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Happiness at the Workplace

By Karen Cordle, Head of People, Foodspring

Karen Cordle, Head of People, Foodspring

“I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative nurse and author of “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” used to hear this profound statement from her patients all the time. 

It’s surprisingly common throughout all walks of life. So many people stay stuck in the old patterns and habits of their respective comfort zones. They never take decisive steps in the direction of a happier, more fulfilling life. They fully overlook the fact that happiness is a choice. 

"Extensive research shows that freedom and autonomy at the workplace have the most effect on a person’s perceived level of happiness"

And what comfort zone do we spend most of our time in? The workplace, of course. Regretting that we didn’t let ourselves be happier gives a whole new layer of significance to employee engagement. Indeed, it is our social responsibility towards our colleagues to inspire them to become the best versions of themselves.

What used to be considered a simple by-product of a positive work environment, ‘happiness at work’ is now one of the key performance indicators of organisational health, customer satisfaction, and exceptional financial performance in employee engagement. The happiness index measures the direct impact of employee satisfaction, engagement, and happiness at work on productivity. This gives us a reasonable indication of what we should be supporting and how we should be supporting it.

Happiness is not solely related to pleasure-seeking, monetary gain, or fame. These are all factors that can influence a person’s general well-being. However, extensive research shows that freedom and autonomy at the workplace have the most effect on a person’s perceived level of happiness. Gaining knowledge and feeling connected to a larger purpose also play a significant role. 

Being happier at work is tied to better health and well-being, more creative and effective problem solving, more productivity and innovation, and faster career advancement.

However, in “Happiness at Work,” Professor Cynthia D Fisher, Ph. D. an eminent researcher on the subject of happiness at the workplace says that in order for one to live a happy life, one must be concerned with doing virtuous, moral, and meaningful things while also utilizing personal talents and skills.

Happier workplaces report less turnover, lower health care costs, fewer mistakes and accidents, more efficiency, greater shareholder value, and quicker rebounds in the wake of adverse events or failures; they also earn higher customer loyalty, commitment, and business growth via word-of-mouth endorsement.

An effective organisation should, therefore, maintain a culture that considers employee happiness and encourages employee satisfaction. Although each individual has unique talents and personal preferences, the behaviors and beliefs of the people in the same organisation should show common properties and be aligned on overall values. This can help organisations support staff development and create their own cultural properties. It can also aid in the facilitation of cohesion and a sense of belonging in the community.

A happiness index that reflects employee satisfaction, employee willingness to recommend a current employer, and employee likelihood to switch jobs in the near future (2-4 years) could give an indication as to whether an organisation is promoting or detracting happiness. A happiness promoting organisation is better able to follow through on promoting employee engagement and developing staff.

Can we develop happiness?

To make a long story short, absolutely yes. But it requires three crucial elements:

The  organisation, leadership, and the employee must work together.

The organisation must ensure that it commits resources to this goal and aligns its strategies, policies, and practices to foster growth and development. It should effectively combine the twin goals of happiness and productivity to create an environment where employees can do nothing but succeed. Fostering good leadership as a skill at a team and individual level allows us to truly connect with employees at the human level, providing purpose, commitment, and focus in an ongoing dialogue.

You make the choice to be happy every day. This choice is the single largest determining factor in the happiness equation. Dr. Christine Carter, a senior research associate at the University of California at Berkeley, has said that happiness, whether at work or in life, is not just about deriving the feeling of satisfaction. Happiness isn't the feeling that comes from getting or doing what we want. Rather, happiness is the ability to access an array of positive emotions like optimism and gratitude, and then consciously choosing to implement them in our lives.

According to Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, science director at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, it all comes down to gratitude. As she says in “3 Things I learned from teaching happiness”:

“Feeling grateful fosters a more accurate understanding of happiness, strengthening our social connections and motivating us to engage and give back to others.”

But how? Well, try this at your next team meeting or one-on-one:

When thanking someone: 1) Say specifically what they did that you are thankful for; 2) Acknowledge the effort it took for them to do this; and 3) Describe how and why it was good for you.

Knowing that what you do all day and how you do it matters. Each and every single person matters. Your organisation matters. You matter..

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