Archive for science of happiness

Rewire Your Brain for Happiness: Why What You Think About Is What You Think About

This time of year, I’m reminded of the connection between gratitude and happiness and the need to get more of both. I’ve noticed people tend to spend more time focusing on what is wrong and not enough about what is right in their lives.

For some people, it’s their job. People in professions like tax accounting, auditing, and law may be even more focused on the wrong—the mistakes—because that’s what they are trained and paid to do: to find the wrong and fix it.

What happens when we focus on what’s wrong more than what’s right? Harvard researcher Shawn Achor calls it the Tetris Effect. I call it “What You Think About Is What You Think About.” Granted, Shawn’s title is catchier, but mine is more descriptive.

Four years ago, a Google search for gratitude + happiness yielded 14.6 million results. This month, the same search yielded 25.8 million results. That’s 11.2 million more instances of gratitude + happiness online. Now that in itself is something I’m grateful for, and it makes me happy. That means more people discussing, researching, writing about and considering the combination of gratitude and happiness at reputable institutions such as The New York Times, Harvard, Psychology Today and Forbes.

In a research study, 27 Harvard students were paid to play the videogame Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row. In the following days, the students reported they couldn’t stop seeing the Tetris shapes everywhere they looked. Their brains kept trying to rearrange everything—from buildings and trees on the landscape to cereal boxes on the shelf in the grocery store—to form a solid line so as to advance to the next level of the videogame. They couldn’t stop seeing the world as sequences of Tetris blocks!

This is caused by a natural physical process that actually changes the wiring of the brain. These new neural pathways warped the way these students viewed real-life situations. When people are focused on something—anything—their brains adapt and hone in on those circumstances and events.

A tax accountant may be terrific at her job, but when she brings her way of looking at the world home, she will miss seeing all the good in her life and may be on the road to depression. The same goes for the great attorney, who may be terrific in court but not so much at home, where family members feel like they are participants in a deposition.

Think about what you think about. When you notice something good happening, really notice it. Relish it. The more you can take notice, the more you will begin to see. Revisit my blog post What Went Well to learn a great technique for boosting your awareness and gratitude for the happy moments in life.

References

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principals of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

A Walk Down Memory Lane: Or Why I Love Positive Psychology

Sunshine Yellow Flower

My students in the Working with Emotional Intelligence class at Southern Oregon University recently presented on an emotional intelligence (EI) topic they wanted to know more about. I was delighted at the number who picked a positive psychology topic. That’s what I chose four years ago when I took an EI class as part of my Master in Management program. That got me thinking back …

Here’s how my thesis began: Previous business bestsellers (e.g., One Minute Manager, Who Moved My Cheese, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) may have offered good advice, and while much of this advice is intuitive, it was not based on research.

PsyCap

Research has demonstrated that specific psychological states contribute to an organization’s success. Developed by Fred Luthans, the premise of Psychological Capital (or PsyCap) is that a company can enhance its leadership, employee development and performance by developing four psychological states in its employees: hope, confidence [efficacy], optimism and resiliency. PsyCap is something that can be cultivated and can have a profound effect on an organization’s bottom line (Luthans, Avolio, Avey & Norman, 2007).

PsyCap is an individual’s positive state of psychological development characterized by the four constructs of:

  1. Hope: persevering toward goals and making adjustments along the way to succeed
  2. Confidence [efficacy]: taking on and putting in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks
  3. Optimism: feeling positive about succeeding now and in the future
  4. Resiliency: the ability to sustain and bounce back from problems and adversity to attain success (Avey, Luthans, Smith & Palmer, 2010)

PsyCap is made up of the combination of all four states because together they can predict performance outcomes more accurately than any single one (Avey, et al., 2010).

Outcomes

Through his research, Luthans confirmed that these states can be learned and the outcomes measured. He worked with a well-known Silicon Valley high-tech firm, where 75 engineering managers participated in PsyCap training. After subtracting the cost of the training and the engineers’ time, the calculated return on investment was 270% (Hope, Optimism and Other Business Assets, 2007).

