Which came first? The happy employee or the great work product? Unlike the original "chicken/egg" question, the answers to these questions aren't just rhetorical. Your employees' sense of positive well-being may have real-world ramifications for your business. So how can your business foster positive well-being within your company? I talked to seven of America's leading experts on positive psychology and workplace culture to find out.
Why Positive Well-Being Matters
Positive well-being isn't exactly the same thing as happiness. It's defined in the world of positive psychology as a condition where a person is living their life with happiness, engagement, and meaning. In other words, you feel good about what's happening in your life, you feel a sense of connection to others around you and your life has meaning to you.
Translated to the workplace, it's a little broader than simple happiness. An employee who has positive well-being isn't just happy, they're connected to the organization through engagement in their work and relationships with others, and derive meaning from the work they do.
Simply by defining terms clearly, we can see that positive well-being should bring with it significant workplace benefits. If nothing else, a workplace filled with people experiencing positive well-being would be a more pleasant place to be than one filled with cranky, unhappy and bored people.
But do these benefits translate to the bottom line? Multiple studies say yes. A recent paper from professors at Warwick University in the UK indicated that happiness and well-being led to productivity gains of up to 12% in the workers they studied. Gallup's employee engagement polls show that more-engaged teams are up to 21% more profitable than less-engaged teams.
So how can you unleash these benefits at your company?
Tips for Developing Positive Well-being in the Workplace
The experts I spoke to offered these tips for supporting employees' sense of positive well-being in the workplace.
Build Resilience - "Resilience is the ability to respond appropriately to stressful events, to bend without breaking, to weather change and still be able to get things done," says Eric McNulty, a writer, speaker and educator on leadership and crisis management, and Director of Research and Professional Programs at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI).
According to McNulty, "Resilience is about belief in the future. It's about bouncing forward, not back. It's a critical skill to develop because the world is constantly changing. We need to adapt to it. We can build a more resilience in our people by keeping them hopeful about the future and where we're going. Then, when they face challenges, they can keep focused on the road ahead."
Make Well-Being a Focus - Darrell Moon is founder and CEO of Orriant, a company that provides services focused on increasing the wellness of individuals, businesses, and communities. "Leaders need to make positive well-being a focus at the top," says Moon. "We need to serve our customers, but we also need to serve our workforce. Ultimately they are the ones that make a business succeed or fail. If we want to change behavior, we have to change the relationship between the employee and the company. Real motivation comes from within - it can't just be about money and numbers."
Connect Well-Being to Purpose and Values - Positive well-being is linked to meaning, so it is strongly connected to your company's purpose and values. Focusing on these promotes a sense of meaning within your employees. "There is a big gap in companies between stating values and actually using them to guide policies, screen potential candidates, or to evaluate and promote existing employees," says Rebecca Zucker, Executive Coach, and Partner at Next Step Partners. "We need to reinforce and promote values-driven behavior. Put people who exemplify those values in leadership positions so they can build larger teams that live those values. We need to develop everyone in the organization, not just the high performing people. "
Susy Dunn, Chief People Officer of Act-On Software, agrees. "We need to be proactive about values by threading it through how we engage with employees, how to give feedback. We need to talk more openly about our values - make them a real part of our decision making."
Stop Motivating, Start Meeting Needs - Many companies make the mistake of thinking that motivating people, especially through reward programs, are effective ways to change behavior and can create positive well-being. According to best-selling author Susan Fowler, this doesn't work.
Says Fowler, "People's basic nature is to thrive and the way that we do that is by meeting our psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. The need for relatedness is often overlooked in organizations, but can be supported every day by helping people find meaning and a sense of noble purpose in their work."
Positive well-being depends on this feeling of meaning and purpose. According to Fowler, 'When people find values-based meaning in their work, they are more likely to stay with and endorse their organization, perform better, make more effort, and be better co-workers. By understanding how employees' internal value systems align with those of the organization and helping them align their work with those values, we can support that search for meaning."
Workplace well-being isn't just about happiness. Happiness, after all, is as influenced by factors outside the workplace as by events within the organization. Positive well-being in the workplace is really about the connection to an organization's purpose and alignment between personal and organizational values. As leaders, we can't control the things in the outside world that might impact our employees' happiness. But we can do our part to create positive well-being by fulfilling employees' need for meaningful work and to believe their contributions matter.