How does a good team impact employee happiness?

Tom Marsden, CEO of people analytics company Saberr, discusses why being in the right team is critical to maintaining employee wellbeing, and how this science can be applied in the workplace...

There are many studies challenging traditional assumptions about the real motivations in life and at work. According to most it’s not always about money.

In his book 'Happiness', leading economist Richard Layard discusses the idea that the happiness of a country is measured not by the wealth of the nation, but by the quality of life experienced. 'Social capital' – the strength of your relationships with those around you – is one key factor to achieve happiness. He concludes people should give preserving their relationships higher priority than worrying about what they earn.

The same trend is apparent in the workplace, according to a study from Professor John Helliwell at the University of British Columbia. He concluded that trust was one of the most highly regarded values at work. Staggeringly, the research found that a 10 per cent increase in trust in management is equivalent to an increase in income of more than a third.

In his book 'Drive' Dan Pink also challenges the 'carrot and stick' approach to workplace motivation. Individuals are motivated by an innate need to direct our own lives (autonomy) to learn and create new things (mastery), and to do better by ourselves and our world (purpose). He adds that a key part of autonomy is deciding the people we work with - our team.

Despite this fast-growing evidence that happy, productive individuals work within happy, productive teams, they are often the forgotten force when it comes to maintaining employee well-being. What can we do about this?

Get active managing your team design

There's not enough thought going into intelligent, compatible team design. It's becoming possible to be more scientific in designing teams that will work well together. Managers should become more thoughtful about how they put their teams together, focusing not just on skills but on personality and values. Up until now, managers have been too passive in team design with judgments about whether an external hire will be compatible with existing team members still being driven entirely by gut.

The increasingly available data around team compatibility provides an important perspective to get team design right. Investing the time, applying good judgement and leveraging data will help build a happy and successful teams. These are the engine rooms of great organisations. 

Blur the edges between work and play at work

In a list of 19 daily activities surveyed in Richard Layard’s 2003 study into happiness, working ranked as the second least enjoyable activity (with a ‘happiness index’ score of 2.7) despite on average 6.9 hours per day being spent in the workplace. Socialising at work ranks significantly higher (3.8). How can this distinction be blurred?

An interesting case study was carried out by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, in which they advised bosses at a call centre to change internal timetables to allow all workers to take breaks at the same time. The increased opportunities for socialising meant that average call-handling time fell by 20 per cent for low-performing teams and eight per cent across the company, thus increasing the company’s productivity. As a result of implementing this change across all 10 branches of the company, the manager forecasted $15 million per year in productivity increases.

There are also certain group dynamics that characterise high-performing teams; these include energy, creativity and shared commitment to surpass other teams. Gensler’s US workplace survey indicates that 67 per cent of respondents felt they were more efficient when working closely alongside co-workers, while only 50 per cent of workers believe that their current workplace design encourages innovation and creativity.

It’s time we started to engineer our workplace and work schedules to encourage networking and collaboration. The resulting effect will be an increase in well-being and performance.

Think how great managers lead teams

"Strip leaders of the traditional tools of power and rely on facts to make decisions," Laszlo Bock, head of people operations at Google writes in his recent book 'Work Rules'.

Evidence shows that the way the boss benhaves in a company can have a huge impact on its employees’ well-being. Sadly, often the impact is negative. According to Layard’s research, the average happiness spent interacting with co-workers (which gained a happiness index of 2.6) quite significantly surpasses the average happiness spent interacting with one’s boss (which only earned a happiness index of 2.0).

How can leaders narrow this gap? A few steps: connect the right employees with the right managers, and encourage managers to lead without exercising brute authority – great managers often listen a lot more then they talk. Managers also need to be a part of the team they represent.

As a result of more research into the science of well-being, companies are now in the fortunate position of being able to build teams that will both succeed and cater to an individual’s happiness in the workplace. The evidence speaks for itself.

It’s now up to managers to consider team dynamics more closely and to utilise the data available in order to get the best results. It’s also up to individuals to invest in their own success and happiness and find the suitable team for them to flourish.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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