This week’s featured Happiness At Work articles highlight a clutch of articles that offer us some down-to-earth tools and techniques for being and staying happier.
These include how to manage our emotional intelligence, our time and work-life balance when we are feeling especially stretched, how to be better at stopping and smelling the roses, and how to enhance your state of being in flow – those best moments when we feel at the frontier of our abilities, playing to our strengths and doing our finest work. Plus some tips on how to jumpstart employee happiness in your organisation, and some reasons why we now need to be teaching the new science of happiness in our schools.
No matter how much you love what you do, striking a balance between work and your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing is essential. Studies have repeatedly shown that happy workers are more productive workers, so keeping up stable relationships with friends and family, making time for fulfilling activities, and taking a break from work is key to maintaining a quality of life that serves you and your employer best.
1. Communicate with your boss
Even if you choose to embrace the extra work and additional responsibilities as a challenge and way to grow your skill set, it’s important to communicate with your boss about expectations such as deadlines and the duration of the project. Be sure you’re both aware of when the craziness will start to wind down, whether the project is on schedule, and any potential roadblocks that could arise.
Not only will having this information help you feel in control of your workload, it will actually help you control the process. With full knowledge of your boss’ expectations, you can step in when things aren’t moving along to suggest a change in direction, and you’ll be able to weather surprises (like the project getting extended for an extra week) with grace and ease.
2. Create a morning and a bedtime routine
Research shows that following a morning routine can help get your day off to a productive start—and that good feeling can boost your mood throughout the rest of the day.
Create a routine around a daily morning practice, such as meditating or waking up a half-hour early to get work done before ever checking your email. By sticking to this morning after morning, you’ll automatically begin your workday on a positive note, with a sense of accomplishment.
Then, at the end of the day, make a point to go to bed at the same time each evening (more or less), and designate some time beforehand to wind down by reading, jotting down tomorrow’s to-dos, or another calming routine that isn’t in front of a screen. Engaging in a nighttime ritual signals to your body it’s time for bed, and clearing your mind before bed also helps calm your nerves, which improves sleep.
3. Move your body (even a little)
Exercise is often one of the first things to go when work gets crazy, but its stress-reducing benefits make it even more important to incorporate during demanding times in your life.
If there’s no way you can squeeze in your normal gym routine, think of smaller ways you can get the blood flowing, like changing up your commute to walk or bike to work, YouTube-ing a short yoga or abs routine that you can do at home, or even just spending 10 minutes stretching when you wake up. Physical activity is proven to reduce stress and can help calm you down when you’re amped up—which will help keep you sane during marathon workdays.
4. Set Aside Quiet Time
When it feels like you’ve signed your life over to your company or clients, carving out some time for yourself is essential to stay grounded. Whether you squeeze in time to call a friend or just sit and decompress sans electronic devices, designating uninterrupted time (however short!) to clear your head can work wonders for your mood and will help you to think more clearly when things are moving fast.
Try getting in early to take advantage of the empty office, or, if most days you’re starved for a peaceful moment, pop on some headphones and jam out to your favourite Spotify station on the way to work. Or, taking lunch away from your desk—especially if you can find a quiet park or courtyard—is a great way to de-stress.
5. Make Room for Creativity
Making time for creative expression—whatever that looks like for you—will help stay centered when it feels like work is taking over your life. Creativity is cathartic: It allows you to channel stress, anger, resentment, or whatever other negative emotions you may be holding onto in a productive, healthy way.
So, be sure you’re still making time to sing your favorite jam in the shower, write posts for your blog, or send your mom a thoughtful card in the mail, no matter how busy things are in the office. Yes, there is always one more thing on your to-do list and you can always find more reasons to work, but if you don’t pause to take a timeout, you’ll stop being productive.
Finally, when it seems like all you do is work, do your best to maintain perspective. It can be helpful to remind yourself that the stress will not last forever, and in the meantime, you have plenty of resources to cope with the stress and take back control of your life.
