employees themselves. “The greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged workforce,” Achor says. And happiness as a concept is poorly understood, inside and outside of the workplace. In his book, happiness is defined as “the joy we feel striving after our potential.” It occurs along the way to achieving one’s potential, not just when that potential has been achieved.“This definition is crucial for leaders to understand,” Achor says.
“Without it, happiness can create irrational optimists.” He suggests that what is needed is the cultivation of “rational optimism.” The latter “requires taking a realistic assessment of the present, both the bad and the good, while maintaining a belief that our behavior matters. Rose-colored glasses will not help, but an optimistic brain will help your team overcome the biggest challenges.”
People can also help fulfill their potential by better understanding the role of social support at work. The key to remember is that giving support is even better than receiving it. “In an era of do-more-with-less,” Achor says, “we need to stop lamenting how little social support we feel from managers, coworkers and friends, and start focusing our brain’s resources upon how we can increase the amount of social support we provide to the people in our lives. The greatest predictor of success and happiness at work is social support. And the greatest way to increase social support is to provide it to others.”
Achor was also the head teaching fellow for psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar’s happiness course at Harvard. He found that lessons learned there could also be applied to organizations. “In the working world,” he says, “working with leaders, I began to discover that some of the same principles that caused Harvard students to rise to the top were also the same principles used by leaders to become more successful. Those seven research principles became the basis for The Happiness Advantage.” Closely related to happiness is the concept of thriving. Gretchen Spreitzer, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and her coauthors delineate this concept in their paper “Thriving at Work: Toward Its Measurement, Construct Validation, and Theoretical Refinement,” published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
“Thriving is like happiness in that it also involves the experience of positive emotions,” Spreitzer says. “But it is focused on a specific type of positive emotion—what we term as vitality or energy. When people are thriving in their work, they feel alive at work. Their work is literally fueling them with energy. But thriving is also more than positive emotions. It also includes a sense that one is growing, learning or getting better at what they are doing. This suggests that thriving is about making progress or having positive momentum rather than languishing or feeling stunted.”
Everyone at work can consciously help themselves to thrive more. Some basic strategies involve managing energy by sleeping well, eating a balanced diet that includes frequent high-protein snacks, and taking breaks, ideally every 90 minutes. But Spreitzer and her colleagues also found that the way people engaged in their work had an effect on how well they thrived. “When individuals engage their work in a way that helps others, learn new things, and find meaning in their work, they report higher levels of thriving,” she says. “So the challenge is for individuals to find ways to craft their work so they have more relational connections, more chances to try new things, and can see more of the impact in what they do.”
This research suggests that leaders can create the kind of workplaces that can help people thrive. Spreitzer says, “Leaders can (1) provide their people with more opportunities for decision making discretion, (2) share more information about the organization, its strategy, and competitors, (3) set and reinforce norms that promote civil and respectful behavior, and (4) offer performance feedback, especially about what is going well. When leaders create workplaces with these characteristics, their people feel like they can grow, develop, and thrive in their work.”
Fully engaged, thriving employees finish the day not depleted but, Spreitzer contends, “with energy for their family life, hobbies, and community service.”
Are you happy at work? Are the people you work with happy? Should you even care as long as the job is getting done?
It turns out you should – happy companies are more successful on a range of metrics – but creating a happy work environment is counterintuitive. Research and practice both show that what makes people happy in the workplace is not obvious, and relatively easy to provide things like good pay, free food or perks, are over-rated.
The benefits of happiness at work
Researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK found that people who are happy at work are about 12% more productive. Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, has quantified the benefits of a happy company – sales increase by 37%, productivity 31%, and accuracy on tasks improves by 19%, not to mention the health and quality of life improvements for staff.
You might think providing perks such as free food, massages in the office, on-site medical services and gym facilities, would ensure a happy workforce. Google has led the way in perks for some time, even ensuring its building designs are fun (like the slide at its Zurich office pictured above).
But the equation is not that simple – it’s not just a case of perks in, happiness out. While such benefits are helpful in attracting people to work at your firm, they are not that effective at improving company performance. No wonder Google is keen to stress that it’s passion not perks that are the biggest contributor to its success.
Part of the problem is that humans are incredibly good at adapting and we get used to almost anything – good or bad. The classic study on this was done by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman at the University of Massachusetts in 1979. Comparing lottery winners to accident survivors who were paraplegics and quadriplegics they found no significant different in general happiness. People who had won big on the lottery were happy about their good fortune but in fact took less pleasure from everyday activities than the accident survivors.
Salary is not the key to happiness either. It actually comes in to play as a factor of unhappiness – we will be unhappy if we think others in our company or industry are being paid more to do the same task.
A Princeton study found that people who are highly paid are relatively satisfied but are barely happier day to day, tend to be more tense and do not spend their time doing more enjoyable things, than lower paid people.
Alexander Kjerulf, a Danish management consultant, who styles himself the Chief Happiness Officer and has advised Ikea, Lego, Oracle, Tata, and Pfizer amongst others, says that results and relationships are actually the most important factors for ensuring people are happy at work. Gallup research backs him up – perks are less important than engagement, which occurs when staff feel they are contributing to something significant.
Tech investor Craig Shapiro tweeted his “org chart for happiness”. On the work side he highlights “fulfillment”, which is in turn a function of productivity, recognition and giving. In other words doing worthwhile work that others appreciate, while also giving back to others, is Shapiro’s recommendation for happiness.
Zappos CEP Tony Hsieh literally wrote the book on happiness in tech. In Delivering Happiness he describes how he built the corporate culture at Zappos by valuing happiness. While Zappos operates some quirky policies eg new hires are offered $2,000 if they decide to quit after the first week, Hseih’s book also highlights the importance of things such as helping staff grow (both personally and professionally), ensuring customer service is everyone’s responsibility and building strong relationships with your team.
Taking inspiration from firms like Zappos, Moo.com, Valve, Buffer and Mailchimp, there’s even now Happy Startup School, which aims to educate entrepreneurs in how to create happy, sustainable and profitable businesses.
Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer, says that while values are important “happiness at work is something you do”. Here’s five tips he offers to foster it at your company:
1. Random acts of workplace happiness. When was the last time you brought a co-worker a cup of coffee unprompted or without warning? Scientific research shows that the random element of these acts really matters. The pleasure/reward centre of the brain is less active when we know something good eg a monthly bonus, is coming, but can be stimulated up to three times as much when the act is unexpected.
2. Hire happy people. The sandwich chain Pret A Manger says you can’t hire someone who can make a sandwich and teach them to be happy, but you can teach happy people to make a sandwich. Kjerulf also cites Southwest Airlines as a company that hires for attitude and trains for skill.
3. Stop negative behaviour. Gossip, rudeness and other negative behaviours act like a cancer at the heart of the company if they are unchecked, says Kjerulf. This is because negative emotions are three times more contagious than positive ones.
4. Celebrate success. Kjerulf consulted with Lego, which a decade ago had been brought to the brink of bankruptcy thanks to a relentless pursuit of innovation coupled with a lack of financial controls. New CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp announced the company’s first profit in several years at a company wide meeting but the news was greeted by silence. Lego had no culture of celebrating success and so people simply didn’t know how to react. Now item 0 on every meeting agenda is celebrating something one of the participants has achieved recently, a simple tactic which has helped transform meetings and make them more productive.
5. Celebrate mistakes. If you do then people will be more open to admitting they have made a mistake. Ben & Jerry’s has a flavor graveyard in Vermont where headstones are erected to its retired flavours including short lived flops like Oh Pear and Cool Britannia. NixonMcInnes, a British social media consultancy, in addition to measuring and tracking staff happiness every day, has a monthly event called Church of Fail, where staff are encouraged to share their failures. The company wants to make it ok to fail, because the more it fails, the more it can innovate and succeed.
Making your staff happy is not about expensive benefits, it’s about offering them meaningful work. What company can’t afford to do that?
Positive Psychology is the science of thriving and flourishing. In a workplace context, it can be argued that when individuals thrive and flourish, they’re also more innovative, creative, collaborative, resilient, and ultimately, more productive. Positive organisations also attract and keep the best people so it’s a classic win-win for all involved, as Dr Tim Sharp explains in this recent interview with AIM.
Tim shares an overview of the exciting field of Positive Psychology, focusing on optimism, hope, resilience, facing up to the tough times, rewarding positives and the important of doing “the right thing”.
Link to the article with the full transcript of this video
Growing interest in employee happiness is putting companies on their toes. Business press and blogs are revealing psychological findings, case studies and strategy insights that make happiness a must-have for profitable workplaces.
