As elusive as happiness seems to be, it’s worth considering what it is and what it’s not. Despite pop-culture construals of the concept of happiness as either a destination (and therefore quite separate from the present situation) or a passive state of being, the truth is that it is neither. As Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”
In other words, to be happy at work and in life, one must strive towards constant growth by meaningfully exerting oneself. Part of this process is consistently seeking challenge and engagement. Indeed, according to positive psychologist Martin Seligman, engagement is one of the core elements of workplace happiness.
Similarly, for psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one derives happiness only from having enjoyable experiences, which are characterised by a “forward movement… a sense of novelty, [and] of accomplishment.” Clearly, employee engagement plays a critical role in creating a happy workplace: here’s why (and how it works.)
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One of the biggest (and most potentially damaging) myths about employee happiness is that the happier people are at work, the more unfocused and unproductive they are. To begin with, numerous studies have conclusively debunked this myth.
Still, it’s vital to note that there is a crucial distinction between “happiness as pleasure” and “happiness as enjoyment.” So many myths about employee happiness come about from the misconception that happiness is about experience pleasure instead of enjoyment.
In his landmark book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, Csikszentmihalyi expounds on the differences between the two. Importantly, he writes that pleasurable experiences “do not produce psychological growth”, whereas enjoyable ones necessitate greater attentional control and conscious effort. Enjoyment, therefore, tends to catalyse positive self-regard and long-term growth.
Simply put, enjoyment catalyses employee engagement, which in turn, makes for happy workers. How, though, can employers help to facilitate enjoyment in the workplace?
According to Csikszentmihalyi, an enjoyable task has eight characteristics:
The “flow state”—a term coined by Csikszentmihalyi to describe the experience of being totally in the zone when you’re working on something—is a vital part of enjoyment and peak performance. While there are many different ways to get into the flow state, the most important one is perhaps the nature of the task itself.
It necessitates a good challenge-skill ratio; ideally, flow is achieved when both the task itself is highly challenging and the employee is highly skilled.
It’s no secret that building and capitalising on employee strengths is indispensable in precipitating high performance, both in team and individual contexts. Again, though, it’s important to differentiate between talent and strength here.
Raw talent does not by itself constitute strength. Rather, it’s only a starting point. It takes consistent, deliberate effort and skills application across various scenarios to turn an employee’s talent into a strength. According to Gallup, this occurs when one refines talent with “skills, knowledge, and practice, then consciously [applies it to] something that needs doing.”
Compared to its relatively more well-known cousin “self-esteem”, the concept of self-efficacy usually receives far less attention. Yet the role it plays in building employee engagement cannot be understated.
Where self-esteem refers to an evaluation of your ability to thrive in life in general, self-efficacy is about your evaluation of how likely you are to succeed an achieve things when it comes to specific skill sets or scenarios. While you might be a generally confident person, you might have low self-efficacy when it comes to doing work that you’re unfamiliar with.
Research has shown that employees who have higher levels of self-efficacy tend to be more engaged at work. Since they are more confident about their ability to thrive at work, they more readily apply themselves with greater vigorousness and concentration as well.