Sir Richard Branson said it best: “Happy employees equals happy customers.” Yet even though humanity has spent the past few millennia obsessing over what it means to be happy, when it comes to work, we tend to (almost reflexively) consider the notions of “work” and “happiness” as mutually exclusive.
Granted, when the 9 to 5 workday was first introduced in the 1800s, “work” was probably understandably associated with misery instead. Two centuries later, though, we continue to routinely underestimate the fundamental importance (and the sheer benefits) of a happy workplace to employee performance and well-being in the long run.
To begin with, research by consulting firm Great Place To Work has found that companies with happy employees have 50% less turnover and enjoy 300% more revenue growth. Likewise, a study published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2015 also concluded that positive work cultures are more productive. On top of that, positive moods can stimulate more creativity and less of the kind of fear that can get in the way of innovation.
Clearly, there is a business case for workplace happiness. It’s critical to note, though, that job benefits and perks alone aren’t enough to make (and keep) your employees happy.
Polls by Gallup and other organisations have consistently found that employee well-being depends more heavily on “human” factors like engagement and trust than material benefit. So what actually is a happy workplace, and what does it constitute?
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Authenticity, it seems, is all the rage these days, and it’s no wonder. In a world inundated with filtering, retouching, simulating, branding and packaging, stripping down to the “real”, authentic truth has become increasingly rare—and therefore all the more desirable.
Quite apart from the flurry of (ironically carefully curated) hashtags on social media, though, to be authentic is simply to act in alignment with our deeper thoughts, sentiments, beliefs and values. Indeed, research has shown that being authentic at work is equally important as being authentic in life (as reported in Forbes). The more people feel like they can be their authentic selves, the higher their levels of workplace well-being.
This, however, requires psychological safety; it’s hard to be your real self if you feel like those around you aren’t going to accept or embrace it.
According to Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” As it turns out, Google’s Project Aristotle concluded that this psychological safety is also the most important characteristic of high-performing teams.
It’s simple. Psychologically safe working environments cultivate trust, which is an essential ingredient to team performance, effective leadership, and employee well-being.
Meaningful social connection is one of our most fundamental psychological needs. It’s undoubtedly indispensable towards our mental and emotional well-being. Indeed, studies have found it can even have an affect on our risk of mortality.
Ultimately, since we spend so much of our lives at work, it helps to have a supportive social network.
Tumultous interpersonal relationships that are fraught with tensions, distrust and mutual enmity greatly exacerbate workplace stress. Eventually, it also drastically lowers employee satisfaction. After all, we’ve all heard the saying that “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.”
On the other hand, positive social connection is what defines happy workplaces. Their employees feel a sense of belonging in the company and with their co-workers too. Generally, these are workplaces that: