Previously published on Forbes.com.
The average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. Is it unreasonable to expect that the majority of those should be happy ones?
The days of the 2008 financial crisis where employers thought their employees should just be grateful to have a job are long gone. Employees today have choices—lots of them. According to the Staples Annual Workplace Survey, 80% of workers believe that employers have a responsibility to keep employees mentally and physically well. The simple lesson: If you want to keep the best and the brightest, create a happy work environment.
First, let’s consider what happy employees create. Economists at the University of Warwick carried out a number of experiments to test the idea that happy employees work harder. In the laboratory, they found that happiness made people about 12% more productive. Positive emotions invigorate people.
Another study by a management consulting firm looked at whether morale made a difference in company value. They separated large organizations into high, medium or low morale categories, with high morale defined as 70% or more of employees expressing overall job satisfaction. The findings? Happy workers grow company value.The stock prices of companies in the high-morale group grew 19.4 %, compared with only 10% for the low/medium morale group.
The value doesn’t stop there. According to a 2012 Gallup State of the American Workplace study, employees with high overall “well-being” have 41% lower health-related costs compared with employees who are struggling and 62% lower costs compared with employees who are “suffering.” And a study by Willis, Towers, Perrin found that higher employee engagement, productivity and morale contribute to major financial returns and competitive advantages.
On the flipside, unhappiness at work can be expensive. The American Psychological Association estimates that 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job. 60-80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress. And workplace stress has been linked to health problems ranging from metabolic syndrome to cardiovascular disease and mortality. And we all know how miserable and costly a bad boss can be.
In Annie McKee's popular HBR piece, Being Happy at Work Matters, she concluded that to be fully engaged and happy, people need three things: a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. Let’s look at how you, as a leader, can build these into your organization:
- Do all of your employees see a meaningful vision of the future? One way to make sure is to have one-to-one conversations with each of your employees and share what you all are working towards.
- Have you helped your employees see a future that calls them forward and inspires them? Share the big picture and why the work you are doing matters. When you connect each person’s efforts to the larger vision, each day will be imbued with purpose.
How do you make these concepts tangible in your workplace? Apple’s Andy Hertzfeld shares a great story about how Steve Jobs motivated the team to find a way to make the Mac boot up faster after it powered on:
Larry Kenyon was the engineer working on the disk driver and file system. Steve came into his cubicle and started to exhort him. "The Macintosh boots too slowly. You've got to make it faster!"
Larry started to explain about some of the places where he thought that he could improve things, but Steve wasn't interested. He continued, "You know, I've been thinking about it. How many people are going to be using the Macintosh? A million? No, more than that. In a few years, I bet five million people will be booting up their Macintoshes at least once a day."
"Well, let's say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and that’s 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that's probably dozens of lifetimes. So, if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you've saved a dozen lives. That's really worth it, don't you think?"
Now that’s tangible. It’s something worth working for. And it’s energizing for employees.
- How might you encourage your team members to have great relationships with one another? They don’t just happen. Well, sometimes they do, but let’s think about how you can intentionally make them happen with your team. Recently, I heard about a team leader who hosts “Cheers for Peers.” It’s a weekly meeting where peers share about the good things they have seen in one another during the week. They offer their appreciation and recognition for each other. I’m so inspired by it that I’m going to start doing it with our team.
And don’t discount the importance of the environment in nurturing relationships. In a recent New York Times article “Communal Breaks - A Chance to Bond,” Ben Waber notes, “In general when we look at what makes people happy and effective at work, it’s being able to spend time with a close group of people. You need to structure work in such a way that people have those opportunities.” Create spaces and places where people can gather.
Take a page from Silicon Valley design firm IDEO, which built a kitchen off the main open workstation space in their San Francisco office, and consider how you can get more strategic about your placement of coffee and break rooms. At IDEO, you can smell the soup cooking away right up until lunch, when employees are encouraged to dish up and enjoy together. How could you make your break areas gathering spots that are welcoming, easily accessible and stepping stones to great relationships? Be generous like you would be if someone stopped by your house for happy hour. After all, your goal here is to build more happy hours.
Work can be a place you come to for laughter and fulfillment – I know it is for me. I have the privilege of calling my workmates my closest friends. Spend a minute thinking about what you could do today to make people you work with happier. It’ll be worth it.