Increasing Your PsyCap

I appreciate my students pointing me back to my PsyCap roots, and I love that I am able to use this research to help people and organizations around the Rogue Valley and beyond. If your organization would benefit from greater PsyCap, give me a call at 541.601.0114. Let’s see how successful you can be!

References

Avey, J., Luthans, F., Smith, R., & Palmer, N. (2010). Impact of positive psychological capital on employee well-being over time. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 15(1), 17–28. doi:10.1037/a0016998.

Hope, optimism, and other business assets: Q&A with Fred Luthans. (2007, January 11). Gallup Management Journal. Retrieved from http://gmi.gallup.com.

Luthans, F., Avolio, B.J., Avey, J.B., & Norman, S.M. (2007, Autumn). Positive psychological capital: measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 60(3), 541–572. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00083.x.

The Top 4 Employee Needs to Fulfill for Greater Happiness and Productivity

Business Leader Inspiring Employees

If you’ve been following this blog and other science of happiness research, you already know achieving employee satisfaction is key to creating a sustainable and productive workforce.

It’s simple, really. More satisfied employees = happier employees = more engaged employees = more productive employees = a mutually beneficial equation for everyone.

A 2012 Gallup meta-analysis of 263 research studies conducted across nearly 200 companies revealed that highly engaged employees translates into significantly more dollar signs—22 percent more, roughly. The Q12® report, titled “Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes,” found a 0.42 correlation between engagement and performance. Organizations whose employees ranked in the top half for employee engagement were almost twice as successful, and those in the 99th percentile showed quadruple the success rate over those scoring in the 1st percentile.

So how do you cultivate that employee engagement? Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath explore this question in “The Power of Meeting Your Employees’ Needs” at the HBR Blog.

According to the article, a 2013 Harvard Business Review survey of 19,000 people suggests meeting the following four needs is the secret:

Delivering Happiness Frameworks1) Renewal (physical). Employees are encouraged to take breaks to stretch, exercise, get fresh air or even power-nap. They return feeling rejuvenated and energized, ready to barrel through the next big task.

2) Value (emotional). When staff members feel valued by their coworkers and especially their supervisors, they are more motivated. We explore this formula extensively in our blog posts on The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People (Part 1 and Part 2).

3) Focus (mental). Employees who are bombarded with distractions, competing deadlines and inane meetings lose focus and clarity about their priorities. Organizations that give workers greater control over their own schedules so they can carve out focus time for intensive projects will see a corresponding rise in productivity.

4) Purpose (spiritual). Feeling part of something larger and more important than one’s self is crucial to employee happiness. Tony Hsiesh testifies to the significance of this factor to Zappos’ success in his book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Passion, Profits, and Purpose (see the Happiness Frameworks sidebar, graphics courtesy of the Delivering Happiness website).

The more needs met, the more exponentially engaged employees will be. Satisfy one need, and employees will be 30 percent more focused, 50 percent more engaged, and 63 percent more likely to stay with the company. Satisfying all four results in employees who are 125 percent more engaged than those whose needs are not being met.

The following graph (courtesy of HBR.org) illustrates the remarkable correlation between satisfaction of these four variables and performance.

Effects of Meeting Employees Needs Graph

Daniel Pink’s research backs up these findings. According to Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, people need these three things to feel motivated: 1) autonomy, 2) sense of purpose and 2) ability to master their endeavor.

Pink discovered that employee drive goes far deeper than dollars. Offering rewards like monetary bonuses actually decreases motivation in the long run because it depletes the intrinsic motivation derived from the work itself. The carrot wears out quickly, and it becomes the goal of the work rather than the actual process. Businesses would do better to ensure the work itself is gratifying.

Organizations that invest in cultivating employee happiness and engagement by meeting their primary needs wind up healthier, happier and ultimately richer.

Chris Cook can help your company get started on that path. Contact her at 541.601.0114 or chris@capiche.us to chart a course toward your brighter future.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Motivating Employees by Developing a Culture of Appreciation (Part 2)

Happy Employees Shaking Hands

In this post, we pick up the conversation about Dr. Paul E. White and Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace begun in our last post.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation

Words of Affirmation

This is the most common form of appreciation expressed in the workplace, and it is especially important to practice with individuals whose primary language of appreciation is verbal praise.