After issuing their Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte concludes that workers today want more.
“They want something different. They are demanding, they want meaningful work, and they expect their employer to make work more rewarding in many ways.”
So why do happy workers make better workers?
Three reasons: they care more, they give more and they stay longer…
Today’s typical worker is overwhelmed. People are working harder and longer, they are constantly connected and invaded by technology and they are losing their bearings when it comes to a work-life balance.
Companies translate this into worrying leadership pipeline issues, retention and engagement numbers or talent recruitment challenges.
It’s time for workplaces to focus on employee engagement and happiness. Not because it brings more revenues and lower turnover rates, which it does, but because we owe it to ourselves turn to what truly matters: sustainable growth through people’s wellbeing.
Lurking behind the question of jobs — whether there are enough of them, how hard we should work at them, and what kind the future will bring — is a major problem of job engagement. Too many people are tuned out, turned off, or ready to leave. But there’s one striking exception.
The happiest people I know are dedicated to dealing with the most difficult problems. Turning around inner city schools. Finding solutions to homelessness or unsafe drinking water. Supporting children with terminal illnesses. They face the seemingly worst of the world with a conviction that they can do something about it and serve others.
For many social entrepreneurs, happiness comes from the feeling they are making a difference.
I see that same spirit in business teams creating new initiatives that they believe in…In research for my book Evolve!, I identified three primary sources of motivation in high-innovation companies: mastery, membership, and meaning. Another M, money, turned out to be a distant fourth. Money acted as a scorecard, but it did not get people up-and-at ‘em for the daily work, nor did it help people go home every day with a feeling of fulfilment.
People can be inspired to meet stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges if they care about the outcome. People stuck in boring, rote jobs will spring into action for causes they care about.
Heart-wrenching emotion also helps cultivate a human connection. It is hard to feel alone, or to whine about small things, when faced with really big matters of deprivation, poverty, and life or death. Social bonds and a feeling of membership augment the meaning that comes from values-based work.
It’s now common to say that purpose is at the heart of leadership, and people should find their purpose and passion. I’d like to go a step further and urge that everyone regardless of their work situation, have a sense of responsibility for at least one aspect of changing the world. It’s as though we all have two jobs: our immediate tasks and the chance to make a difference.
Leaders everywhere should remember the M’s of motivation: mastery, membership, and meaning. Tapping these non-monetary rewards (while paying fairly) are central to engagement and happiness. And they are also likely to produce innovative solutions to difficult problems.
The Social Employee Engagement platform, Officevibe, is one of this decade’s fast growing success stories. IN this post, Gowth Manager Jacob Shrier talks through the core values that underpin the why and how they do what they do, and, very probably, the why and how of their continuing escalating success.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it – Simon Sinek
This quote is from the famous TED talk where Simon shows that if you communicate your “why”, and understand your purpose, you can sell more and be more successful.
The most interesting part, is that this is all biological, and works every time.
This might be an extreme comparison, and a bit of an exaggeration to make a point, but core values are like the ten commandments – rules to live your life by.
Core values are your company’s “commandments”, and is the foundation for making sure everyone is on the same page.
Also, hiring for culture fit becomes so much easier, because you have all of your “requirements” written down already.
As an employee, when joining a new company, if you align yourself with the company’s core values, meaning you share similar values, that, to me, is the definition of a good culture fit.
Zappos, in my opinion, is the authority on company culture. They are probably the most referenced company of a company that gets culture right, and it took them years to define their core values.
Even though our core values guide us in everything we do today, we didn’t actually have any formal core values for the first six or seven years of the company’s history. – Tony Hsieh, Zappos founder
The OfficeVibe mission and values
Mission: Build the most epic place to work, have fun and innovate.
In one sentence, if we had to sum up what we’re trying to do, this is it.
1. Without fun, it sucks.
Having fun at work is incredibly important for employee engagement. We want to let all of our employees and new hires know that we actively encourage people to have fun at work.
We often go out for happy hours, and lots of the employees play in our arcade and game room.
You need to have a good time while you’re at work, otherwise, life just sucks.
2. More than yesterday, less than tomorrow.
This is a reminder that we really value personal growth.
What this one means, is that I know more than I did yesterday, but I understand that I know less than I will tomorrow, because I will always be learning.
Passion, and personal growth are hugely important qualities for us.
