One topic I’ve encountered frequently over the past 18 months when talking about happiness at work is a corporate fear that we’re somehow introducing a focus on something soft; it may be something not work-related that might encourage people to be less productive. As anyone who has ever offered a response like that to me will attest, I disagree in the most fundamental way.
No matter what name employers give it – employee experience, employee engagement, satisfaction – the goal for most is exactly the same :
We want the best version of our people to show up every day.
[ctt template=”4″ link=”0rX56″ via=”no” ]We want the best version of our people to show up every day. [/ctt]
If you think about that for a moment, how often do you feel like the best version of yourself when you’re under pressure, tired, bored, in conflict with others, not respected?
My guess is – never.
Yet we all feel like this at work sometimes, and for many people I suspect it happens quite frequently.
The Science Behind Happiness
Science has shown repeatedly over the past few decades that we do everything better when we’re happier.
- We’re more creative and innovative
- Our learning receptors turn on
- We have better cognitive flexibility
- We take less time off work due to sickness
- We’re more loyal and stay in our jobs longer (critical for retaining knowledge and experience)
- We work better with others
- We’re significantly more productive
Our customers (whether internal or external) enjoy a much better experience when interacting with happier people. And, if all that wasn’t enough, happiness is contagious and is shown to spread through groups and organizations.
All of that adds up to better overall company performance – where companies with happier staff generate significantly better results to the bottom line.
Happiness is Different from Engagement
While I say it doesn’t matter what you call your people program, happiness is not engagement by another name; it represents a shift in perspective.
Engagement is something companies want from their people – they’re often measured and rewarded on the results of the annual engagement survey – and the pattern of activity that it’s creating inside firms is increasingly one-sided. Because we see engagement as being about what the company wants (rather than what we want), it often produces reactions that are akin to “you want me to be engaged, go on then, engage me”… “do stuff for me… give me more stuff”.
Happiness is much more about the individual; we all understand it and we’re much more likely to want to help. With happiness, people are more likely to respond, “I’d like to be happier. How can I help?”
What Makes People Happy at Work?
The point about giving me more “stuff” was reinforced for me earlier this week when one Chief People Officer explained that they’re increasingly being asked (in their engagement surveys) if free soda or free food would make employees happier.
Don’t get me wrong, if companies choose to offer these perks, I’m sure they’ll be enjoyed but we know this isn’t what makes people happy at work. What influences our happiness, and our ability to show up as our best version has very little to do with getting more “stuff”.
It’s far more fundamental.
A Formula for Happiness at Work
I recently shared the simplest version of a happiness at work formula I’d seen.
Dozens of authors share their own versions of the key to happiness at work or to getting the best out of people (note this is still being done to you rather than being about you), but pick any one and see if it fits this formula.
I’ll pick one – Dan Pink’s view: Purpose, Autonomy, Mastery
- Purpose | This is such a fundamental requirement in all businesses that it barely needs explaining. But without understanding why we’re doing what we do (and more than just for the shareholders’ benefit), we can’t possibly have freedom or be given responsibility. Granted, firms have improved dramatically at understanding why they exist but much work is needed to translate that to the employee level to understand the meaning of our individual roles.
- Autonomy | This is almost a direct read across from freedom, but fear grips most corporate entities and therefore they find it hard to relinquish control, and in fact seek more of it. Policies, procedural manuals, rules and a desire for consistency, reduce their ability to allow people to exercise judgment, to act based upon their values and to do what’s right given the circumstances presented to them. We don’t give people freedom so they can’t own responsibility.
- Mastery | We all have a desire to be great at something. When we’re doing something we really care about, we instinctively want to learn more… to take responsibility for improving the way we do the job.
Now a company that can create an environment where all that is possible already sounds like somewhere I could imagine working.
Happiness Often Reflects Our Choices
I mentioned before that a shift in perspective to happiness is a two-way street. And while I’ve touched on individual responsibility, there is more that we see as essential to our happier selves, our best selves showing up every day.
As an intro to this point… a quick did you know?
- 50 percent of our happiness comes from our DNA – essentially whether we lean more towards optimism or pessimism – glass-half-full or glass-half-empty
- 10 percent of our happiness is derived from our environment… what happens to us, where we work and our income, etc
- 40 percent of our happiness comes from daily choices and actions – our reaction to external events, how we behave, etc
Hopefully it’s clear when our focus is on “give me stuff” we’re influencing the 10 percent. Whereas there’s a massive 40 percent to aim at just through our daily actions.
I personally think it’s exhausting choosing to be positive in the face of toxic behaviors at work. This is probably why much of the happiness work I’ve encountered focuses on these actions and choices – choosing your reaction, practicing mindfulness, exercising – all proven to have a huge impact on personal happiness.
People you work with can’t make you happy. That’s your responsibility. But they certainly can make it a lot easier or harder depending on their behaviors. This topic is covered brilliantly by Christine Porath in her book “Mastering Civility”.
[ctt template=”4″ link=”0nm7r” via=”no” ]People you work with can’t make you happy. That’s your responsibility.[/ctt]
Starting the Conversation around Happiness
When we measure happiness in the workplace with Happiness Lab®, we know it encourages conversation about what makes people feel good or bad – we’ve never once had anyone say they felt really unhappy because of a lack of free soda. Instead, we are able to get a more accurate understanding of why they feel unhappy.
- Some feel unhappy because people hadn’t prepared for the meeting and they couldn’t achieve what they needed to.
- Others feel unhappy because someone decided to change the scope of their project without first discussing it.
- Still, others feel unhappy because other people hadn’t done what they said they would.
Being able to work with teams using actual data about how they’ve felt over the last working period, exploring what’s been driving both the good bits (so we can replicate them), and what left them feeling less good (so we can make changes to how we work) is a powerful process, particularly when we let the teams determine the actions. No one wants to feel unhappy. And I don’t know anyone who would want their colleagues to be unhappy either.
Happiness seen from these different perspectives is far more than what feels good. It is not engagement by another name.
It is performance improvement with a human approach.