Happy workers are productive workers.
As true as this old adage is — and employee happiness has been shown to correlate to a 12% increase in productivity — it sounds kind of robotic. Happiness in, productivity out.
People are much more complex than that. Creating an environment that lets your team members find their own happiness is nuanced and difficult, and it requires work from both employer and employee.
Ultimately, finding happiness at work is up to each individual person, but there are two things team leaders can do to support that pursuit: Keep employees engaged, and help everyone reduce stress at work.
Here is how employers and employees can meet in the middle to create a happy, productive workplace.
Engagement: An Employer’s Obligation
Employee engagement concerns many, if not most, executives because engagement is what keeps good people at their jobs. We all like to feel our contributions are valuable and recognized.
Fortunately, there is a pretty easy step executives and employers can take to make people feel more engaged in their work: They need to recognize each employee’s good work.
David Sturt, an EVP at HR consultancy O.C. Tanner Co., writes in the Harvard Business Review that his company surveyed more than 3,500 employees at a wide range of companies, and there is clear evidence that “recognition directly affects morale and engagement.”
“The data from it suggests a strong correlation between loyalty and acknowledgment,” Sturt says. “Among the 512 U.S. employees who say their company has strong recognition practices, 87% feel a strong relationship with their direct manager. That number dips to 51% among those who reported a lack of such practices at their companies.”
This is consistent with common sense. Everyone appreciates hearing that they’ve done a good job, whether that’s via a year-end awards banquet or a quick Wednesday morning email. The problem is many employees feel underappreciated.MarketingProfs‘ Verónica Maria Jarski points to research that shows more than 60% of people
- don’t feel recognized for their progress,
- don’t feel recognized for their accomplishments, and
- don’t receive timely feedback from their managers.
These employees then feel disconnected from the importance of their work, and they will be more likely to look for a job elsewhere.
It’s up to managers, team leaders and company executives to make that connection between each person’s work and the value it creates, and this requires clear and consistent communication.
In a post at The Muse, ShortStack CEO Jim Belosic lays out six questions a good leader should ask employees to keep them engaged. If your own team is struggling with engagement, that post is a good place to start.
How Employers and Employees Can Manage Workplace Stress
There are plenty of ways each of us can manage stress outside of work: Taking time to exercise, making sure we get plenty of sleep, making time to meet with friends and loved ones.
Stress will always be a part of work (that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either), so the key is to make it manageable.
What Employers Can Do
For team leaders, this means encouraging employees to take advantage of their downtime, whether those are lunch breaks or tiny rest breaks to let the mind relax.
“Whether your staff are always on the road or if they work remotely from time to time for family reasons, it’s important to encourage downtime, and the need to step away from that constant link to their inbox,” the team at UK-based insurance company Unum writes. “Even at the office, people are frequently skipping their lunch hours, or eating at their desk. Since 2009, the number of working days lost to stress, anxiety and depression — the most common of mental health issues — has risen by 24%.”
Simply being mindful that every person needs to disengage from their workplace stressors will go a long way to fostering a healthier environment.
What Employees Can Do
For employees, one of the best stress-relievers is monotasking, or taking work one item at a time. This has the dual benefit of keeping our minds more relaxed and making us more productive.
This is easier said than done because our brains actually love to multitask — and with email, phones, Skype and whatever other points of contact we maintain, there are plenty of multitasking temptations available. These devices wear us out at a biological level.
“Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task,” neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin writes in The Guardian. “And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time.”
Levitin says that using up our brain’s fuel so quickly can hamper our ability to think and can lead to anxiety, which causes a secondary reaction in which cortisol floods our brains, prompting us to act aggressively and impulsively.
Leo Widrich at Buffer cites research from Ohio State University that found our brains actually get a feeling of satisfaction when we try to do many things at once. Checking email while watching TV and talking on the phone? That feels productive to our brains, which is subject to its own, sometimes-unhelpful neurochemical rewards.
Our brains are rewarding themselves for bad behavior when we multitask.
Wordstream founder Larry Kim offers a tip he uses to keep himself focused: Check your email three times per day, and turn off push notifications on your phone. Set aside specific times to deal with text messages, but manage these on a schedule that works for you.
Practicing Happiness: 4 Tips for Employees Everywhere
Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that happiness is something that happens to us. When something good happens to us, the thinking goes, we feel happy. When something bad happens, we feel unhappy.
Author Shawn Achor turns that belief upside down in a classic piece he wrote for the Harvard Business Review. “Research shows that when people work with a positive mind-set, performance on nearly every level — productivity, creativity, engagement — improves. Yet happiness is perhaps the most misunderstood driver of performance.
“For one, most people believe that success precedes happiness. ‘Once I get a promotion, I’ll be happy,’ they think. Or, ‘Once I hit my sales target, I’ll feel great.’ But because success is a moving target — as soon as you hit your target, you raise it again — the happiness that results from success is fleeting.
“In fact, it works the other way around: People who cultivate a positive mind-set perform better in the face of challenge.”
Happiness isn’t the result of something positive. Happiness is actually a skill that you have to work at and practice. So, here are four tips from that perspective. These aren’t tips that will help you find happiness. Instead, they will help you cultivate a mindset that will make practicing happiness easier.
1. When you feel the need, take two minutes to do nothing at all.
This sounds like counterintuitive advice in a post that connects happiness with productivity, but taking a moment to just shut off is actually a really useful way to bring your mind back to the present.
It also helps you deal with any pressure you might feel to always be on. “Do nothing for 2 minutes,” behavioral psychology researcher James Clear writes. “Guess what happens? Nothing! You didn’t lose your job. Your family didn’t leave you. You’re not a failure. Nobody judged you. In fact, the only thing that really happened was that you realized that you can make time for yourself and enjoy your own presence without consuming something (eating, watching TV, etc).”
2. Make time to be social at work.
“Office environments exist for a reason,” AudienceBloom’s Jayson DeMers writes. “While working from home can be a valuable means of boosting your productivity, the happiest workers in the country tend to be ones who socialize regularly — and that doesn’t mean attending the greatest number of meetings.”
Instead, spend a few minutes chatting over the water cooler, or invite coworkers to lunch with you, or simply open your door / take off your headphones to signal that you’re open to chat. Real, human interaction makes us all happier people.
3. Pay attention to your own rhythms.
“Evaluate your daily activities and pay attention to your body and energy levels to see when you can get the most done,” the team at GoodTherapy.org writes. “Everybody works differently. Perhaps you truly aren’t a morning person. Maybe you tend to be more creative at night or more productive in the afternoon. Pay attention to your patterns and find what works for you. Create a daily schedule that honors your mind, body, and spirit rather than constricting it.”
Your work’s schedule might constrain this rhythm a little bit (it’s not a good idea to cold call prospects at 2 a.m., even if you’re a night owl), but you can prioritize more mentally intensive work for the part of the day when your brain feels most active.
4. Practice gratitude: List three good things that happened to you each day.
This is the secret to connecting the good things that happen to us with the happiness that we’re trying to cultivate. Take a moment to recognize these good things, then practice the art of being grateful for those things.
“They can be anything from a really good cup of coffee or a compliment from your boss,” Pearl McLeod writes at Mindful.org. “By listing good things in your day, you are focusing on the positive aspects of your work, which can help you feel happier.”
Gratitude is the secret sauce in this whole recipe. Even if you’ve received a glowing note from your manager, you still need to have the clarity of thought to recognize that praise in the moment and be in the habit of being grateful for these nice moments.
That’s how employee engagement, stress management and happiness reinforce one another and build great workplaces.