Why should we care about happiness?

It’s the sort of question that could only come up in business. If you were at home, on holiday or out on the town socializing then the answer would be obvious. To a child, the desire to be happy is so obvious they probably couldn’t even put a reason into words. Happiness is what motivates us, what makes life worthwhile. Everything else we value is a means to that end, for ourselves or for others.

Yet happiness at work is something we often ignore. Some even scoff at talking about it. So why should you care about workplace happiness? And as a leader, how can you inspire and spread joy?

Why Workplace Happiness Matters

Years ago, I got into a conversation about work with a friend of the generation before mine. He didn’t do an especially unusual or entertaining job, yet he took joy in it. He said that he couldn’t bear the thought of spending his day watching the clock, just waiting to leave. If he was going to spend that much time doing something, he needed to enjoy it.

His words pinned down a long standing problem – the dissonance between how we ideally believe we should live and how we have accepted that we must work. We have been told that we should make ourselves happy, yet we have also been told that we should put our noses to the grindstone and work no matter our feelings. This creates cognitive dissonance, unsettling us on a subconscious level. Add that to the demotivating effect of doing something you don’t enjoy, and your energy is sapped.

Hence the extraordinary range of figures showing the benefits of workplace happiness:

  • SHRM found that satisfied employees perform 20% better.
  • The Dale Carnegie Institute found that companies with satisfied employees may perform twice as well as competitors.
  • HBR found happy employees to be 3 times more creative, 31% more productive, and generate 37% more sales.

Knowing its value, how can you encourage happiness in the workplace?

Keeping Yourself Joyful

Start with yourself. There are three reasons for this:

  • If you’re happier you’ll be more productive, and a more productive leader means a more productive business.
  • You’ll set a great example to employees, and encourage them with your positive energy.
  • Your happiness is just as important as everyone else’s – happiness for happiness’s sake is reason enough.

How to go about it? That’s going to depend a bit on what makes you happy, but certain things are universal.

Celebrate Victories

When you succeed, don’t rush straight on to the next problem. Take five minutes to look at the implications of what you’ve achieved, and to bask in the mental glow. For landmark moments, go out and celebrate with the others involved. Prove to your brain that all this work was worthwhile.

Positive Thinking

It might sound absurd, but you can train your brain to be happier. Concentrate mentally on the positives of your work – the parts you enjoy, the people you work with, the good you do. When you get angry, annoyed or disappointed, shift back to the positives. Keep doing it until you can get through a day and then a week without lingering on the negative thoughts. Your mood around the office will improve.

Mindfulness

If you struggle to let go of the negative thoughts then try a mindfulness exercise. There are plenty of them on YouTube. It will help you to let go of any thoughts, positive or negative, to identify what’s bothering you and to clear the pathway for positivity.

And yes, I know how new age this sounds. But the brain is like a muscle – if you exercise it in a particular way then you’ll get better at that thing – even being happy.

Keeping Your Employees Joyful

Having made yourself happy, how do you spread this among your employees?

Positive Reinforcement

The first point is the most obvious one – provide plenty of positive feedback for good work and behavior, whether it’s something above and beyond the call of duty or simply getting the daily job done. Praise positive attitudes as well as good work. Make people feel good about feeling good.

As far as possible, avoid focusing on the negatives. Make negative feedback and disciplinary processes quick rather than drawn out. This way you avoid emotionally validating human tendencies to focus on the bad.

Foster Engagement

There are a host of tips for this across the internet, including in my book on using marketing techniques in HR. The important thing is that you reduce people’s detachment from their work, creating a real emotional connection. If they aren’t positively engaged in what they’re doing then they’ll be watching the clock.

Listen

Open your ears and your mind. People love talking about themselves and their work, and if given the time to talk about them then they’ll feel happier. Make a note of any problems, making clear you won’t ignore them, but try to bring the focus onto positives and achievements, bringing happiness to the forefront of employees’ minds.

Ask Why

Don’t ignore the problems that have been pointed out to you, or the people who are constantly unhappy. When you get back to your desk, take the time to dig into why those problems are arising, and what you can do about them. Then make the change and celebrate it, smoothing out the pathway to happiness for others even as you reinforce it in yourself.

You Can Make Happiness

Happiness doesn’t just happen, it’s something you can produce. So focus on that, and make a happier, more productive workforce.