Making time for yourself amid the dozens of other demands on you is what will help reset your balance—and what will make you a better employee and happier person in the long run.
by Preston Ni
Here are six keys to increasing your emotional intelligence:
1. The Ability to Reduce Negative Emotions
Perhaps no aspect of EQ is more important than our ability to effectively manage our own negative emotions, so they don’t overwhelm us and affect our judgment. In order to change the way we feel about a situation, we must first change the way we think about it. Here are just two examples:
A. Reducing Negative Personalisation. When you feel adversely about someone’s behaviour, avoid jumping to a negative conclusion right away. Instead, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think my friend didn’t return my call because she’s ignoring me, or I can consider the possibility that she’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.
B. Reducing the Fear of Rejection. One effective way to manage your fear of rejection is to provide yourself with multiple options in important situations, so that no matter what happens, you have strong alternatives going forward. Avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket (emotionally) by identifying a viable Plan B, and also a Plan C, should Plan A not work out. For example:
Increased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for my dream job. I’ll be devastated if they don’t hire me.”
Decreased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for three exciting positions. If one doesn’t pan out, there are two more I’m well qualified for.”
For more in-depth information on reducing or eliminating over fifteen types of negative attitudes and feelings, see my book (click on title): “How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions.”
2. The Ability to Stay Cool and Manage Stress
Most of us experience some level of stress in life. How we handle stressful situations can make the difference between being assertive versus reactive, and poised versus frazzled. When under pressure, the most important thing to keep in mind is to keep our cool. Here are two quick tips:
A. If you feel nervous and anxious, put cold water on your face and get some fresh air. Cool temperature can help reduce our anxiety level (1)(2). Avoid caffeinated beverages which can stimulate your nervousness (3)(4).
B. If you feel fearful, depressed, or discouraged, try intense aerobic exercises. Energize yourself. The way we use our body affects greatly the way we feel (5)(6). As the saying goes – motion dictates emotion. As you experience the vitality of your body, your confidence will also grow.
3. The Ability to Be Assertive and Express Difficult Emotions When Necessary
“Being who we are requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, that we take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship.”
― Harriet Lerner
There are times in all of our lives when it’s important to set our boundaries appropriately, so people know where we stand. These can include exercising our right to disagree (without being disagreeable), saying “no” without feeling guilty, setting our own priorities, getting what we paid for, and protecting ourselves from duress and harm.
One method to consider when needing to express difficult emotions is the XYZ technique – I feel X when you do Y in situation Z. Here are some examples:
“I feel strongly that I should receive recognition from the company based on my contributions.”
“I feel uncomfortable that you expect me to help you over my own priorities.”
“I feel disappointed when you didn’t follow through when you told me you would.”
Avoid using sentences that begin with “you” and followed by accusation or judgment, such as “you are…,” “you should…,” or “you need to….” “You” language followed by such directives put the listener on the defensive, and make them less likely to be open to what you have to say.
4. The Ability to Stay Proactive, Not Reactive in the Face of a Difficult Person
Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or at home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to staying proactive in such situations? Here are three quick tips:
A. When you feel angry and upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of complicate the problem. If you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down.
B. Another way to reduce reactivity is to try to put yourself in the difficult individual’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy….”
“My child is being so resistant. It must not be easy to deal with his school and social pressures…”
“My boss is really demanding. It must not be easy to have such high expectations placed on her performance by management…”
To be sure, empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behavior. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviors from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. By de-personalizing, we can view the situation more objectively, and come up with better ways of solving the problem.
C. Set Consequence.The ability to identify and assert consequence(s) is one of the most important skills you can use to “stand down” a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the difficult individual, and compels her or him to shift from violation to respect. In my book (click on title) “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle People,” consequence is presented as seven different types of power you can utilize to affect positive change.
5. The Ability to Bounce Back from Adversity
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
— Michael Jordan
Life is not always easy. We all know that. How we choose the way we think, feel, and act in relation to life’s challenges can often make the difference between hope versus despair, optimism versus frustration, and victory versus defeat. With every challenging situation we encounter, ask questions such as “What is the lesson here?” “How can I learn from this experience?” “What is most important now?” and “If I think outside the box, what are some better answers?” The higher the quality of questions we ask, the better the quality of answers we will receive. Ask constructive questions based on learning and priorities, and we can gain the proper perspective to help us tackle the situation at hand.
“Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.”