Here are a few ways to apply words of affirmation in the workplace:

  1. Praise individual employees for specific accomplishments.
  2. Notice and affirm personal character traits.
  3. Focus on positive personality traits that benefit the workplace.

When you praise positive behavior, the employee is more likely to repeat that behavior.

Praise and recognition can be public or private; introverted employees may prefer a quieter approach, while others will feel most appreciated when praise is shared in front of coworkers.

Individual, one-on-one expressions of appreciation are the most valued and thus the most effective approach. Sending emails or texts thanking an employee for a particular project or praising a specific characteristic are also effective. In a world where nearly all written communication is digital, handwritten notes can be especially meaningful.

Quality Time

If an employee’s language of appreciation is quality time, she will respond positively to the following actions:

  1. Offer your undivided attention, like so:
    • Maintain eye contact while talking.
    • Don’t multitask.
    • Listen for thoughts and feelings.
    • Affirm those feelings—even if you disagree.
    • Observe body language and respond accordingly.
    • Don’t interrupt (the average person listens 17 seconds before interrupting—try to beat that record).
  2. Find opportunities to create shared experiences.
  3. Engage in small group dialogue.
  4. Be in close physical proximity while accomplishing projects.

Working side by side on a shared goal creates a sense of quality time, even if you are working independently.

Physical presence isn’t enough to create a sense of quality time, however—you need to be emotionally present, too.

Acts of Service

For those who value acts of service, actions speak louder than words. Here are several ways to express appreciation to those who fall into this category:

  1. Ask if they want help.
  2. Offer your service voluntarily.
  3. Cultivate a cheerful attitude while helping out.
  4. Do it their way (you want them to feel the task is done “right”; otherwise, the service could backfire and make them feel they’d be better off doing it themselves).
  5. Complete what you start so they’re not left with an unfinished task (or warn them in advance that you can only help with a portion of the project, asking if they still want your help).

Receiving Gifts

A thoughtfully chosen gift suited to the individual can have an enormous impact on people whose primary language is tangible gifts. On the other hand, a poorly selected gift can give offense.

We are not talking about raises or monetary gifts; it has to be personal to the individual for it to be perceived as an expression of appreciation.

Here are a few tips on gift-gifting:

  1. Reserve gifts for those who list gifts as their primary or secondary language as gifts will likely have little impact on others.
  2. Give a gift the person values.
  3. Gifts are not always a thing; it can also be an experience like tickets to the theatre or a favorite sporting event.
  4. Time off from work can be a greatly appreciated gift.

Physical Touch

While there can be appropriate expressions of physical touch in the workplace—a friendly high-five, pat on the back, handshake, fist bump, hand on the shoulder or hug during a personal tragedy—this appreciation language is the trickiest to apply in a work environment.

The interpretation of touch varies widely according to individuals, the organizational subculture, and a person’s history with abuse. The risk of physical touch being perceived as sexual harassment is high in a culture where touch has been so highly sexualized.

Our research reveals that touch is the least important language for the workplace setting. Individuals who may have a primary language of physical touch in their romantic relationship may have an entirely different language in the workplace.

For those who do value touch as an expression of appreciation, however, affirming, non-sexual touches can be important.

The safest way to tell whether touch is an appropriate form of expression for that individual is to observe the employee’s behavior to see if he uses physical touch as an expression of appreciation to others. If a person stiffens in response to touch, that’s a good indication they are uncomfortable being touched.

3 Ways to Discover a Person’s Primary Language

Three-quarters of people intuitively express appreciation in their own language. This raises two significant points: 1) you can usually guess a person’s language of appreciation by observing how they express it to others and 2) just because you convey appreciation through your preferred language does not mean the recipient will feel appreciated. If you do not share the same language, the expression will fall on deaf ears.

To informally assess a person’s language of appreciation:

  1. Observe their behavior.
  2. Listen to their requests.
  3. Notice what they complain about (this usually reveals emotional hurts related to their language of appreciation).

