There’s plenty of evidence that happy employees are more engaged, productive and effective—and they contribute more to success and the bottom line. As a leader, you have an opportunity to create the conditions for happiness. And it’s a good idea—because it’s the right thing to do for people and it contributes significantly to business outcomes.
Some are predicting a wonderful world of work ahead in which employees enjoy more focus and perks and are more engaged and productive. Creating the conditions for fulfillment, happiness and effectiveness isn’t guesswork. There is plenty of evidence about what matters most, and you can tap into these proof points to take the actions that will make the biggest difference.
Based on Kansas State University research, by creating the conditions for happiness, businesses experience a positive impact on employee decision making and job performance, reduced health costs and reduced turnover costs. These effects of happiness are true regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, job tenure and educational levels. Additional studies at the University of California Riverside found when people are happier, they work harder toward goals and seek to develop their capabilities—both of which are good for business.
Happiness Is A Shared Responsibility
One caveat: Businesses and leaders are not solely responsible for happiness. People tend to have a genetic tendency toward happiness—or not—and they also have responsibility. This is the idea of both agency and structure. Agency is the impact people and their choices make. Adults are empowered to choose how they think about things, how they react and how they shape their circumstances. But structure is also critical—this is where leaders and organizations come in. Structure addresses the policies, practices, norms and cultures which contribute to happiness—or don’t.
How To Create Happiness For Your Employees
Creating happiness has important implications, and it is within your control and your capabilities.
Be present and attentive. Great leaders demonstrate they care, and are responsive to employee needs. Recent studies show when employees feel their leaders have a sense of empathy, they report better mental health and wellbeing. In addition, employees report one of the most important elements of having a positive work experience is having leaders who are both present and accessible. Check in (don’t check up), ask questions and be responsive. These acts of leadership pave the way toward employee happiness.
MORE FOR YOU
Provide choice and control. Another way to create greater happiness among employees is to ensure you’re providing as much choice as possible. Research by the University of Birmingham finds when people have greater control over their tasks and schedules at work, they also report greater levels of wellbeing and job satisfaction. Give people as much choice as possible about where they work, when they work, how they work, with whom they work and what they work on. Of course, it’s not always possible to give people total autonomy, but in general, more is better.
Focus on the whole person. Wellbeing is holistic and life doesn’t happen in compartments. When people are happy at home and in their community efforts, they will bring more happiness and energy to work as well. In addition, a significant trend today is toward companies investing broadly in employee wellbeing—offering all kinds of support from emergency childcare and mindfulness apps to financial and physical fitness programs. Attending to broad sets of needs sends a message to employees that you care—influencing their positive commitment to your organization. It also contributes to their ability to perform well. Satisfaction with multiple parts of life creates the cognitive capacity for people to put their best effort toward their work.
Let people know they matter. Regardless of the kind of work they do, people want to know they are valued. Clarify the bigger picture of how people are contributing to customers and the value your organization creates. Give people feedback and hold people accountable, letting them know how you value their contribution and how they can continuously improve. This accountability will also give people a sense of fairness. People should know their performance and others’ performance are being equitably assessed—because this is fundamental to happiness as well. Feeling appreciated and recognized contribute to happiness—so make these part of how you create the conditions for a positive employee experience.
Provide challenge and development. Burnout is characterized by feeling bored, stuck and like a job is a dead end. On the other hand, when people have the opportunity to stretch, grow and learn, it contributes toward happiness. A state of flow in which people lose themselves in great work is often characterized by a significant challenge. Working hard, solving tough problems, sweating (literally or figuratively) and having to build capabilities are all contributors to happiness and motivation. Provide interesting work, give people stimulating responsibilities and enable them with the tools and learning opportunities which will help them succeed.
Reinforce teamwork. Positive relationships are one of the most important elements of happiness—in work and in all of life. In fact, a new study by George Washington University shows when women have more friendships at work, conflict is reduced. Connect people through social or team building pursuits but—even more importantly—through tasks where people must launch projects, solve problems together and succeed together. Strong bonds among colleagues are important scaffolding for happiness at work.
Overall, create a culture of positivity. Happiness among employees won’t insulate you against problems, but it may reduce how many you face—because you’ll be getting the very best from people. Chances are it will also make your business more resilient—because when people are joyful and content they will be able to solve issues and help themselves and your business bounce forward.
Happiness is good for people and that’s an important starting point. It is also unquestionably good for business and you can create the conditions for happiness to drive your business forward and help ensure success.