5 Science-Backed Recommendations To Improve Your Workplace Happiness

I used to be a fan of the hit reality television series, The Apprentice.

Donald Trump was kind of a business idol of mine in my younger days. The aura, stature, respect that he gets from his associates, and that one hell of a hairstyle (Ok. I’m kidding on this one), inspires me week after week. The show portrayed Trump as an almost ruthless boss who wants nothing but the most committed individuals in his team, and would not hesitate to point his snarly finger at an incompetent contestant, before uttering his famous last words “You’re fired!”.

Sadly, shows like The Apprentice has mistakenly highlighted that business is a rough game to play and the office is a rougher place to be in. It appears that getting ahead requires putting one’s interests above others and capitalising on the misfortune of fellow co-workers.

Such shows have us believe that good guys finish last and that being happy or having positive workplace relationships does not matter. This view is conflicting to numerous psychological studies of the workplace that, for instance, found that personal feelings towards an employee are more significant in the development of productive collective work than is a person's aptitude and ability.

But you may be asking, “Why should we be concerned about whether people are happy at work?

Aren't there more important functions such as sales, business development, finance and operations that are more directly related to the success of a company?

The truth is that employees who are happy and who enjoy their work better would contribute more to these organisational functions. The business case for happiness in the workplace is simple and based on solid, irrefutable evidence.

So what can you do to improve your workplace happiness immediately?

Here are 5 science-backed recommendations:

1. Praise and Praise Often

In a recent research conducted by a team of Japanese scientists, three groups of adults were asked to learn a simple task and then perform it.

One group included an evaluator who would compliment participants individually, another group involved individuals who would watch another participant receive a compliment while the third group involved individuals who evaluated their own performance on a graph.

When the participants were asked to repeat the task the next day, the group of participants who received direct compliments from an evaluator the day before performed better than participants from the other groups.

These results simply echo the far-reaching mutual benefits that an organisation and its employees can enjoy just by “building positive qualities”. When was the last time that you praised your direct reports? Instead of being overly critical about our subordinate’s need for improvement, can we consciously make it a habit to look for opportunities to praise that person?

2. Get Into The Flow

University of Chicago psychologist Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi, who has studied the psychology of engaged workers at all levels, found that they create a hyperfocused state of mind. He calls it “flow.” People in flow are exhilarated and are remarkably unstressed even when doing challenging work. They lose themselves in a task they love and feel “out of time.”

One way that you can engage your team members better is to ensure that an individual’s key performance indicators are clearly defined, because flow occurs most often when tasks are tightly aligned with the person’s goals. Also, a workstation with the most minimal of distractions would encourage flow. From simple actions like switching phones to silent mode to temporarily removing any instant messaging notifications, flow levels can be heightened.

3. Exercise Your Body

It is a well-known fact that health and happiness are fundamentally linked. When you exercise, your brain releases “feel-good” chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins. These neurotransmitters combine to improve our moods and emotions. It is suggested that a 30-minute workout at the gym or brisk walking on a daily basis would suffice in stimulating these chemicals and thus promote happiness.

Conversely, happiness can influence our health. Several years ago, in a groundbreaking finding, Carnegie Mellon University Psychology Professor, Sheldon Cohen, discovered that people who are happy, lively, calm or exhibit other positive emotions are less likely to become ill when they are exposed to a cold virus than those who report few of these emotions. Hence, with this positive cycle of health and happiness, both organisations and employees benefit. So hit the treadmill now!

4. Employ The Pygmalion Effect

It is imperative to surround ourselves with people who believe in our potential and encourage us to live up to that potential. The Pygmalion effect says that the greater the belief in the potential, and thus the expectation, of a person, the better the person performs.

In the popular Rosethal-Jacobson study, researchers showed that when teachers were told that certain children in their classes were expected to perform above the average child, or otherwise known as “spurters”, the performance of these “spurter” students were enhanced by the end of the academic year. That is, based on the baseline IQ scores, which was taken before the intervention, these students reported a significantly greater gain in IQ after the intervention of the teacher as compared to the children who were not identified as being “spurters”.

The interesting bit? The children who were identified as “spurters” were in fact chosen at random! These students did not have any particular advantage over the other experimental groups! Yet, because the teachers were told that they were “spurters”, the teachers expected and believed more in these children and that led to subtle changes in their mindsets, attitudes, actions and teaching methods. Consequently and rather naturally, these students performed so much better than others. Biased expectancies have the ability to affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, we all play a pivotal role in whether those around us thrive!

Therefore, when applied in the workplace, the role of a manager/mentor can be so important. If you, as a leader, can realistically believe in the strength and capabilities of your team members and encourage them when necessary, their levels of self-belief would increase and which thereby improves productivity.

5. Propagate The Use Of Emergenetics

Co-created by Drs. Geil Browning and Wendell Williams in 1991, the Emergenetics model is based out of a one hundred-item questionnaire that is the product of over thirty years of research and study in psychometrics, neuroscience, behavioural and socioanalytical theories; and that reliably captures an individual’s fundamental thinking and behavioural preferences.

The Emergenetics Profile has helped to demystify the seemingly undecipherable thoughts and actions of others, which more often than not, contribute to unhealthy workplace conflicts. For instance, a person with an Analytical preference may unintentionally come across as someone cold, blunt and critical without his/her realisation. Since we frequently see the world through our own lens, a person with this preference may just be very driven by goals and results and not know that friction is being created between him/her and another person who may not share this preference. The same can be said of another with a Conceptual preference who may appear whimsical and unrealistic to other team members in a brainstorming session, but in his/her perspective, simply prefers to push the boundaries of creativity.

When exercised in the workplace, the Emergenetics profile provides an accurate picture of the thinking and behavioural preferences of employees working in a given organisation or department. The tool makes it easier to identify how every individual at the workplace thinks, behaves, and communicates, as a manifestation of their preferences; and as a result, allow us to see the world through different lenses.

These recommendations are by no means the exhaustive list and an attempt to bring any one of them into practice would set the path towards workplace happiness.

So allow me to end this article with the words of Kim Cameron, a workplace happiness researcher: “When organisations institute positive, virtuous practices, they achieve significantly higher levels of organisational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, and productivity…the more the virtuousness, the higher the performance in profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.”

Indeed, an enjoyable job, an amiable workplace and a happy workforce can translate into higher productivity.

Need I say more? :)


Article by Andy Pan, the Director of Training at Right Impact Training and the author of Happy Companies, Healthy Profits. Know more about our WORKPLACE HAPPINESS programmes that can improve your team’s PRODUCTIVITY by ANOTHER 12% HERE!

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