MBA Inventory

Chapman and White developed the Motivating by Appreciation (MBA) inventory to help individuals and organizations assess employees’ languages of appreciation. It costs $10 to take the standard test, but you will get an access code for free with your purchase of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

After completing the MBA inventory, you will receive a report detailing your primary language, secondary language, and least valued language. The report also contains an action action checklist that others can reference as they learn how to express appreciation to you.

Individuals may wish to take the MBA inventory and then forward the report to their supervisors to open the lines of communication about appreciation.

Even better is if an organization decides to embark on an assessment process together. I would be happy to help facilitate the assessment and implementation process. If you are interested, give me a call at 541-601-0114 or email chris@capiche.us.

More Details

Visit the Appreciation at Work website for a list of resources, assessments, training tools and videos on the research presented in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Your Results

If you take the MBA inventory, tell us how it goes! We’re eager to hear how communicating appreciation plays out in your workplace and life.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Motivating Employees by Developing a Culture of Appreciation (Part 1)

Circle of Happy Coworkers

We’ve been exploring how understanding people’s primary love languages can help us develop stronger relationships in both our personal and professional lives. Now it’s time to examine those principles specifically in the context of the workplace.

For years, Dr. Gary Chapman had been wanting to apply the concepts developed in The 5 Love Languages to the workplace, but it wasn’t until he met psychologist and organizational consultant Dr. Paul E. White that he knew he’d found the right coauthor for this project. Their research culminated in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.

The Value of Appreciation

7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Steven Covey argues that psychological survival—feeling appreciated, understood, and affirmed—comes second only to physical survival in human needs.

Even so, employers who are myopically focused on the bottom line may not recognize the value of cultivating appreciation in the workplace. As we’ve repeatedly discussed in this blog, however, the recent wave of scientific research on happiness teaches us that investing in employee happiness, job satisfaction, and strengths yields higher profits and productivity, making this a win-win goal for everyone at the organization.

Why People Leave

A four-year study conducted by one of the leading exit interview firms reveals that managers could not be more wrong about the reasons employees leave. As many as 89% of managers believe employees leave their company for monetary reasons, but the fact is only 12% reported money as their cause of departure. A staggering 88% of employees said they left for other reasons—the number one cause being not feeling valued.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. Nearly 70% of US employees reported to Gallup that they receive no praise in the workplace. This lack of recognition creates a climate of discouragement and makes it difficult for organizations to retain quality employees.

According to research, employees favor recognition by supervisors over colleagues by a 2:1 margin. When that recognition is withheld, emotionally starved employees may start looking elsewhere for fulfillment.

The High Cost of Turnover

It is estimated that the cost of labor turnover on the US economy is $5 trillion a year. The loss of productivity, eroding morale, and time involved in hiring and training takes a hefty toll on an organization, especially when turnover is frequent. Far more cost-effective would be to invest in the people already there.

Managers’ Concerns

Employees who do not feel emotionally supported by their supervisors are far more likely to experience burnout. Employee turnover not only damages morale but also the financial health of the company.

In polling organizational leaders, White and Chapman discovered that managers’ five greatest concerns about employees are:

1) employees getting discouraged

2) employees experiencing burnout

3) employees feeling overwhelmed

4) the organization losing the positive culture built up over the years

5) managers not knowing how to encourage employees with limited financial resources

Developing an environment of appreciation helps combat all of these concerns.

Authenticity Is Key

Retaining your best employees begins with genuine, individual expressions of appreciation in the employee’s preferred language. Efforts to express appreciation must be specific to that person.

Authenticity is key. That’s why attempts to institute a companywide recognition policy often backfire—if expressions of gratitude are obligatory, employees will perceive those gestures as insincere, sparking resentment toward both their managers and the organization.

Culture of Appreciation

Establishing a culture of appreciation is a different story. By encouraging everyone at the company—supervisors and coworkers alike—to express gratitude and respect through the individual’s primary appreciation language, employers can boost job satisfaction and subsequently retention and productivity.

