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Leadership Development

Proof Positive for Happiness at Work

Once dismissed as fuzzy and soft, some leaders are making a hard business case for actively promoting happiness at work.

Many corporate leaders have accepted the behavior of the grumpy employee scowling at her computer all day and running out the door at 5 p.m. — if the results are there. But pushed to boost innovation and maximize productivity, some bosses see the need to take a more active role in promoting happiness in the workplace.

It’s not just a nice-to-have. A study from the University of Warwick in the U.K. found happy employees are 12 percent more productive. According to Annie McKee, author of the upcoming book “How To Be Happy At Work,” the best leaders are taking the issue of happiness head on.

“Anybody — whether they’re a first-line supervisor or they’re a manager or senior leader — can change the environment immediately around themselves,” said McKee. “They can help employees feel that their work matters, they can help people feel that their personal hopes and dreams are aligned with where the company is going.”

Align Personal Values to Work Mission

To boost happiness, leaders can model optimistic behavior but McKee said they should also actively work to create a workplace where people connect their personal values with their work.

Like McKee, Tomas Kucera, vice president of business operations at SolarWinds, an enterprise IT software company, said it’s important that employee values align with the company values. For leaders, that means clearly defining the company’s mission and then hiring people whose mission aligns with that.

“Let’s say you are someone whose life mission is to help children be successful,” he said. “You derive your intrinsic motivation from seeing the happy faces of small kids, seeing them grow and be successful. If you see a kid who you helped, you feel proud, you feel like your life has a meaning, you feel happy. If you work for an NGO organization that has the same mission, you won’t need any perks, fancy offices or happiness officers. Your value system and your life mission will be aligned with the mission of the company and you will be fully engaged.”

That kind of deep alignment of the individual’s values with overall mission of the company is what drives deeper engagement. Many approaches to happiness in the workplace stop short and only create temporary good feelings, Kucera said.

Clear Connection and Communication

McKee also said leaders should make clear the relationship between the work that employees do on a daily basis and company results. Taking those steps creates happier, more engaged employees, which in turn benefits the company.

“We make better decisions, our judgment is clear and crisp and not impaired,” she said. “We’re better able to handle the normal stresses of everyday organizational life. We’re more resilient. We’re better able to understand and frankly, accept one another’s differences, which is also really important in organizations today.”

At Jo-Ann Stores Inc., Janet Duliga has implemented a weekly huddle where employees and leaders alike can share something they appreciate about a co-worker. Though her team was hesitant at first, it eventually became something that brought them together.

“It takes some vulnerability on a leader’s side to ask people to do that because people can be cynical if they want and they can reject your offer to create this space for them,” said Duliga, Jo-Ann’s senior vice president of human resources. “It takes something out of you to be that leader but it also gives back a ton.”

The reward for her is seeing employees support one another and in turn support the company as a whole.

“I think people respond to positivity with more positivity,” she said. “So I think [happy employees] are more engaged because they care about forward movement.”

Marygrace Schumann is an an editorial intern for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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