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Don't Just Be Happy, Inspire Happiness

Your employees look to you for lots of things, not the least of which is your ability to create the conditions that help them thrive. New research reveals six vital elements you should focus on.

As the boss, you have a tremendous impact on your employees, maybe more than you know. Create an oppressive workplace and their performance will plunge (think "mental health day"). But when you create a positive environment you'll be amazed at just how eagerly they give you everything they've got. Office furniture-maker Steelcase has done a lot of research on employee well-being and recommends that leaders focus on these six dimensions:

1. Optimism

When your people are optimistic they don’t just have positive attitudes and expectations about their future, they are also willing to take risks, try new ideas, and think outside the box. As such, optimism is a key ingredient in employee creativity and innovation, something every business needs more of. Cultivate optimism among your employees by supporting continuous experimentation and by giving your people influence and control over their work.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a quality that many people are now keen to practice in their personal lives, but it has a workplace corollary as well.  Help your staff be fully present in the moment by removing as many distractions as possible and creating a workplace that is ordered, comfortable and calm. When they can give matters their complete focus, they will be far more engaged and their performance will  greatly improve.

3. Authenticity

Everyone wants to be themselves at work: to be authentic and to have the freedom to be who they really are. This means developing positive relationships and strong bridges of trust with management and coworkers. This doesn’t happen automatically--it requires a series of positive interactions over an extended period. Create a culture of authenticity in your company by encouraging your people to express their own ideas and values and contribute their opinions whenever possible.

4. Belonging

Gallup surveys show that when people have positive interactions and close friends on the job, they will be significantly more engaged in their work (not to mention more productive and effective) than those who do not. Employees want to feel a sense of belonging at work--that people care about them, and that they are doing meaningful work. To encourage your people to feel that way, be sure they know that you and the company cares about them, and find tangible ways to demonstrate that they play key roles in the company's success.

5. Meaning

The need to understand how they contribute to the success of the organization cited above connects to something even more important--feeling a sense of purpose. Leaders help their people feel a sense of purpose by communicating the company’s goals clearly and then explaining exactly how each employee fits in.  Says Steelcase researcher Nicolas de Benoist, “How we spend our time, doing the right things in the right way, can powerfully impact [our] well-being.”

6. Vitality

In today’s fast-changing business world it is more important than ever that employees work in environments that are mentally and physically stimulating, or at least not oppressive. Sight, sound, touch, and other stimuli can be optimized in a way that energizes your employees. So take a look at the lighting and other elements of your physical space and see if you can make changes that boost the pleasantness factor. 

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 5, 2014


While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers. Sign up here to always stay up to date with Peter's latest columns, and visit him anytime at

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