Stay Tuned

In our next post, we will examine the five languages of appreciation in detail: 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) acts of service, 4) receiving gifts, and 5) physical touch. We will also share tips on how to gauge a fellow employee’s language of appreciation—and look at tools you can use to help cultivate a culture of appreciation at your workplace.

More Details

Visit the Appreciation at Work website for a list of resources, assessments, training tools, and videos on the research presented in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Develop Positive Rituals to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Meditation in the Workplace

As we begin to understand our responses to situations, we can more effectively regulate and manage our emotions. My Master in Management class, “Working with Emotional Intelligence,” encourages students to build more awareness and confidence in their ability to understand and strengthen their emotional intelligence.

Our habits are expressed through four domains: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Every thought, feeling and action has an energy consequence; it can either be energy-producing or energy-draining.

We can manage this flow of energy through oscillation—cycling between expending and renewing our energy—which leads to high performance when balanced. Positive rituals or habits enhance and renew our energy levels and are the key to sustained high performance and focused full engagement. The feeling that accompanies these positive routines and sustains the energy renewal is that of appreciation or gratitude.

My challenge to the students this week: Explore your habits or routines that enhance or renew your energy levels. What fills you up and helps you restore your balance, sense of confidence and balance in life?

Look at all of the domains: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. What are the routines for each?

If you do not have any, what would you like to incorporate or practice?

Physically, perhaps a walk around the block or a 10-minute stretch twice a day will renew your energy levels. Examples of emotional boosts include writing or journaling for 15 minutes each morning or evening with a focus on that which brings you joy or gratitude (see my blog post What Went Well). Positive mental rituals could be researching something you are passionate about or strategizing action steps to reach a goal. The spiritual focus could be meditating, positive affirmations or prayer.

I encourage you to practice one or two of these behaviors. As you practice them, take the time to feel the sense of appreciation and gratitude for this gift to yourself. Let that feeling soak into all of your senses and let yourself be with it for as long as possible. Please share your experiences.

What Would Increased Happiness Do for Your Business?

Ashland Food Co-op Montage

“Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees. —Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

This summer, I worked with the Ashland Food Co-op on its groundbreaking Happiness@Work project—because they DIDN’T forget about the importance of a positive culture when things seemed to be going astray. The project was born out of tension between departments and between managers and their employees as well as a volatile debate around whether or not to unionize. Capiche was selected for this project by the Co-op’s Happiness@Work Team, which comprises board members, the general manager and representatives from the newly formed Employee Alliance.

Co-op General Manager Emile Amarotico says, “The positive impact this work has had on employee engagement in implementing solutions they’ve designed can’t help but permeate through fellow employees within the organization. It’s great that we’re making strides toward a happy workplace and have solutions being designed and implemented, but people can’t forget that the results also will include more productivity, happier customers and an atmosphere with a vibe that more people want to participate in.”

Known for its focus on happiness at work, Capiche applies the scientific research on happiness to real-world applications. “It’s fun to see where the theory starts to impact the actual workings, the mechanics of the organization,” Emile says.

Ashland Food Co-op Farmers Gathering ProduceAlong with trusted colleague John Bowling of Sustainable Leadership Consultants, Capiche started with an organizational assessment from Happiness Works and then created opportunities for employees at all levels to provide suggestions using an appreciative inquiry process. We gathered information about what employees valued most about their work at the Co-op and discovered areas that offered opportunities for improvement. Key topics that emerged were communication and cooperation, learning and development and renewal and stress management.

With this information, the Happiness@Work Team empowered three volunteer Solutions Teams (comingling managers and employees from various departments) to create and develop solutions around these key topics with the vision of making the Co-op a better place to work. These groups met for five months and, in the process of focusing on growth opportunities, also developed strong cross-department and cross-employment–level relationships. This promoted greater understanding and empathy among all involved.

Ashland Food Co-op Farmer in the FieldWith support from the Board of Directors and management team, these solutions are in the process of being implemented. This process is fully aligned with the Co-op’s mission and vision, which includes “joyfully working together, providing a workplace that fosters opportunities for participation, empowerment and growth in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation.”

Emile adds, “I would recommend Capiche to any organization that is truly committed to engaging with the nerve system of their organization with the intention of creating positive change.”