— Wall Street Journal
6. The Ability to Express Intimate Emotions in Close, Personal Relationships
The ability to effectively express and validate tender, loving emotions is essential to maintaining close personal relationships. In this case, “effective” means sharing intimate feelings with someone in an appropriate relationship, in a manner that’s nourishing and constructive, and being able to respond affirmatively when the other person does the same.
A person’s “heart withers if it does not answer another heart.”
— Pearl Buck
Psychologist Dr. John Gottman calls the expression of intimate emotions “bidding.” Bidding can be any method of positive connection between two people desiring a close relationship. For example:
Verbal bidding: “How are you doing?” “How are you feeling?” “I love you.” “I appreciate you.” “I like it when we talk like this.” “I’m glad we’re spending this time together.” “you’re such a good friend.” “I’m sorry.”
Body language bidding: positive eye contact, hugging, smiling, patting the elbow, arm around the shoulder.
Behavioral bidding: offering food or beverage, a personalized card, a thoughtful gift, a needed favor. Empathetic listing. Engaging in shared activities that create a closer bond.
Dr. Gottman’s research reveals that close, healthy relationships bid with each other in ways large and small up to hundreds of times a day. The words and gestures can be a million variations, all of which say, in essence, “I care about you,” “I want to be connected with you,” and “you’re important in my life.” Constant and consistent bidding is crucial in the maintenance and development of close, personal relationships. It’s the vitamin of love.
Why is that we tend to be more successful at pursuits we are genuinely passionate about? Why does time seem to drag when you are completely bored and uninterested in a task? How come you can easily lose yourself in a task that really piques your interest?
According to positive psychology, doing things that you find genuinely interesting and stimulating can put you into a state Flow, which is defined as an ‘optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.’ During flow, self-awareness and the ego can dissolve, meaning you become completely focused and immersed in the activity for its own sake. Flow has been linked to enhanced performance and creativity across a wide range of activities, such as sports, artistic pursuits, and even in the workplace. Perhaps you can visualize a time when you became so focused and passionate about something that time just dissipated?
WHAT DOES FLOW FEEL LIKE?
Psychologically, riding a state of flow can feel incredibly pleasing and liberating. As we immerse ourselves in an activity that stimulates our passions, curiosity and interests, we lose track of the world around us and can enter unusual states of creativity and productivity.
According to psychologist Mikhal Csíkszentmihályi’s landmark book Finding Flow, the feeling of flow is associated with these ten factors, although not all of them need to be present to experience it. Have you ever experienced some or all of these?
- You feel a complete focus of attention
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding
- You have clear, attainable (although still challenging) goals
- You have a feeling of peace and losing yourself
- There is an element of timelessness, or, losing track of time during the activity
- You receive immediate feedback
- You know that the task is doable, and you can strike a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
- You feel a sense of personal control over your efforts
- You lose track of your physical needs.
- You experience an unusually high level of concentration
WHAT DOES FLOW LOOK LIKE IN THE BRAIN?
A variety of processes occur simultaneously in the brain when we enter a state of flow. Essentially, these processes are threefold and together they help explain why during flow, the brain is capable of enhanced creativity and productivity: Transitions in brainwaves, deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, and changes in neuro-chemistry.
- Brain Wave Transitions:
While in a state of flow, our brainwaves transition from the more rapid beta waves of waking consciousness to slower alpha waves, and even to the border of much slower theta waves. Alpha waves are associated with relaxed and effortless alertness, peak performance and creativity, while theta waves are associated with the deeper dream-state consciousness and experienced predominately during REM sleep.
- Pre-Frontal Cortex Deactivation:
During flow states, the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) becomes deactivated in a process called “transienthypo-frontality.” The PFC is the area of the brain that houses higher-level cognitions, including those that help us to cultivate our ego and sense of self. During a flow state this area becomes deactivated, helping us lose ourselves in the task at hand and silence our criticisms, fears and self-doubts.
Flow states also trigger a release of many of the pleasurable and performance- inducing chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins. A recent study shows that when are intrinsically curious about an outcome and driven for answers, dopamine is released in the brain, helping to solidify our memories. These findings suggest why flow states are good for promoting learning and memory in addition to creativity.
