If you as a leader want to achieve greater business results – and help people feel more fulfilled and happy with their work – you need to intentionally create workplace optimism.
Not the warm-and-fuzzy, puppies-butterflies-and-rainbows kind of optimism, but the kind with a real impact on your bottom line. The kind that increases productivity and profits – and leads to higher retention of your best people and referrals for more great people.
What Is Workplace Optimism?
Most of us are familiar with optimism as an outlook on life – a personal “half-full” approach. That’s not what workplace optimism is, however.
Optimism in the workplace is the way the environment feels to the people spending 30 to 50 percent of lives at work. This positive feeling gives others hope that good things will come from their hard work. In a positive workplace, people focus on what’s right and what’s possible – rather than being dragged down by idolizing problems and polarizing politics.
While optimism in the workplace doesn’t require all team members to be optimists, this positive approach to work certainly shapes people’s perspectives about their contributions during the work day.
So what can a leader do to create more optimism in the workplace? Here are five actions that help it emerge. The more of these actions you take, the stronger the feeling of optimism you’ll create in your work environment.
Merely clocking in and “doing a job” – as the majority of employees view their work – is a barrier to optimism.
To help employees get past the Industrial Age mindset, we must show – by example – that good results will come from hard work. Help employees understand how their role impacts their customer, colleagues and the bottom line. Most important, help them tie their work to the company’s mission so, at the end of the day, they can say, “I did that…I made that happen.”
Lean on Leadership
The best leaders understand how their leadership impacts the work climate. They know people do their best work when the leader actively listens, considers the diversity of opinions around them and inspires action.
To understand your impact, meet with carefully selected people – employees, colleagues and mentors – who you believe will be honest with you about your impact. Ask what you do well, and what you should improve. Listen intently. Then, as you seek to deepen your impact, focus on the issues and influences you have control over.
Peter Aceto, CEO of Canada’s Tangerine Bank, sets aside the first ten minutes of every meeting to connect with people. He deliberately “wastes” (his word) time making people smile, having non-work related conversation, and building relationships.
A simple act by a leader like this helps people bond. It makes us more empathetic, tolerant and patient. It helps us work closer together, in a more optimistic fashion. This feeling of relatedness also helps people, as they work together, tackle difficult tasks or start tough conversations.
Promote Positive Identity
Workplace optimism is first experienced when people feel good about themselves. They know their contribution matters.
To enable positive identity, promote an environment where regular feedback – positive and constructive, formal and informal – is appreciated, even expected. Learn what excites each of your employees in their work, and help them experience it more frequently. Develop meaningful relationships with each person on your team, and contribute directly to their positive identity.
Today, employees want to make a difference. In fact, in a recent DeVry study of what Millennials want from their careers, 71 percent said “meaningful work” was at the top of their list. It’s no longer enough for members of today’s workforce to contribute only to goals set by the company. It’s also important to satisfy one’s own goals and make a difference for others – customers, colleagues and community.
As a leader, look at the whole person – not just the worker. Help them grow as people. Allow them to spend time supporting causes important to them. And they’ll bring their increased confidence and optimism into the workplace.
Our work day doesn’t have to be a grind. Work doesn’t have to be a drag.
The workplace can be optimistic. First, though, today’s leaders must choose to make a difference; they must choose to create a positive, energizing work experience.
This post originally appeared in Shawn’s weekly column on Inc.com.