Happiness and wellbeing at work are possible wherever people are clear about and honor their values, vision and mission. Employee and customer loyalty, creativity, innovation, teamwork and ultimately positive business results follow employee happiness and engagement.

Please share your success stories or let me know if you would like to talk about how to align your mission with your culture to bring more happiness and business success to your workplace.

How Can You Fuel Success and Performance?

Before Happiness: Research on Happy Workplaces

Every time I think the notion of “happiness” in the business world is just not taking hold, I am encouraged by new research that again points to the benefits of a happy workplace. Who can argue with increased performance, more creativity, better teamwork, higher levels of innovation, better customer service, less turnover and minimal sick leave?

To be clear, I define a happy workplace as having a fair, collaborative, open, innovative culture. It’s a place where people feel as though they can achieve their potential.

The latest research I’m referring to comes from Before Happiness, a new book from Happiness Advantage bestselling author Shawn Achor. Below are a few examples.

The Predictors of Success Assessment

In his 2007 study of 1,600 adults, Achor found there was a 0.7 correlation between perceived social support and happiness. (That’s greater than the correlation between smoking and cancer.) Following up on this data, Shawn developed three 10-question metrics that are even more predictive than previous measures for work optimism, provision of social support and positive stress management. Individuals high on provision of social support are 10 times more engaged at work and have a 40% higher likelihood of promotion over the next four years.

“Stress as Enhancing” Mindset

In partnership with Yale and UBS, this study used a three-minute video to teach employees how to view stress as enhancing—creating a 23% drop in fatigue-related health problems (headaches, backaches, fatigue) six weeks later. A one-hour training was conducted to deepen the learning. This additional training resulted in a longer duration of the “stress is enhancing” mindset.

The Happiness Dividend

In the midst of the 2009 tax season, Achor conducted a three-hour intervention describing how to reap the happiness advantage by creating a positive habit for 50% of the KPMG tax managers in New York and New Jersey. Four months later, the optimism, life satisfaction and job satisfaction of these tax managers were retested, revealing significantly elevated levels compared to the control group that had received no training. These tax managers’ reported levels of happiness moved from 22 to 27 on a 35-point scale, a 24% improvement in job and life satisfaction. This is one of the first long-term return-on-investment studies proving that happiness leads to long-term quantifiable positive change.

Achor has successfully shown us how to create a better life using three key factors: 1) how much social support we build into our lives, 2) whether we view stress as a challenge rather than a threat and 3) where we choose to focus our attention. The real beauty here is these tactics create positive outcomes not just for individuals but also within organizations of all kinds.

Capiche specializes in helping individuals, teams and organizations create an environment in which people are happy, achieve high levels of performance and create value every day. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris to see how she can help you and your organization optimize strengths and boost performance.

Watch Shawn’s TED Talk:

“The goal of science is turning observation into prediction. The goal of business is turning prediction into profit. Thus good science means great business. If you can quantify predictors of success, it’s like adding GPS to your company as it navigates new terrain.” —Shawn Achor

Chris Cook Head Shot

About the Author

Chris Cook, CPCC, ACC

President & CEO, Capiche

Chris believes an organization with shared values and vision inspires passion and purpose in its entire workforce, creating an engaging, productive and positive environment. She helps organizations make a cultural shift that embodies these ideals, giving rise to happy customers, inspired employees and increased company profits. With 26 years of experience in marketing professional services and higher education, Chris has turned her focus to helping organizations define and live their brand. She is dedicated to leadership coaching, organizational development and marketing—with a keen focus on the importance of happiness in the workplace and positive psychology. A partner with Delivering Happiness at Work, Chris is accredited by the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, is a certified professional coach and holds a master in management. She serves as a mentor for the Sustainable Valley Technology Group and is a member of SOREDI’s TAG Team. Chris also serves on the Mt. Ashland Association Board of Directors and the Thrive Board of Directors. A volunteer with Soroptimist’s Strong Girls Strong Women program, she is an avid telemark skier and hiker.