EIGHT STEPS FOR ENHANCING YOUR STATE OF FLOW
In addition to being a pleasurable and productive experience, riding the flow also has a host of other benefits to well-being including increased self- esteem, self-confidence, life satisfaction and overall happiness. Here are eight steps for enhancing your state of flow:
- Do something that interests you.
Flow comes most naturally when we are intrinsically motivated, excited and curios about the task. So if you are looking to get creative and productive, choose to focus on a task that you enjoy and already feel passionate about. If this is for work, or you don’t have a choice of the task, try to identify elements of the tasks that excite you. Maybe there are certain parts of project or elements of an assignment that interest you? Pay special attention to those.
- Set Clear Goals.
Be specific when you are getting started on a task. What is the goal you are aiming for? Are you trying to finish a painting? Write a new song? Complete a presentation? Or perfect a new yoga pose? This will help to hone your focus and keep you on task. If you try to do too much it could overwhelm you, and if you do too little you might not spend enough time in deep concentration to reach a flow state.
- Find A Quiet and Productive Time.
Most people find that an environment of peace and quiet works best for inducing a state of flow, possibly because of how brainwave patterns shift into slower frequencies during flow. When you begin your work, try to cultivate a calm, quiet environment. Also, make sure to identify when you are most productive: For some, this is first thing in the morning, and for others it is afternoon. For me, it is late at night. Identify the right time for you to be creative and block it off to engage in your flow time.
- Avoid Interruptions and Distractions
Interruptions are the nemesis of flow. Every time get distracted, whether it is a roommate speaking to us, our phone beeping, emails coming in, a distracting song, or a messy desk, it can pull us out of flow and quicken our brainwaves to beta state. When you decide it is time to get into flow, turn off the phone, ask your friends, family or roommates not to disturb you, and tidy up your work space before you get started.
- Focus as Long as you Can:
Once you are able to sit down during a quiet productive time without distractions, try to stay focused for as long as you can. At first, especially if you are new to the task, you may only be able to focus for five or ten minutes. This is OK: Just keep practicing! As you continue to direct your energies to focusing, you will train your brain to more easily and fluidly drop into the flow state and before long, hours will be passing by like minutes.
- Match Your Skills to the Task
We can best enter flow when we are working on a task that is suited to our skill level. In other words, when we are well prepared for the task at hand, we are more likely to experience flow. Csíkszentmihályi gives the example of a runner experiencing flow during a marathon for which she has trained for several months.
- But There is No Harm in Stretching Your Skills Slightly
Your skills should match the task at hand, but it is also possible to stretch your skills slightly past your comfort zone to maximize flow. A little bit of a challenge can be a great thing. So perhaps you are trying a new yoga move that is extra difficult. Or you are recording a song using new software. As long as the background skills are there, pushing yourself a little bit can be excellent for bringing you into a concentrated, productive state.
- Emphasize Process, Not Outcome
Finally, please remember that the experience of flow is a PROCESS, not an outcome. In other words, working and creating from a place of flow is a life skill that you can strive to master with practice, and this usually does not happen overnight. Just keep trying and do not give up even if you don’t nail it right away. Remember, flow is all abut enjoyment and living in the present moment. If you become to wrapped up in the outcome, then it can take your enjoyment away. Who really cares what the painting looks like, so long as you enjoyed painting it right!? Just keep trying and continue to be open to the creativity flowing through your space
Brooks, director of the Austin Psychology and Assessment Center, says our thoughts are like a river. When we’re thinking about what we need from the store, the river is calm, but when we’re having negative thoughts–worrying about a presentation, for example–the current becomes more turbulent.
Mindful people–those who live in the present–can step back and stay on the riverbank, watching their current of thoughts and not getting swept away by their content.
Meditation fosters mindfulness, but the practice seems difficult in today’s world of constant stimulation: “People think the goal of meditation is to empty the mind,” says Brooks. “It’s not about clearing the mind; it’s about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn’t a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.”
Brooks says meditating is like exercise; a full workout is preferred, but there is value in short bursts.
“Research shows that a total of 15 minutes of meditating each day for several weeks produces detectable, positive changes in the brain as well as corresponding reductions in stress, anxiety, and an enhanced sense of well-being,” says Brooks. “You can get the benefits of a formal meditation practice by weaving mini-meditations into your daily life.”