3. We’re an ambitious family
This is all about camaraderie and team building.
First, it’s important that we all recognize that we’re a family. We love each other, and we’ll do anything for each other.
Second, we’re ambitious. Together, as a team, we’re going to change the world.
In all honesty, that’s my goal with Officevibe. I want to make the world of work better. I truly believe that everyone deserves to enjoy their work.
4. Our customers fall in love with us
We always go above and beyond for our customers.
Many people in the company have gotten incredible praise from customers, and we keep track of all of it, in our internal social network (Yammer).
Hubspot, another company I’m in love with, does this, and they call it solving for the customer.
As a core value, this is important for us, as we’re always trying to help our customers be better.
5. Simple is beautiful
I love this one, because simplicity is beautiful, but it’s so hard to achieve.
But it’s an important reminder to everyone, when designing websites or building new features for products, keep it simple.
This is of course inspired by other industry leaders like Apple or Basecamp, and we try our best to keep everything as intuitive as possible.
6. Passion is not optional
We need to be passionate about what we do, and we need to hire people that share that passion.
I would hate to hire someone just because they’re looking for a job.
If I hired someone for Officevibe, they would need to be as passionate as I was about changing the world of work.
7. Quality without compromise
This is an important reminder to always maintain a high level of quality in everything we do.
Often times, clients or users want things yesterday, so a natural instinct is to rush something through to shut them up.
This is a very silly mistake, and will only last short term.
It’s important that we have high standards for ourselves, and we try our best to maintain them.
8. Nothing is impossible
We should always be aiming higher, and always pushing ourselves to be the best at what we do.
Again, this ties back to personal growth. We want to work with people that are always pushing themselves to be the best.
Combined, these core values help shape who we are, what we believe in, and who we should be hiring.
What Do You Think About Core Values?
What are your organisation’s core values?
What ideally would you say about why you do the work you do, what values and principles are essential to the way you do it?
How much of this is inextricably linked to the positive experience – your happiness at work – that you and the people you work with have in the doing of this work?
by Alexander Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer
If you want to get more done at work, the productivity gurus out there will tell you that it’s all about having the right system. You need to prioritize your tasks, you must keep detailed logs of how you spend your time, todo-lists are of course essential, you must learn to structure your calendar and much, much more.
But that’s not where you should start. You should start by liking what you do.
The single most efficient way to increase your productivity is to be happy at work. No system, tool or methodology in the world can beat the productivity boost you get from really, really enjoying your work.
I’m not knocking all the traditional productivity advice out there – it’s not that it’s bad or deficient. It’s just that when you apply it in a job that basically doesn’t make you happy, you’re trying to fix something at a surface level when the problem goes much deeper.
Here are the 10 most important reasons why happiness at work is the #1 productivity booster.
1: Happy people work better with others
Happy people are a lot more fun to be around and consequently have better relations at work. This translates into:
- Better teamwork with your colleagues
- Better employee relations if you’re a manager
- More satisfied customers if you’re in a service job
- Improved sales if you’re a sales person
2: Happy people are more creative
If your productivity depends on being able to come up with new ideas, you need to be happy at work. Check out the research of Teresa Amabile for proof. She says:
If people are in a good mood on a given day, they’re more likely to have creative ideas that day, as well as the next day, even if we take into account their mood that next day.
There seems to be a cognitive process that gets set up when people are feeling good that leads to more flexible, fluent, and original thinking, and there’s actually a carryover, an incubation effect, to the next day.
3: Happy people fix problems instead of complaining about them
When you don’t like your job, every molehill looks like a mountain. It becomes difficult to fix any problem without agonizing over it or complaining about it first. When you’re happy at work and you run into a snafu – you just fix it.
4: Happy people have more energy
Happy people have more energy and are therefore more efficient at everything they do.
5: Happy people are more optimistic
Happy people have a more positive, optimistic outlook, and as research shows (particularly Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology), optimists are way more successful and productive. It’s the old saying “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re probably right” all over again.
6: Happy people are way more motivated
Low motivation means low productivity, and the only sustainable, reliable way to be motivated at work is to be happy and like what you do. I wrote about this in a previous post called Why “motivation by pizza” doesn’t work.
7: Happy people get sick less often
Getting sick is a productivity killer and if you don’t like your job you’re more prone to contract a long list of diseases including ulcers, cancer and diabetes. You’re also more prone to workplace stress and burnout.
