Less sick days, more energy: Why team happiness should be made a priority at work

There’s a lot of ‘wellbeing washing’ where leaders talk about the importance of wellbeing, while piling on more pressure

Less sick days, more energy

Most organisations have been restructured to within an inch of their life. Chances are staff numbers have been butchered to the point that there is no slack in the system and everyone is at full throttle. There’s a lot of ‘wellbeing washing’ where leaders talk about the importance of wellbeing, while piling on more pressure.

The result? It can feel a lot like Mario Kart. It’s fast and furious, with banana skins aplenty. Ten years down the line, what do you want to be? 

  • Fuelled by caffeine and sugar, popping happy pills, on your third marriage and 4th heart murmur? 
  • Buzzing with energy and vitality?

Assuming you’re leaning heavily towards option B, here’s the headline news. 

If the organisational behaviour data is correct, 20% of employees are actively disengaged. That’s a sizeable chunk who absolutely hate coming to work. In this brave new world, the ‘undead’ mean you’re dealing with employees who are regularly absent, unmotivated or suffering from persistent, low-level mental health problems. 

A massive 62% reported being neither engaged or disengaged. Stuck in the meh zone, they show up physically, but would much rather not be there. There’s a strong likelihood that they’re counting down to the weekend or their next holiday. 

It’s the remaining 18% that interest me. This group is actively engaged. They love coming to work. Whisper it quietly, but they’d probably take a big pay cut and still rock up with a smile! In my research these employees report feeling enthusiastic, passionate, invigorated and happy at work. You can probably count them on the fingers of one hand, the people in your life who, when they walk into the room, make you feel brilliant. 

I wanted to know three things:

  1. Who the heck are the flourishing few?
  2. What are they doing that makes them feel so amazing?
  3. What can we learn from them that we can apply to ourselves, so that we might also carry the feelgood factor?

Why happiness is your competitive advantage

The science of positive psychology has a habit of proving what we already intuitively know. Guess what, happy employees:

  • get sick less often (and when they do get ill, they recover faster)
  • have way more energy 
  • are more optimistic 
  • are more motivated 
  • work better with others 
  • are more creative 
  • learn faster 
  • make better decisions 
  • create strong relationships
  • give better customer service

Now simply turn the positive statements above to negatives, and you get the workforce from hell! Is it really in anyone’s interest to have a negative, uncreative, sickness-prone, pessimistic, lack-lustre, sclerotic, depressed workforce?

But here’s the kicker: a happy employee is all well and good but a team of happy people is something to behold. In positive psychology we call it ‘collective effervescence’. There’s a buzz, an aliveness, an energy about the place. The team feels creative, optimistic, dynamic and all those ‘extra mile’ behaviours that you crave, they come as standard! You’ll know if you’ve created a culture of collective effervescence because these are the days when work doesn’t feel like ‘work’.

It’s a technical (but important) point, that happiness at work is a joint effort between the business and the individual. My top tips below are about ‘what businesses can do to create happiness’ and less about ‘what individuals can do to create happiness’. Without this important insight your business will never get it right because happiness (along with all other emotions) is an internal construct. That basically means happiness isn’t real, it’s generated from within. This explains why some people fail to shine, even in the most jaw-dropping business environments.

That said, here a few uber-quick wins:

  1. Strengths: uncovering people’s strengths and then finding ways for them to use their strengths every day. Simple? Yup. Are more organisations doing it? Nope.
  2. Positive communication ratio of 6:1. If I was a fly on the wall in your office and could hear 6 positives for every negative, I’d be fairly sure that your team is rocking and rolling. If it dips below 2:1, the energy will be leaking. If your communication dips the other way (it, there are more negs than positives) I’d be worried.
  3. Purpose is key. If people have a clear and compelling reason to come to work, they will arrive with a spring in their step. Find (or remind them of) their ‘why?’ A point worth noting, you cannot command happiness or purpose. It’s about creating insight, so they can realise it for themselves.
  4. Care. And I mean genuinely care. Chances are that if your people can respond affirmatively to ‘someone at work seems to care about me as a person’, they will turn up with a positive attitude.
  5. Bonus tip: where happiness is concerned, start with yourself. You can’t force anyone else to be happy, but you can influence them. You rocking up as the best version of you is a great way to kick off a wellbeing ripple. Pass it on.
Dr Andy Cope
Dr Andy Cope

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