He offers six ways you can effortlessly incorporate meditation into your daily life:
1. WALKING MEDITATION
While walking your dog, taking a hike, or simply getting the mail, focus your attention on one item, such as the sound of the cicadas, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, or the color of the tree. When the mind wanders, catch it and return to your original focus.
“Research has found that just being in nature reduces stress,” says Brooks. “We weren’t meant to sit in cubicles all day and when we disconnect from nature, we suffer a lot of stress.”
2. RED LIGHT MEDITATION
While stopped at a red light, turn off your radio and focus on deep breaths. When your mind wanders, go back to your breath.
“Breathing meditation is one of the easiest because it’s always with us and exists in the present moment,” says Brooks. “You can’t listen to yesterday’s breath.”
3. RUNNING/CYCLING MEDITATION
If you run or bike, leave your headphones at home and focus on the experience.
“Tune into a physical sensation, such as the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your hair, or the warmth of the sunlight,” says Brooks. “Choose one item and maintain your focus. Don’t jump mindlessly from one sensation to another.”
4. EATING/DRINKING MEDITATION
As you eat or drink, focus on the various flavours, textures, and sensations of the particular food or drink. Drinking a cup of tea or enjoying a piece of chocolate can be a form of meditation, says Brooks.
“Savor what you have in the moment,” he says.
5. WAITING MEDITATION
While in line, observe your breath or surroundings. Use the time to do some inner observations. For example, are your muscles tense? Are you cold or hot?
“It is important that when you do the observations, you do them without judgment,” says Brooks. “If you’re in the supermarket checkout line, for example, avoid judging people for what they have in their shopping carts. Observe and notice without opinion.”
6. TASK-RELATED MEDITATION
You can also incorporate mindfulness meditation into daily activities, says Brooks. For example, washing your hands, folding laundry, taking a shower, washing dishes, or brushing your teeth can serve as mini-meditations if you focus on the experience and stop your mind from wandering.
“Focusing on what’s happening now pulls us out of our river of thoughts,” says Brooks. “The benefit of meditation is that when something in the real world comes up, we’re much better at catching our thoughts instead of getting swept into their current.”
by Amy Westervelt
The workplace happiness trend is sweeping through corporate America, but overhauling a company culture is no easy task. Businesses big and small share their most effective strategies
Companies of every size and in every industry have whole-heartedly embraced the idea that happy employees are more productive, and that engaging employees in a company’s mission is one of the best ways to ensure success. But let’s face it: not everyone is Etsy, with an entire team devoted to such endeavors, or Bank of America, with a budget for extensive sociometric studies of its workplace, and even fewer could justify the sort of investment Google makes in attracting and retaining top talent.
Fortunately, it’s not an all-or-nothing endeavor. According to Alison Davis Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, there are myriad ways for companies to pick and choose the positive business strategies that best suit their size, industry and particular needs. Here are five strategies some of the world’s most successful businesses have deployed to help them not only hire employees that are a good fit, but also keep them engaged over the long term.
Step one: consider your culture
If the idea of re-engineering your company’s culture sounds overwhelming, consider the case of Mercedes-Benz, which had to figure out how to accomplish the task across a geographically distributed franchise dealer network with more than 25,000 employees.
“How do you build a strong culture, especially with an organization like ours, which has 3,000-plus employees and then a dealer network wherein each organization has its own initiatives and agendas?” said Gareth Joyce, the automaker’s vice president of customer experience. Tasked with improving customers’ experiences across the brand, Joyce knew he needed to start with the employees that interacted with those customers daily.
“You have to create a vision for people to follow, and once you succeed in doing that, you have to tell the story, again and again,” he said. “Eventually the story begins to feed itself. People start to feel good about what they’re doing. If you know what your purpose is and you start to see the connection between what you’re doing every day and the company’s vision, you see that you’re making a difference. Then tomorrow you want to get up and do more of that.”
The first step in that process for Mercedes was giving each employee access to the company’s product. “We got them into a Mercedes to take home, to show their families, their wives, their kids, their boyfriends and girlfriends, so that they could say: ‘This is the brand I represent. This is what I take pride in,’” Joyce said. “If they haven’t experienced it themselves, how are they going to sell it to anyone else with any passion?”