Speaking of Happiness: How to Have Your Cake—And Eat It, Too

Little Girl about to Chomp Down on Big Chocolate Cake

There’s a lot of buzz about the significance of employee engagement—Forbes, Gallup Business Journal, and Harvard Business Review have all published articles on engagement just in the last three months. I, too, have examined the topic—most recently reporting on the Hay Group findings that highly engaged employees can quadruple a company’s revenue growth and generate 89% greater customer satisfaction.

There’s no denying employee engagement matters, but it’s only one tessellating piece of a bigger jigsaw. Myopically focusing on engagement can obscure our view of the most reliable predictor of performance—you guessed it, happiness. As I explained in “Why Employee Engagement Trumps Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction,” it’s possible for an employee to be highly engaged, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy (and when they’re not happy, they are most likely looking for a new job). On the flip side, however, happy employees always rank high on both engagement and job satisfaction.

When companies shift their focus from engagement to happiness, they get to have their cake and eat it, too.

Engagement is a good first step, and I believe in the importance of what’s measured in Gallup’s well-revered “Q12” engagement survey. In the recent “Five Questions You Must Ask Your Team,” Stosh Walsh explains how organizations can boost engagement using Gallup’s Q12 engagement survey results.

The Q12 action planning process requires the team to:

1) Define each of the Q12 items

2) Articulate what the ideal looks like for each item

3) Identify the difference between their reality and their ideal

4) Select which items have the greatest impact on the company’s culture or performance

5) Determine what each team member will do to increase engagement

But why limit ourselves to one tree in the forest? If we strengthen the ecosystem, the tree will follow suit. Happiness is the secret to enhancing not just engagement but also satisfaction, health, loyalty, and innovation—not to mention performance and productivity.

Let’s instead consider what questions we can ask to help spread happiness at work. Fortunately, some really smart people like those at Delivering Happiness have already put tremendous thought and research into this question. Based on the New Economics Foundation’s dynamic model of well-being, their Happiness at Work survey is designed to do precisely that.

New Economics Foundation Dynamic Model of Well-Being

The dynamic model of well-being measures four primary areas of happiness at work, each with its own matrix of four intersecting components: 1) experience of work, 2) functioning at work, 3) organizational system, and 4) personal resources. The survey assesses 40 factors to determine the organization’s and individual employees’ levels of happiness.

Here are 16 sample questions posed by the survey:

Experience of Work

1) To what extent do you feel proud to work for your company? (positive feelings)

2) How much of the time you spend at work do you feel frustrated? (negative feelings)

3) How much of the time you spend at work are you absorbed in what you are doing? (engaging work)

4) Thinking about the job you do, in general would you say that the job you do is worthwhile? (worthwhile work)

Functioning at Work

The Hidden Costs of Disengagement1) To what extent do you get the chance to be creative in your job? (self-expression)

2) To what extent can you influence decisions that are important for your work? (sense of control)

3) To what extent do you like the people within your team? (work relationships)

4) To what extent have you been able to learn new skills at work? (sense of progress)

Organizational System

1) To what extent do you worry you might lose your job in the next six months? (job design)

2) To what extent do you feel trusted by your manager? (management system)

3) To what extent is it safe to speak up and challenge the way things are done within the company? (work environment)

4) In general would you say that the job you do is beneficial to society in general? (social value)

Personal Resources

1) To what extent do you feel full of energy in life? (vitality)

2) Taking all things together how happy would you say you are? (happiness)

3) In general would you say you find it easy or difficult to deal with important problems that come up in your life? (confidence)

4) How satisfied are you with the balance between the time you spend on your work and the time you spend on other aspects of your life? (work-life balance)

How would you answer these questions? Take the free Happiness at Work survey to find out how happy you are in your work. Do you feel the results are accurate? I will be interested to hear your experience of the process!

Six Key Features of the Happiest Workplace on Earth

Honeybees on Flowers

Let’s pretend you’ve been given carte blanche to design the company of your dreams. What would that company look like? How would you do things differently? Why would your employees look forward to starting work each day?

You already know creating a happy workplace isn’t just about Casual Fridays and big paychecks. And the reasons for its importance go way beyond the individual. Companies are discovering that if they want to thrive, if they want productivity to soar, they need to invest in their human capital.

