Helping everyone to love their jobs (and workplace)

Happy employees are productive employees. A recent study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved to be 10% less productive. But what do we need to do to make our employees more happy at work?

As John Medina explained in the chapter about stress in his book “Brain Rules”, we first need to understand that we can’t expect our employees to completely separate their personal and professional lives:

“(…)there’s no such a thing as a firewall between personal issues and work productivity. We don’t have two brains that we can swap out depending upon whether we are in our office or in our living room. Stress in the workplace affects family life, causing more stress in the family. Stress in the family causes more stress at work, which in turns gets brought home again.”

If you want your employee to feel less stressed at work and to solve the “work­family conflict” described above you need to promote “(…) a balance between controllability and uncontrollability.” The balance is important because “Slight feelings  of uncertainty may cause them to deploy unique problem­ solving strategies” Medina continues.

On the stress note, Medina explains that it reduces our ability to learn. Let’s look at what happens in our bodies when we are under stress:

  • when our sensory systems detect stress, our adrenal glands dump buckets of adrenaline into our bloodstream.
  • it also releases cortisol to wipe out the unpleasant aspects of stress and help us to return to ur normality.
  • our human memory has receptors for cortisol so being under constant stress can harm your memory.

“One study showed that adults with high levels of stress performed 50 percent worse than adults with low levels of stress (…)” says Medina.

 

What makes a workplace stressful?

“Three things matter in determining whether your workplace is stressful or productive: the type of stress you experience, the balance between stimulation and boredom in your job, and the condition of your home life. (…) stress appear to be a combination of two factors: (1) a great deal is expected of you, and (2) you have no control over whether you will perform well.”  – Medina.

If stress reduces our learning capability, what increases it?

Happiness does it! Happiness “(…) increases our levels of dopamine, which produces our learning abilities. It helps us learn better and more efficiently,” as explained by psycotherapist Diane Lang.

Dr Sgroi, one of the economists that led the Warwick study, added: “(…) happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”

So, we now know that we need to create a happy environment with less stress if we want our employees to perform better, but how do we do it? I will not prescribe solutions because they depend on your company culture and willingness to change but I will give you a few general tips to keep in mind.

Changes at the company level

Everything, from physical changes (like lighting and organization) to changes in the company culture and management techniques, can turn a company from a place to merely put in hours and get a paycheck into a place employees love going to every day.

 

Standards and rules

Companies normally create manuals with standards that every employee should follow. It is important that those manuals are written in a clear and simple way, with no room for ambiguities. Asking employees for their ideas will make them feel a sense of ownership with the company and it is more likely that the rules will be followed by them.

An important aspect of rules: nobody likes to be told what they can’t do because it takes away the feeling of freedom and causes resistance. Explaining what can (or should) be done diminishes this feeling. Also, the human brain is not very good in picking up the word ‘no’, so signs with images helps in this case. And try writing your guide in a positive way.

More importantly, explain the why of your rules. We are simply far more likely to accept a change if we understand the reason for it. Also, find the right balance. Micro managing people and their behaviours will only lead to unhappiness. Be mindful about the stress you may be causing. Give people just enough rules and deal with the exceptions in a one ­to ­one basis.

 

Changing behaviours

If your intention is to change behaviours, leading by example is a good way to do it (and it is one of the aspects that create trust). If more and more people show the right behaviour (what will become a social norm), it is more likely that the change in behaviour will occur. Norms also help create a feeling of security and provide orientation. Social norms are effective because rather than focusing on individual behavior, it addresses the environment and peer influence to correct the misperceptions that lead to problem behaviors.

 

If you are looking for more…

I said I would not prescribe solutions. But if you are interested in practical initiatives to enhance happiness at your workplace, Happy Melly is a social entrepreneurship network of individuals and small businesses dedicated to this subject. I strongly recommend you to check their experiments.

 

Elaine Tittanegro
I like to think that if you work hard the sweet days, like today, will come, no matter what. I’m a very curious person, the famous T-shaped-skills-type-of person (start talking about something interesting and you will get all my attention!).