Next, the company created a culture survey that it regularly administers to both corporate and dealer employees. Mercedes provides one day of consulting to each of its dealers to go over the results of the survey and turn the information into action, which then gets evaluated in the next survey.
Instead of using software or IT tools, “we’ve opted for a people-centered approach because we think that goes straight to the root: if you get your people behind what you’re doing, it takes you further, faster than any other approach,” Joyce said.
Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of online food seller Zingerman’s, puts it simply: “If you want customer service to be better, give better service to the staff.”
Step two: rethink hiring
Once your company has set its culture and vision, the next step is thinking really carefully about who you hire, Blake said. She recommends evaluating candidates not just for skills, but also for temperament and fit.
“The problem is that hiring tends to be based on attraction bias – I like people who are like me – which has nothing to do with features that are relevant to the sort of firm you want to build,” she said.
This approach to hiring, sometimes called “attribute-based,” is growing more popular for companies of all sizes. In some cases, companies are ignoring resumes, references, and even the traits traditionally associated with success in a particular role, and opting instead to look at the attributes that make employees successful (and likely to stick around) in their particular culture.
It requires a bit more planning and potentially a lengthier interview process, but figuring out which attributes work well in a specific company and role – and documenting those traits – is helping businesses to get better talent and keep it. ATB Investor Services, a mid-size financial advisor firm in Alberta, Canada, for example, saw its turnover rate drop and sales increase when it adopted this approach.
“It doesn’t cost any money to be more disciplined in hiring – in fact it costs less in the long-term because you make fewer errors,” Blake said. “Companies should think carefully about not only a candidate’s skills, but also their attitude about work, attitude about the role of business in general, about the company’s products and so forth, and be intentional about writing that stuff down.”
This is especially important for small businesses, which often have loose hiring practices, she said. “Smaller firms will often say ‘we don’t need HR; we don’t need all that bureaucracy,’” she said. “But mission-aligned, culture-aligned hiring is important for companies of any size.”
Step three: increase performance reviews
The idea of conducting more performance reviews doesn’t sound like something that would catch on, but more and more companies are doing just that. The idea is simple: only giving employees and managers one chance a year to sit down and talk about what does and doesn’t work all but ensures that things will slip through the cracks. It doesn’t give managers time to improve an employee’s performance, nor does it give employees time to raise important issues. The result is typically higher-than-necessary turnover rates.
Instead, some companies are opting to conduct quick weekly surveys that not only help the companies deal with issues but also help employees pass good ideas up the management chain regularly. Luke Ryan, a spokesperson for 15Five, which provides performance review software used by eyewear brand Warby Parker, software company Citrix Systems and invention website Quirky, says the idea is to “create ‘trickle-up’ communication, to surface ideas and problems on a weekly basis”.
Other companies have created their own performance review processes, incorporating input from employees and external HR experts. Australian software company Atlassian conducted a year-long program aimed at replacing its performance-review process – a standard bi-annual, 360-degree review – with something that took less time and did a better job of engaging employees.
In a blog post about the project, Joris Luijke, the company’s vice president of talent and culture, wrote: “Twice a year, the model did exactly the opposite to what we wanted to accomplish. Instead of an inspiring discussion about how to enhance people’s performance, the reviews caused disruptions, anxiety and de-motivated team members and managers. Also, even though our model was extremely lean and simple, the time investment was significant.”
In the end, the company created its own new process, which has since been duplicated by hundreds of other companies. It got rid of the scale associated with performance reviews, and replaced bi-annual review meetings with monthly check-ins. Atlassian managers were already meeting weekly with their employees, so the company decided to devote one of these weekly meetings per month to a broader conversation about performance, with a different focus area each month.
Eventually the company discovered and began using software from Small Improvements to manage this process, joining several other companies, including social media company Pinterest, ride-sharing company Lyft and home décor business One King’s Lane.
Step four: be transparent
Transparency is often discussed in terms of how a company communicates with the public, but even companies that have transparency down pat in their external communication can falter with internal transparency.
