A Guide for Leaders to Workplace Happiness

Given the many changes our society has experienced since the start of 2020, a lot of people are thinking about the future of work.

To me, that means thinking about how to make workplaces happier.

This is work I love to do: Help leaders build happier workplaces, with lower levels of conflict, great meetings, and a sense of purpose at work. 

Why do I focus on happiness at work?

I have never liked being the person who stresses out over work to the point where I lose sleep over it. (And I have absolutely been that person!)

If that's ever been you, you understand how essential having a reason to feel happier at work is to your whole life. 

The thing is, happiness at work is not just about individual actions or stress management. Research points to many ways leaders can help their employees to achieve a happier outlook related to work. It's not just engagement or purpose; it's not just finding ways to be nice to each other; it's not just managing conflict well. It's all of those and a bit more.

That's why I ran a new workshop this summer: The Business Owner's Guide to Building a Happier Workforce. 

Want a sneak peek? I follow PERK!

It's not just my morning cup of coffee (or two...ok some days three). PERK stands for Purpose, Engagement, Resilience, and Kindness - four key elements to building happiness into the culture of any company, whether it's large or small, remote or onsite, retail or government contracting or manufacturing or nonprofit. 

Purpose

Feeling happy at work requires knowing your purpose. Purpose has nothing to do with money. It’s not about a paycheck or profits. It’s knowing that what you do makes a difference in the world. Purpose is not necessarily about doing good; the difference may be about social status or power or something relatively insignificant - like - I make things people can store stuff in. Those who can easily connect their purpose to dearly-held personal values are even happier.

If you show up to work just for the paycheck, it’s not necessarily time to find a new job - spend some time thinking about your personal values, about everything you do in your job, and consider ways an outsider might view your job - perhaps a happy customer, for instance. Think about ways to connect your values with the benefits your job provides to others.

Engagement

Engagement is one of those buzz words, getting tossed around in HR and recruitment and culture circles. The large, older-than-I-am consulting firm Gallup does SO MUCH RESEARCH on it - so does a group called SHRM, which certifies human resources practitioners. Across these groups and industries, engagement gets defined in many different ways. Essentially, it means that you care about your job, actively, while doing it - not in an abstract way or because without it you wouldn't be able to pay rent/mortgage.

While engagement is typically not defined with a social aspect, it is true that having a close friend at work is probably the best predictor of how engaged any individual might feel in their work. However, there other ways to boost engagement. For example, getting to control some aspects of your job, including the ability to single-task on something challenging but achievable, often boosts engagement.

Resilience

Work is work, right? So there are always challenges and the potential for failure. Thus, being resilient - having the ability to bounce back after something negative happens - is important for happiness at work. Possibly the best way to boost resilience is to encourage, or practice, mindfulness - an active and nonjudgmental awareness of what is going on around you.

Workplaces that cultivate growth mindsets - the idea that even if you fail, you will have learned something, and that makes the difficult thing worth doing - tend to be more resilient.

Taking breaks from work helps workers to be more resilient. True breaks - times where you’re not thinking about work at all. 10-15 minutes a couple times a day helps, and so do vacations where you completely unplug from the workplace.

Another aspect of resilience hits us in a truly personal area: When non-work life gets hard, I mean really hard - covid shutdowns, the death of a loved one, divorce or other intense romantic breakups, caring for sick kids or the elderly... The policies and procedures and attitudes we have in place at work about these unavoidable pieces of life really matter. Giving people the ability to stop working, without fear of losing their job, matters. 

Kindness

Also matters: Being kind to each other at work. Behaving with compassion, humor, gratitude, and just plain being nice to each other leads to happier workplaces. The difficult thing here is that kindness to others is often the first thing that goes out the window when we're stressed - and there are SO many reasons to be stressed at work!

I don't currently work in an office 5 days a week myself, but when I did, one of the things that outshone all the difficulties of a fairly toxic environment was small, everyday kindnesses: Asking about family, buying someone a coffee, taking a 20-minute walk in the middle of the day and chatting about hobbies, sharing a meal.

And of course there are those moments when you go just a little bit beyond the everyday: The next time you see a coworker struggling with something, take a few minutes to ask them what’s going on, and really concentrate on listening to them. Just listen to understand. It is a kindness and may help you both feel like the day is a little bit brighter.

It all goes together.

All of these pieces interact with each other. To have a more engaged workforce, it is helpful to cultivate a growth mindset, helping resilience, and to encourage people to be kind to each other. Discussing purpose openly can help people feel more connected to their values, which may in turn lead to people being nicer to each other. Ultimately, all of these actions help employees perform at a higher level - leading the whole company to higher profits and greater achievements. (In case you didn’t think being happy at work was its own reward.)

Leaders Don't Just Set the Example

I'm not denying the importance of modeling all these behaviors! Yet there is so much more you can do when you lead a team, employ people, or own or manage a company.  There are great ways to systematize PERK at work. 

I recently ran a live online interactive workshop. You can still purchase the 44-minute video to learn more, and hear from other small business leaders learning the same information. The video includes even more of the  theory of PERK and gives you 4 easy, do-it-today tips to build happiness for YOUR whole workplace. It's $40 and 44 minutes - check it out.

 If you’d like to think about ways to PERK up your workplace in a structured, institutional way, consider applying for the Happier Workforce Cohort that will launch in 2022. 

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