How happy are your employees? The answer can make a difference in your bottom line. Really. While this revelation isn’t necessarily a shocker, the reality is that knowing your employees’ happiness is linked to organizational success isn’t enough to make the achievement happen, according to Happiness Advantage author, Shawn Achor. In fact, it’s critical that you embrace some very specific strategies to create a positive mindset in your team. The results are astounding and based on groundbreaking research within the last 10 years in positive psychology.
For those of you who read the Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale back in the dark ages, you might be thinking this is a fresh spin on an old idea. Put away your Doubting Thomas perceptions and prepare to be dazzled by what the field of positive psychology has confirmed. “Happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement—giving us the competitive edge” that Achor calls “the Happiness Advantage.” Achor further states that “waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive.” The following is an excerpt from our Page to Practice interview with Achor as well as a glimpse of one of his Happiness Advantage strategies:
CausePlanet: You make an important distinction between understanding that happiness drives success and the principles that form positive behaviors. In other words, “information is not transformation” as you say. Can you explain this quotation for our readers?
Achor: I heard a sleep researcher once who said if you sleep 8-9 hours a night, you age slower. I asked how long he slept, and he said he is a sleep researcher so he stays awake all night watching people sleep. We often know what we can do to become happier–none of that information is new. But doing it is another thing. Common sense is not common action. The reason is it takes activation energy to get over the inertia of our current habits. But once we do, then we can start making positive habits that literally change the brain.
CausePlanet: What is the most common mistake that leaders make when trying to apply your principles in the workplace?
Achor: They think happiness means putting on rose-colored glasses, not seeing problems, thinking our teams are perfect, and that there is nothing wrong with the world. That is irrational optimism. What we are searching for is “rational optimism,” which begins not with a Pollyannaish view of the world, but with as realistic an assessment of the world as possible, while retaining an optimistic belief that our behavior and mindset will help change the world to a better place. Happiness is NOT the belief that we do not need to change. That is being complacent. Happiness is the belief that we CAN change.
Principle #7: Social Investment – Why Social Support Is Your Single Greatest Asset
When we’re under pressure to succeed, some of us turn inward, turn off the cell and hunker down. Two things happen at this point—we either fail to finish the project or we push through and cross the finish line only to be rewarded with another deadline. Either way, our tank is empty. Achor says the most successful people take the exact opposite approach. Rather than turn inward, they actually hold tighter to their social support and invest rather than divest. “They know that their social relationships are the single greatest investment they can make in the Happiness Advantage.” In fact, a 70-year study of men at Harvard found that the single most important factor in happiness, career achievement, occupational success and income was social bonds. Similar studies, too many to list, came to the same conclusions.
So how do we invest in high performance through social support?
We don’t have to look very far in the professional arena for examples, and positive psychologists say that connections don’t have to be deeply rooted to be beneficial. For example, IBM did an internal study of their employees’ social connections and found that every email contact was worth an additional $948 in revenue. They now are piloting a program in Massachusetts to facilitate the introductions of employees who don’t yet know one another. Google keeps their company cafeterias open beyond office hours, making it easier for employees to dine together as much as possible, and their employees are encouraged to visit their children throughout the day at the on-site daycare center. Companies like Southwest Airlines and The Limited have set up funds for employees who have medical or financial emergencies, whereby colleagues can literally make social investments and donate to the funds, further connecting employees to each others’ livelihoods.
Not all social investment programs have to be large or formalized. Simply facilitating conversation is important, such as one company that after realizing its employees liked chatting in the stairwells, installed coffee machines there. However, coercing employees into awkward icebreakers and sharing personal information creates mistrust. Another dynamic that’s important in the social support network is the vertical relationship between employee and manager. The bond between employee and manger is a predictor for productivity and retainability in a position.
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