jakub holý

building the right thing, building it right, fast

The Science of Happiness at Work

The science if Happiness and particularly Happiness at a workplace is very much an evolving discipline but already both the science and the case studies of many companies have a lot to teach us. It turns out that better employee well-being is not great just for the people but also for the companies.

(This page is based on UC Berkeley free online course The Foundations of Happiness at Work. They have also other awesome courses such as The Science of Happiness, Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work, and Mindfulness and Resilience to Stress at Work.)

Why does it matter?

It certainly does matter to the people but why should employers care? Companies that foster employee well-being reap many benefits including better financial performance. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • well-being > performance quote TODO
  • employee happiness leads to less turnover, an important cost
  • happy employees are more creative and innovative
  • employees are more resilient to the stress and turndowns experienced in work life, performing better under these inevitable conditions and bouncing back faster
  • they are better at handling and resolving conflicts
  • they are more helpful to each other, more willing to share resources, and thus they perform better as a group
  • they are healthier and thus miss fewer work days

What is happiness anyway?

Happiness encompasses fleeting positive experiences and emotions as well as a long-term feeling of satisfaction and meaning. It doesn’t mean to always be “high,” there will always be ups and downs and deviations from one’s base level of happiness.

Happiness at work can be defined as feeling an overall sense of enjoyment at work; being able to gracefully handle setbacks; connecting amicably with colleagues, coworkers, clients, and customers; and knowing that your work matters to yourself, your organization, and beyond.

PERK: The key components of happiness at work

There are many ways to look at the factors that support employee happiness and one of them is PERK: Purpose, Engagement, Resilience, Kindness.

Purpose: means knowing that your work matters to you, your organization, and the world. It includes feeling that we make valuable contributions and actively connecting what we do to what we believe in and care about, finding ways to apply and strengthen our values.

Engagement: is about enjoying one’s work, about being involved in defining it, feeling curiosity, getting deeply immersed in a task, feeling effective and getting things done.

Resilience: Being able to handle adversity with grace, to face challenges and recover from setbacks, be accountable for failures and resolve conflict at work, to bounce back from difficulties in a healthy and constructive way.

Kindness: A broader orientation towards forming strong, supportive, social connections at work that scientists call pro-social, that help us interact in trusting, inclusive, and cooperative ways with people at work. It is one of the most promising ways to improve the quality of our interactions with other people at work, and in turn our happiness at work. At work that means conveying respect and appreciation, interest in working together, and a willingness to support one another and constructively work through differences. It includes civility, trust, empathy, compassion, gratitude, reconciling conflicts.

TODO

  • gratitude - be concrete
  • effective excuses

What can I do to foster my and colleagues’ happiness?

There are multiple ways to strengthen each pillar of PERK on personal, social, and structural levels at work—through individual exercises and activities, the development of key social skills, shifts in leadership style, organization-wide initiatives, or changes to company policy. Some of the individual activities follow.

Prioritize happiness There are many things you can do, whether leader or regular employee, but the first step is to realize that happiness at work is important for you, your colleagues, and the company and make the conscious decision to foster it. We have always too much to do so it is important to decide to prioritize happiness and make the time to be extra kind when a colleague is asking for help, to make few seconds or minutes for being mindful, etc. Create opportunities for positive emotions to arise and savor them - celebrate achievements, take a lunch with a colleague you enjoy, …

Kindness has the greatest “return on investment.” Knowing that it is contagious, you want to be extra kind to your colleagues. Encourage and model civility in interactions, let your colleagues know that you appreciate their particular acts or efforts (and why), make the space to be attentive, present, and empathetic when they talk to you, be proactive and go an extra step when somebody needs help, show respect.

Mindfulness Mindfulness includes being aware of your body, your surroundings, and of the content of your mind without (crucially!) being consumed by it. Eventually you become able to see your thoughts and emotions more clearly and to decide whether - and how - to act on them, enabling more conscious and likely constructive reactions. Moments of “being here and now” also provide much needed breaks for your brain, creating a buffer between you and work stress. Build small pockets of mindfulness into your day. When sitting down on the toilet, instead of pulling out your phone, be aware of your body and breath. Whenever you come back to your desk, sit down, close or divert down your eyes, and be aware. I love to do this also before I start to eat but find what works for you. You might adopt a formal mindfulness program, for example via an app such as Waking Up (my favorite) or Headspace with their 5-10 min daily meditations. Get inspired by Adobe’s Project Breathe with its daily 15 min group meditation. Eventually you want to be increasing the level of presence and awareness in whatever you do.

Engagement

Fun, levity, playfulness Laughing decreases stress and, when laughing together, strengthens social ties. Find ways to incorporate it into your activities and interactions. Be playful.

Autonomy & growth Give people more ownership over their day-to-day schedule, tasks, and professional development, and build in opportunities to learn and grow. Allow them to craft their job.

Flow Make space for the immersive, lose-track-of-time experience of flow at work.

For leaders

Aside of practicing as any other employee (though the behavior they model is even more important as it has greater impact on their subordinates), there are some additional things they can do:

Happiness practices

Selected practices you can try to boost you (and others’!) happiness.

TODO: 3 funny things
Reminders of Social Connectedness

Time: Take 10 minutes to complete the first three steps; after that, the amount of time it will take to complete the rest will vary. Try to go through this exercise at least once per month.

How: Take a moment to look around your office or workplace. What kinds of objects, words, and images surround you? Count how many of these objects, words, and images are related to social connectedness. This could include pictures of people interacting or words like “community,” “together,” or “friendship.” Notice whether there are any empty walls or shelves where you could add new objects related to connectedness or places where you or your boss could replace existing objects. Next time you’re out shopping or looking through your belongings, see if you can find objects that evoke connection, even in a subtle way, and use them to fill these empty places or to replace existing objects at your workplace. Finally, consider how the furniture in your office or workplace is arranged. Are chairs facing toward or away from each other? Are there common spaces that are conducive to social interaction? Rearranging the layout of your office or workplace can also help to promote feelings of connectedness.)

Why: Creating a workplace environment conducive to social interaction is important for the development of workplace friendships. Studies show that positive relationships and interactions at work are linked to increased job satisfaction, job performance, cooperation, and more. Further research suggests that humans have a strong propensity for kindness and generosity, and that kindness improves the health and happiness of the giver, not only of the receiver. Fortunately, studies have identified ways to elicit people’s deeply rooted propensities for kindness. One of the most effective ways is to evoke a sense of connectedness among people. Research suggests that even subtle reminders of connection, operating below the conscious level, can lead to concrete, measurable increases in altruistic behavior. This exercise walks you through the process of considering how you can add reminders of social connection to your office, or workplace.

Why it works: Although people generally want to be altruistic, we don’t always act that way. This is sometimes simply because we are busy and distracted by other things, like personal problems or approaching deadlines. By creating reminders of social connection in your office or workplace, you disrupt this self-focused tendency and reorient your attention to focus on other people. When we feel connected to others, we are more likely to want to help them—perhaps because, throughout humans’ evolutionary history, caring for those close to us was essential to the survival of our species.

See Reminders of Connectedness at Greater Good in Action.

Thnx4 Gratitude Challenge
Non work-specific practices

I want to know more!

Awesome! Check out the UC Berkeley free online course The Foundations of Happiness at Work with its many case studies and resources. You might want to check out the course syllabus and the articles, case studies, and other bibliography (many online) used during the course.

There are also interesting follow-up courses Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work and Mindfulness and Resilience to Stress at Work.


TODO: OTHER TOPICS:

  • case studies
  • practices!!!
  • 3 levels (personal, inter-personal, org)
  • assessment/measurements