I was part of a podcast recently with Z P to talk about Happiness and Productivity at the workplace and I was more than ‘happy’ to discuss the topic. As an entrepreneur, these themes have been a part of my experiences ever since I started Enparadigm with my co-founders, who are also my friends.
We know that happy workplaces are good for everyone. And, over the last decade this has been a resounding mantra. A University of Warwick study states that happier employees are 12% more productive. In the same vein, companies that were in the "great places to work list" grew at a faster rate than those that were not.
The message is clear. We need to feel that the work that we are doing is meaningful and know that we will be rewarded for doing it well. This we know. However, the popular opinion is that most people drudge themselves to work every morning.
The question is, how do we as business leaders enable employees to feel that ‘happiness at work’ is achievable?
During my conversation with ZP some popular themes emerged, themes that we have also been trying to promote at Enparadigm over the years.
It seems that there is a formula to promote happiness at work; at least in my experience - Purpose, People and Performance.
It also turns out that there is enough anecdotal and research-based evidence to support that this is a worthwhile pursuit, so I wanted to share with you some of those themes and the arguments in their favour.
Or, "What am I getting out of doing this?" Getting up and going to a place of work day-in and day-out is tedious if one does not know why they are doing it. It is absolutely necessary to ask and answer the question, "Why am I even doing this?" However, it is one of those questions, for which, the answer has to stem from within. Your manager, your colleagues or your family cannot answer this for you.
However, if you are a people manager, you can help your team members articulate their purpose by encouraging them to think along these lines.
Purpose does not have to be grand. You purpose doesn’t have to be, "I want to change the way people..." or "I want to challenge the status quo of..." If that is what drives you then great, go for it! But, if you are someone who views work as means to sustain yourself and your interest in life. As in, "I love hiking and camping during weekends." Or, "The work I do sustains my lifestyle," or "Having a job allows me to pursue my hobby of..." All are valid answers.
Articulating your purpose means you know what your job is giving back to you. It "justifies", for yourself, the amount of time and effort you give to it. It is an important way to commit, or recommit, to your role and responsibilities in the workplace.
While articulating one’s purpose is largely dependent on individuals; managers and HR have a bigger role to play here. Putting together teams in which people like working with each other is important. Not just in terms of general morale. It is known to have a direct impact on work and performance metrics.
Christine M. Riordan's article in HBR, We All Need Friends at Work, states, "close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work." Just another example substantiating the link between happiness at work and performance.
Tapping your team members to hire people, cultivating an environment of camaraderie and leading by example can all go a long way.
Leading by example, is crucial. When a leader sets the tone by their own behaviour there is a model for everyone else to follow and replicate. In We All Need Friends at Work, Christine quotes Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest, “model the culture: spending time with employees, treating people with respect, having fun, being there for them personally and professionally, and putting people first — with empathy, kindness and compassion.”
There are two aspects to this.
People have a life outside work. While some people want to spend extra hours at their desks, others may want to clock out on time and pursue their hobbies or spend time with their families. It is important to understand that these pursuits are a priority for some of your team members and giving them the time to engage in these activities in turn energizes them when come back to work. By doing so, you further encourage them to engage in the workplace and commit to the job.
There is a generational shift in the workforce. Millennials are the new dominant demographic in the workforce both, globally and in India. They have grown up in the digital economy that has offered them choices and flexibility. Organizations are increasingly trying to adapt the workplace environment to the value systems and priorities of this demographic.
One of the features of the digital age has been that people need not be present in the same place at the same time to get work done or access services. This advantage has manifested in different ways – the gig economy, the deskless workforce, remote workforce and remote collaboration, and flexible work hours.
In such an age, insisting that ‘early birds’ and ‘night owls’ all come to office at the same time may not be prudent. If working together in a physical space is a must then it is the job of the hiring team to ensure that they are picking the right people for the job. In all other cases it is best to take a flexible approach and create an environment in which people can work in a comfortable mindspace.
Part of creating such a work environment is to shift priorities from ‘presence’ to ‘outcomes’. Employees who take ownership and responsibility for their deliverables and outcomes can get more flexibility on work timings. Those who are yet to take ownership of their outcomes and need the guidance from their managers should ideally work the same ‘shifts’ the manager is comfortable with.
In the same vein, some people thrive as individual contributors while others do better working in teams. Some people may need more support and guidance to deliver while others want to figure it out on their own. Managers and their mentorship plays a monumental role in ensuring that people enjoy their work and the environment in which they perform.
Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, writes that there are three factors that contribute to motivation in the workplace – Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery. We touched on articulating purpose in the first point, and we briefly touched on autonomy in the second point when talking about the role of managers in creating a performance-oriented work environment.
In the third point, let us turn to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, to understand how leaders can help promote mastery. Mihaly talks about the concept of ‘flow’ in his eponymous book. Achieving a flow state, according to Mihaly, is crucial to having a sense of fulfilment.
What is a flow stat and how can one achieve it? Any task that an individual finds to be completely within their current ability may bore them or make them feel like they are stagnating. If a task is so complex that they will not be able to do it at all, they might feel overwhelmed. Finding the current level of abilities and making a task slightly more difficult than that, allows a person to feel challenged. Pushing themselves a little bit beyond their abilities to complete such a task is when a person achieves a “flow state” according to Mihaly.
For people managers, having a good idea about the skill level of your team members and finding ways to challenge them on a level higher than that can be crucial to engaging them in the workplace and retaining their talents and interest for a long time. This approach can also be a great way for guiding team members who generally don’t take a long term view. By challenging them incrementally over a long period of time you can inspire them to achieve much more than what they initially expected of themselves. This can go a long way to inspiring loyalty and engagement at the workplace.
When talking about enabling happiness in the work environment we usually talk about birthday parties, fnu engagement activities, team outings, individual R&R, etc. However, these things are transitory in nature. All of these events combined do not come close to the amount of time an employee spends “doing their job”. Ensuring that your team members find the work they do rewarding could well be the single biggest way to enhance happiness and unlock productivity in the 21st century workplace.