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Employee Happiness - A Leadership Issue?

Posted by Lattimer, Christina at Thursday, 02/28/2013 5:44 pm
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On March the 20th, the world will be celebrating the International World Happiness Day, which was introduced by the United Nations at the World Happiness Conference held in April 2012. As the subject of happiness is dear to my heart, I thought I would mark the occasion with a question for leaders. "Should employee happiness be on your agenda?"

I do wonder sometimes how far employers should go to try to help people at work. After all they are paying them to come along and do their share. Of course we all know it isn't really as simple as that. People are complex creatures and life experiences are unique and different for each person. Similarly employers aren't going to be able to get the best out of their people if they simply trust and have faith everyone will do their best, at all times, without some help.

In April last year, the United Nations held its first conference on happiness and wellbeing in New York City. The conference introduced the concept of “Gross National Happiness” which I have to say made me very …Happy!

One of the announcements made was there will be an International Day of Happiness on 20th March each year.

I am a big believer in happiness, and the benefits happiness can bring. I have had many discussions with peers and colleagues and I rather believe I may be in a minority. Not that many people disagree that happiness is a good state in which to be; mostly they just think it’s unrealistic. Certainly in the workplace many people think it’s not even a consideration.

Happiness is An Inside Job

Now I know that employers and leaders cannot be responsible for employees’ happiness. Happiness is an inside job. If any of you have been in a relationship with the intention of “making someone happy” and that person is not intrinsically happy, you know how impossible it is.

The truth is, people choose to be happy or not. Self-aware people understand that external “things” may help you get in touch with happy feelings, but rarely do they last. In fact really happy people understand that due to the temporary nature of anything in the world, happiness is an internal state largely consisting of acceptance, interpretation and choice.

As a Leader, all you can do is increase the odds of people being happy

As you can’t control how people choose to feel, act and think; all you can do is create the right environment which increases the odds for people to happy. You might be asking why on earth you should even consider taking such steps when you are financially strapped, your employees are revolting and daily your problems seem to be increasing. Haven’t you enough on your plate? And why help people to be happy when there is no guarantee of success?

With the right direction, the benefits of people being happy at work are: They

get more work done
will be more committed to the task and the company
will be physically, mentally and emotionally more healthy
will infect your customers with their happiness
have more productive relationships with other employees
have fewer conflicts
be more resilient

Develop a Happiness Quadrant

If any of you are battling with poor employee feedback, performance issues, high absence rates, conflicts and complaints, then you might want to take some positive measures to change things.

Alright I know if you go along to the board meeting and suggest a “happiness quadrant” your fellow board members might be checking your temperature and looking for signs of addiction, but the following suggestions can be combined with your organisational development or strategic activities.

Create respect and admiration at the organisation identity level

Commit and demonstrate company values
Develop and maintain a meaningful purpose
Identify and communicate a worthy contribution

Celebrate and engage employees and teams

Monitor and put in place measures to help people meet 4 basic needs, of feeling valued, safe, in control and being a contributor
Help people be responsible and gain autonomy to deliver their contribution
Celebrate success, internally and externally
Tell great and meaningful organisational and individual stories which engage emotions

Develop a Community Culture

Have a defined social structure – even if it’s just the annual Christmas party
Accept that people aren’t perfect, create environments where people can let off steam, solve problems, or deal with frustrations and fears – safely
Develop sensible work/life balance
Develop an ethos of internal as well as external customer service.
Encourage and allow people to care about each other

Create a Learning Ethos

Help employees gain mastery and transferable skills
Introduce learning which helps people to understand themselves and engenders personal growth
Turn mistakes into learning opportunities
Help people to learn and take responsibility for their own wellbeing, whether physical, emotional or mental
I know some people will think putting happiness on the agenda is not a strategic move. My challenge for those people would be my favourite mantra “Would you rather be right or happy?” So go on I urge you to choose “happy” and celebrate the World Happiness Day on 20th March, with some strategic thinking about creating a happy environment at work.

In the spirit of the World Happiness Day, I hope this article made you smile as well as giving some ideas about creating a happier culture a work.

Christina has managed people for twenty seven years and led hugely successful teams. She has worked with people at all levels in various organisations to help them achieve their potential, and she has been actively involved in the learning and development field in a number of different roles.

People Discovery is a Leadership Development coaching consultancy, based in North East England, working globally.

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