One study assessed the impact of job strain on the health of 21,290 female nurses in the US and found that the women most at risk of ill health were those who didn’t like their jobs. The impact on their health was a great as that associated with smoking and sedentary lifestyles (source).
8: Happy people learn faster
When you’re happy and relaxed, you’re much more open to learning new things at work and thereby increasing your productivity.
9: Happy people worry less about making mistakes – and consequently make fewer mistakes
When you’re happy at work the occasional mistake doesn’t bother you much. You pick yourself up, learn from it and move on. You also don’t mind admitting to others that you screwed up – you simply take responsibility, apologize and fix it. This relaxed attitude means that less mistakes are made, and that you’re more likely to learn from them.
10: Happy people make better decisions
Unhappy people operate in permanent crisis mode. Their focus narrows, they lose sight of the big picture, their survival instincts kick in and they’re more likely to make short-term, here-and-now choices. Conversely, happy people make better, more informed decisions and are better able to prioritize their work.
Think back to a situation where you felt that you were at peak performance. A situation where your output was among the highest and best it’s ever been. I’m willing to bet that you were working at something that made you happy. Something that you loved doing.
There’s a clear link between happiness at work and productivity. This only leaves the question of causation: Does being productive make us happy or does being happy make us productive? The answer is, of course, yes! The link goes both ways.
The month-long NEWM initiative is the brainchild of Virgin HealthMiles,an organization that’s part of the Virgin Group run by Richard Branson, and that helps companies develop a culture of health and wellness.NEWM is about pushing business leaders to make employee wellness a priority and highlighting the workplace as an important factor in helping people stay healthy.
While NEWM has been around for half a decade now, employee wellness programs have never gotten more attention than they have in the last few months.
Most media coverage of employee wellness is based on the assumption that these programs can help employers cut healthcare costs. And, for a while, the main question about corporate wellness was: How cost-effective are they? But recently, the conversation around employee wellness has changed. Health and wellness experts are taking a step back, wondering whether wellness programs are ultimately about cutting costs, or if maybe they’re about something bigger, that has to do with improving people’s lives.
Over the last few years, the number of workplace wellness programs has drastically increased. Among large companies (those with at least 200 employees), 92 percent offered wellness programs in 2010. That’s an increase of 34 percent since 2009.
It’s hard to say exactly what’s prompted the recent growth in employee wellness programs, but perhaps the most obvious reason is the fact that Americans work more than ever before (8.8 hours in 2012, compared to7.9 hours in 2007). Whereas health experts once focused on the home environment, there’s a new focus on the importance of the workplace for promoting long-term health solutions. We’re hearing about how coworkers can motivate each other to start working out, and how posting calorie counts in office soda machines can keep us away from the sugary stuff.
Corporate wellness programs take advantage of the fact that most businesses are at least partly based on people working together. Part of the reason why a walking challenge is so appealing is that it’s something coworkers can do in a group, whether they’re competing against each other or working together to achieve their goals.
Corporate wellness programs don’t just benefit employees by enabling them to get more fit. They also tend to inspire people to like their companies more. According to the Virgin HealthMiles survey, almost 90 percent of employees said they consider health and wellness offerings when deciding where to work, and research suggests wellness programs are as important to job satisfaction as raises and promotions. For Boyce, inspiring people to love where they work is central to his concept of success.
According to the Virgin HealthMiles survey, the biggest obstacle currently facing employee wellness is measuring the impact of these programs. Some health experts insist that a successful employee wellness program will save employers a significant amount of money in the long term; others are less certain. Perhaps we’ll never be able to measure the real impact of employee wellness.
The question, then, is whether we should pursue these programs at all. Baun talked about the difference between ROI (return on investment) and a less official term called “VOI,” or value on investment. The second term refers more to what happens when you improve people’s lives, and is substantially harder to measure.
Still, anecdotal evidence consistently suggests these programs have something to offer. Baun, who’s been in the business of employee wellness for more than 30 years, told me multiple stories about employees who’d started practicing an overall healthier lifestyle with the help of workplace wellness programs.
In so many of these cases, it would be impossible to measure the effect of a workplace wellness program, he said. But even without the clinical data, he was able to say with confidence: “It changed their lives.”
All of these stories and many more can be found collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work #106.
I hope you find things here to use, to enjoy and to help grow your own sense of happiness…