New research by the Hay Group reinforces this concept. Companies with highly engaged employees experience four times the revenue growth, 54% higher employee retention rates and 89% greater customer satisfaction than companies whose employees are not emotionally connected to the organization. And those engaged employees are 50% more likely to transcend their leaders’ expectations.

How do you create an environment that inspires this kind of firecracker enthusiasm? Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones have spent the last three years trying to answer that question. After surveying hundreds of executives around the world, they published their findings on the alchemy of the ideal workplace in the May 2013 Harvard Business Review.

Goffee and Jones identified six common practices of authentic, happy organizations. These companies:

1) Nurture individuality. According to research conducted by London Business School Professor Dan Cable, when employees feel free to be completely themselves at work, they are more dedicated, perform at higher levels and happily lend a helping hand to their peers. This inclusivity extends beyond conventional categories of race, age and gender to embrace intellectual diversity and personal eccentricities. There are no cultish cliques, bosses’ pets, pressures to conform or feelings of inequity. Ideas flourish in this multidisciplinary melting pot where English majors hang with accountants, artists with engineers and jocks with the IT crowd.

2) Practice open, honest communication. There is no trust without transparency, and authentic happiness requires a shared level of trust among all members of an organization. Don’t patronize your staff—empower them with knowledge. The more they understand—even when the news appears bad—the more potential solutions they can offer. And suppose you’re a branch office of a larger organization. Keep the corporate information flowing—even if it seems to change willy-nilly. You can create a culture of “We’re all in this together.”

3) Encourage employee development. Create the time and resources for people to pursue their passions. This goes deeper than skill-building, educational opportunities and professional development, although those are important. Maybe an employee has a yearning to take up graphic design, Spanish or creative writing. Even if the subject isn’t obviously related to their job, they may discover a hidden strength that, if nurtured, could end up benefiting the organization in unexpected ways. By awakening and developing these talents, the company not only helps the employee become a richer human being, but that employee may evolve to fill a new institutional role that enriches the overall organization.

4) Serve a meaningful purpose. Employees who feel part of a larger cause and who know their organization is making a difference in the world will wake early, stay late and work through lunch to help achieve that collective purpose. Their lives will be imbued with a meaning driven by the quest for a greater good, and they will be proud to share your company’s mission with others.

5) Offer work that is rewarding in itself. Rewrite job descriptions to focus on each person’s strengths and assign projects that allow employees to flex their creative muscles. Budding videographers can film commercials; short-story writers can compose marketing copy; comic book artists can design the company handbook. Keep inspiration flowing, and the organization will become a hotbed of innovation.

6) Don’t make employees follow mindless rules. In the 1999 comedy Office Space, about five different bosses chastise the protagonist for forgetting to put the new coversheet on his TSP reports. This has become iconic for the arbitrary busywork and “just-because” rules companies force their employees to follow. Pointless tasks breed resentment and dread—pretty much the last feelings you would expect to find in the happiest workplace on earth.

What Does a Happy Workplace Get You?

Goffee and Jones conclude, “People want to do good work—to feel they matter in an organization that makes a difference. They want to work in a place that magnifies their strengths, not their weaknesses.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? And yet traditional, profit-driven business culture fails to cultivate its most valuable resource: employees. Creating a happy workplace is a win-win for the staff and the company. It’s time for our business models to reflect this growing, research-driven awareness.

Do these six principles describe your dream organization? Are there other characteristics you would add to this list? I’d love to hear about your experiences with positive workplaces.

For more about the benefits of happy workplaces, see my previous posts:

A New Report on Workplace Happiness

Is Your Work a Test of Endurance or a Labor of Love?

Learning About Happiness and Company Culture from the Big Dogs

Why Happiness at Work Trumps Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction

Is Anyone Sick of Happiness of Work? I’m Not, and Here’s Why

The Value of Happiness: How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits

Is Happiness a Luxury Small Businesses Can’t Afford?

Wall Street Journal Measuring Happiness at Work

If Happiness Drives Performance, How Do I Get Happy at Work?

Cash in on Happiness