Why every workplace should have a happiness strategy

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Jennifer Moss
Founder
Plasticity Labs
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Change is one of the most common causes of stress inside organizations. Leaders struggle to inspire their teams amongst constantly shifting priorities, while individual employees feel uncertain about the future resulting in higher levels of anxiety.

There are many reasons that change occurs in an organization, but it may feel like the amount of change we experience at work is increasing.

With globalization and constant innovation of technology, we’re facing a rapidly evolving business environment. Remember when there was no budget for social media? Fortunately, change and progress go hand in hand. 15 years ago, social media massively disrupted the way we as leaders communicated with each other and to our employees.

Today, employee happiness is taking root. And, just like social and digital communication, it’s not a fad but here to stay.

With the business environment undergoing so much change, the ability to manage and adapt through it is a necessary capacity required in the workplace today.

Stubborn historical 'imprints'

Yet, as we are all very much aware, major and rapid organizational change is intensely difficult. Why? Because the deeply imbedded infrastructure, culture, and patterns of organizations often reflect a stubborn "imprint" of past periods, which are resistant to major change (Marquis, Tilcsik, 2013).

We will be left behind if we don’t recognize that employee happiness is critical to leadership and organizational success.

Unfortunately, the research doesn’t show that most organizations today are handling change all that well.

According to research by Korn Ferry and the Hay Group, of the mergers that fall apart, 91% believe that those failures are due to the misalignment of corporate cultures

Psychological fitness training

There is a bright side.

We can provide our people with the psychological training that will help them to see change as an exciting, healthy and positive experience rather than a stressful one.

Some look at running a marathon as an impossible feat, but with physical fitness training, the goal becomes much more tangible.

The same empowerment to handle life’s challenges comes in time with psychological fitness training.

A happiness strategy is not about creating irrationally optimistic people.

And, a happiness strategy can help us better prepare for the inevitable in life. Change being one of them. Stress, too.

A happiness strategy is not...

It is important to note here what a happiness strategy is not.

A happiness strategy is not about creating irrationally optimistic people who are void of emotion. Rather, a happiness strategy allows us and our people to be ready for life.

It helps our employees to manage conflict rather than avoid it, rebound from stressful events faster and build higher levels of cognitive resilience. It also speeds up the feedback loop and develops psychological fitness so we can run the mental marathon that is a lifetime of work.

How can happiness help navigate change more effectively?

According to Dr. Emma Seppala, Ph.D., Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Happiness Track (HarperOne, 2016), our state of mind is the key to navigating change in a healthy way.

Remember, happiness is not a campaign, it’s a long-term investment.

In our interview, Dr. Seppala offered this advice, “We can't control our external circumstances, and things change constantly whether at work or in our personal lives. The only thing we can have a say over is the state of our mind. That's why it's so important to cultivate resilience - the ability to generate more inner peace, to stay calm in the face of chaos, to remain emotionally intelligent as we communicate with others despite conflict or hurt feelings, to make good decisions even when we're feeling upset.”

Resiliency is one of the key traits that we measure at Plasticity. However, resiliency is also part of a larger bundle of traits that we measure called the HERO traits (Hope, Efficacy, Resilience, Optimism as well as Gratitude, Mindfulness and Empathy).

We zoom in on these specific characteristics because we’ve discovered in our research that those individuals and groups who are high in most (or all) of the above behaviors also happen to be the happiest and highest performing.

We need to engage in regular interventions while frequently measuring their success and/or failure.

If we as leaders authentically desire to improve our employees’ experience of work, we need to be intentional about improving wellbeing and psychological fitness.

We need to engage in regular interventions while frequently measuring their success and/or failure to improve the lives our people. It may sound like a big undertaking.

But, just like those leaders who ignored the changes coming at them in the social media wave, we will be left behind if we don’t recognize that employee happiness is critical to leadership and organizational success.

What we’ve discovered is that the type of leaders that take these kinds of initiatives on, despite their questions and fears, are those who exhibit openness, self-awareness, critical analysis, bravery and a keen knowledge of their company’s character.

Remember, happiness is not a campaign, it’s a long-term investment. In other words - happiness is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.

Read more from Jennifer Moss in her new book, Unlocking Happiness at Work (Kogan Page)

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