There are, of course, companies that manage to be transparent in the extreme: Zingerman’s Deli, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, opens its books to every single employee. Digital payment infrastructure company Stripe, based in San Francisco, has a famously open email policy wherein all email is internally public and searchable. And social media app Buffer has made its internal salary formula public, along with all employee compensation packages, as part of its commitment to the “radical transparency” CEO Joel Gascoigne says is intended to “breed trust, the foundation of great teamwork”.
But even companies that are either unwilling or unable to be completely open could benefit from a bit more transparency with their employees.
“A lot of public companies in particular are worried about legal and financial issues with opening up their books, but they could still be transparent about their operations and some aspects of the finances and reap the benefits,” says Wayne Baker, who teaches open-book finance at the Ross business school.
Baker cites Whole Foods Markets and Southwest Airlines as large, public companies that use a modified form of open-book finance to help keep their employees engaged.
Step five: empower employees
In addition to educating employees about the company’s mission, it’s important for executives to find ways to empower their employees to contribute to that mission in every way they can.
Mercedes’ Joyce sees this as critical to the success of his company’s customer service goal of delighting customers. Mercedes’ internal brand program, MB Select, provides a framework that gives employees who have direct customer contact the flexibility to do what they deem necessary to keep those customers happy.
“In that moment, where the customer is right in front of someone, and they see that something is going in a direction it shouldn’t be, you have to empower people to act,” Joyce said, describing MB Select as a “no-rules program”. “It’s about saying to our employees, ‘we trust you to do the right thing’ and enabling them to truly wow a customer in the moment.”
For Zingerman’s Weinzweig, it’s not just about making employees feel empowered but also about doing what’s best for the business.
“Why wouldn’t you want to tap into all the intellectual and physical capabilities of your staff?” he said. “People are smart and they want to do good work. Our job is to create an ecosystem in which that’s ever more likely and to create processes that encourage them to use that intelligence, and a system in which they have agency so they’re not helpless victims of some big corporate entity.”
A Trinity College researcher says students need to develop resilience, by focusing on their strengths.
Jolanta Burke believes not enough attention is paid to what makes children happy in the Irish curriculum, and yet it has a huge bearing on how well they perform in school.
Ms Burke, a psychologist and PhD researcher at Trinity College’s School of Education, believes we should embed positive psychology in the Irish curriculum. She has been advising guidance counsellors on how to use it in schools and says teachers should also receive training.
Positive psychology is defined by Jolanta Burke as the “science of well-being”.
“Until now, psychologists in schools have tended to focus on students with problems. They focus on the students’ weaknesses and how they fall apart.
“Positive psychology looks at the school differently. We look at the top students and learn from them as much as possible, so that we can help the majority of students become better. Rather than focusing on the weaknesses of students, we focus on their strengths.”
The psychologist is keen to emphasise that this is not a “happy clappy” approach, where children are told how wonderful they are.
“It is not about building up self-esteem. That was a mistake among the 1970s generation of parents. They tried to blow up their child’s sef-esteem by telling them how fabulous they were and that they could do anything. That is actually not good for a child because it reduces their resilience.”
The positive psychology programmes in schools place a strong emphasis on developing character strengths and encouraging resilience.
Jolanta Burke believes resilience can be encouraged in three ways:
• children can be taught to bounce back after disappointments – for example, if they fail exams
• they can be taught to build up a shield that protects them from hurt in certain situations
• kids can learn how to keep going and the importance of perseverence when facing up to the challenges in life
The psychologist says perseverance and an attitude of not wanting to give up are hugely important when it comes to performance in schools.
“You might have a talent for music, but unless you are prepared to put the effort in, it can be wasted.”
While Jolanta Burke does not believe in inflating self-esteem, she wants to encourage more positive emotions and a more optimistic outlook.
“An optimistic way of thinking is very important. I am doing research on bullying at the moment, and it is associated with a pessimistic thinking style.
“Adolescents who think optimistically believe adversity is temporary, and that it affects only one aspect of their lives, and they do not tend to blame themselves for the situation.
“Those who are pessimistic believe adversity is permanent and affects all aspects of their lives and that they themselves are to blame. We try to get students to think more optimistically, and this can reduce depression and anxiety.”
All of these articles and many more can be found in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection