If you are a team leader and want a happy, productive team - what should you do? Does the way we collaborate at work impact happiness anyway? Are we doomed if we can’t create an office environment with free lunches and ping pong? The ability to affect happiness at work is something that should be taken seriously but it’s not about an expensive quick fix.
There's significant evidence that happiness benefits organisation performance. There are two ways in which this occurs. This study from the American Psychological Association indicates that overall personal happiness and business success are inextricably linked. Recently, researchers at Warwick University attempted to quantify the impact indicating that happy employees may be 12 per cent more productive, stress is reduced and collaboration is easier.
One of the leading non-profits that research happiness is 'Action for Happiness'. They’ve defined 10 keys to happier living: Do things for others, connect with people, take care of your body, live life mindfully, keep learning, have goals to look forward to, find ways to bounce back, look for what’s good, be comfortable with who you are, be part of something bigger. This provides great insight into what makes us happy, but how to become happy or instill happiness in others is still a topic of much debate.
It’s not about money or bean bags
Too often people associate happiness with money or trendy benefits. Yet over last fifty years people have grown no happier, even though average incomes have more than doubled. Perhaps there’s a challenge with the language of happiness. One study into seeking happiness found that the more people value happiness the more disappointment they feel if they don’t achieve it. So if trying to be happy doesn’t work, what does? Our research at Saberr isn’t focused on happiness, but team effectiveness. However, on the way we’ve seen a striking parallel between what makes a happy individual and the characteristics of a successful team.
A team must have a sense of purpose and defined and transparent goals to be successful. This benefits the team, creating more focus and everyone knowing how they contribute. However, it’s clearly also appealing to basic needs for the individual to be happy: being part of something bigger, having goals to look forward to.
If we accept that having a sense of purpose can drive exceptional results, the debate needs to move on to engage teams in a discussion around their purpose. It’s a skill to facilitate this discussion and we need to give more leaders these skills.
We need to confront the reality that defining purpose can’t remain exclusively a top down process. As Columbia academics enabling employees in co-creating culture culture can help develop a healthy organisation. The same is true of purpose. Enabling a team to define it’s own purpose in the context of the organisation is a healthy activity rarely undertaken.
We also need to accept that connecting to a clear sense of purpose is hard. In industries where what we do day to day is part of a complex value chain - it’s particularly hard. We can feel like a small cogs in a large machine, separated from the impact we have. As an example, call centre employees in an insurance office were demotivated by the emotionally draining work of fielding customer enquiries all day long. A call centre manager asked customers to speak to the team and explain the impact of their work. An elderly lady described how the efficient handling of an insurance claim had given her peace of mind at a really difficult time in her life. Employees were re-energised.
Connecting with people
The ability of a team to develop strong trust-based relationships in a second critical factor for team success and linked to happiness. Google’s Project Aristotle ranked 'psychological safety' as the most important dynamic for successful teamwork. This means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable taking risks, they’re respected by their team members and confident they can be themselves.
This speaks to an individual’s need to "be comfortable with who you are" and to "connect with people". Putting on an emotional mask drains you of energy that can only be replenished if you then have an opportunity to be yourself.
Being "who you are" and "connecting to people" isn’t easy. We have researched how individuals’ values affect team performance in great depth. Our findings illustrate that people are happier when they’re "comfortable with who they are" - living their own values. But what happens when an employee’s motivations or values aren’t shared by others? How does that employee "connect to people" then?
We need to provide more tools for teams to understand and manage their relationships. How to deal with disagreements about both style and substance. We absolutely want people to be themselves at work but we need to mature enough to recognise that this can create tensions. We need to give the team the means to deal with diverse points of view.
Two of the best ways we can help people be happy at work is connecting them to a meaningful purpose and to build trust with their team members. Being happy will be a wonderful side effect of doing meaningful work with people that we respect. That doesn’t mean any of this will be easy, happiness cannot be forced, it takes time and effort - there may not be a bean bag in sight but it’ll be worth it in the end!