Happiness at Work: If Only It Were Easy

It’s a fact, happy people are more productive, more engaged and quite simply better at just about everything they do. And organizations that cultivate and sustain a positive culture are more innovative, creative, productive and, yes, successful by just about any metric, including profits. So the question is, why don’t business leaders invest in happiness? Why don’t they make it a priority and a goal?

The answer is simple. It’s hard.

You see, if we believe we can strengthen our teams by giving employees more money, then that’s easy, just write bigger checks. If we think our team members will be more committed if they have more time off, simply change the vacation or PTO policy. Or, if we believe that people will be happier if we give them more rewards for their hard work, well, yep, that’s not very hard either, just schedule more happy hours, put a foosball table in the office or stock better snacks in the break room. The problem is, none of these is a sustainable solution. Research shows that money and other rewards don’t motivate people, yet this is how we think. That’s why employers regularly implement ideas such as these, brag about them and even win awards for “Greatest Place to Work” because of things like big bonuses, free beer, unlimited vacation policies and break rooms with ten different types of cereal. But these things aren’t the answer to creating a great place to work for the long term, a place where team members are loyal, engaged, proud and passionate.

Instead, the real answer is both much simpler and much more difficult.

Developing a great culture – a culture of happiness, a culture of joy, or as we say, a culture of gratitude – starts at the foundation. And the foundation is this: Every individual wants just two things, according to acclaimed researcher, Dan Ariely. They want to feel valued. And they want to know that their work is valuable. That’s it. That’s absolutely all there is to it. If we just achieved these two things, we would radically transform our organizations.

Don’t believe it? Put yourself in your team members’ shoes. If you came into work every day knowing without question that your organization’s leaders valued you, you as a person, wouldn’t you feel amazing? Instead of them viewing you as a job title or a warm body in a desk chair, what if they clearly expressed their appreciation for you, your personality and talents, your energy, ideas and insight?

And, what if you knew, without a doubt, that what you do, whether it’s building relationships with top clients, managing finances or putting the thingamabob onto the widget, is critically valuable to the organization. In other words, what if your organization’s leaders let you know that the work you produce is integral to the group’s success, growth and progress toward meeting its goals. Just imagine how that would make you feel. Imagine the enthusiasm you would bring to the office every day knowing, undeniably, that you and your work are never ever taken for granted.

I’ll give you a minute to ponder that.

Feels pretty amazing, doesn’t it? That is what all of us want, whether we clean the floors or sign the checks. At our core, you and I just want to feel valued and know that our work is valuable.

But here’s the problem. You can’t simply create a rule or a policy that makes people feel that way. You can’t just hang a poster in the break room that says, “We value you and your work is valuable.” It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just put a budget against this. You can’t just host a monthly “Valued & Valuable” happy hour. That does not work. And that’s why this incredibly basic and simple thing is actually extremely hard.

And yet it is the one thing that makes all the difference.

In order to change your culture, to improve, radically improve your company, you need to ensure that every individual in your organization has that valued/valuable feeling. And in order to do that, you have to listen, actively listen to all your people all the time. Not just at Monday’s staff meeting and Friday when they’re walking out the door, but every day and any time you’re with them. You have to engage in real, sincere and meaningful conversations with them. You have to treat them well consistently. You have to show them your true and authentic self so that they believe what you say, and in return, you have to accept them and their true and authentic selves. (I told you this wasn’t easy.) You can’t just listen and care when you wake up in a good mood and everything is going well. You have to listen and care even on the days you don’t feel like it. Even on the days cash flow is bad, and you’re nervous about making payroll. Even on the day when “that” client is mad as hell, and you’re the one taking the heat. Even on the day when your 18-year-old daughter texts to say she just got a tattoo. Even on the day your coffee spills on your new suit, the day the contract doesn’t come through, the day you realize the new hire isn’t working out and even the day when you just plain wake up in a mood and would like nothing better than to close the door and hide in your office. Yes, even on that day.

You see, if you’re serious about wanting to change your company, if your desire to “take things to the next level,” is not just an empty platitude, then you’ll stop looking for the easy solution and do the hard work of creating a culture of happiness.
And then, just watch what happens.

2 Comments

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