Happier employees? Who wouldn't want that? After all, decades of research confirm what your gut already knew: happier people do better work. They're more creative, proactive, collaborative, energized, and personally invested in what they do. Qualities like these lead to the increased levels of productivity and success associated with workplace happiness. As it's often said, "Happiness is the precursor to success - not the result." 

There's science to this. When people are unhappy, the additional mental burden or "cognitive load" increases the effort required to process information or focus on tasks. What's more, unhappiness shifts brain patterns and chemicals, often interfering with cognitive abilities. Reduce cognitive load, along with the "emotional tax" of unhappiness, and you free the brain to work on more of what matters. 

But beyond the science, there's humanity to this -- and that's important. Most of us spend more hours at work than we do anywhere else. Increasingly, we build our days and even our lives around our work. Our happiness at work affects everything else in our lives, and that, in turn, affects what happens when we come back to work. 

Today, on UN International Day of Happiness I'm sharing three foundations you can build on if you want more happiness on your team. These aren't perks or "feel goods" that don't actually lead to happiness. They're timeless, deep priorities intrinsic to our nature and desires as humans. Elevate them in your workplace and watch what happens. 

Relationships

Numerous studies of happiness -- led by Harvard's 80-year study tracking physical and emotional well-being -- consistently name "real connection" and a sense of belonging as keys to a satisfying life. We humans deeply value being known and understood, being respected, and feeling that we're part of something bigger.

When we feel connected we tend to seek more collective (rather than individual) wins. We step out of our comfort zone, opening ourselves to new ideas, growth, and confidence. Deeper commitments, trust, and positive accountability rise as shared values.

How to make healthy relationships a foundation of your company's "way?" There's no one answer -- but whatever approach you take, it begins with you. Modeling integrity, accountability, and candor are time-honored ways to begin. Staying transparent, avoiding hyperbole, and being willing to admit mistakes sets the tone others will use to build trust. Trust builds confidence and connection in relationships, and that increases happiness. Want to create change? Choose a trait you want your team to model and start practicing it yourself. 

Contribution

We all want to make a difference: to feel that something unique inside of us makes a positive difference in the outside world. When you help your team see how individual talent and personal care affect the quality of their work, you ignite the spark of contribution and invite them to bring more of themselves to work. 

To activate contribution, acknowledge processes as well as results. What employees do certainly matters. How they do it -- their process -- is every bit as important. Telling an employee how much you admired her diligence, pointing out how a cool-headed approach to a challenge solved a potential problem, or acknowledging the resourcefulness of an ambitious new employee: positive encouragement sends a signal to "do more of that." When you help people know you value their unique qualities, they respond with engagement and more tolerance for risks and setbacks.

They might naturally begin to have more fun at work -- not the shiny object Nerf Blaster type of fun but that freeing, confident sense of being in the zone that primes us to get our best work done, and find more satisfaction doing it. 

Growth

Lifelong learning and personal growth are core to our happiness. Think of how you feel when you're motivated to learn, stretch your comfort zone, and master new skills. You can almost feel the inspiration. How are you bringing that feeling to your team? 

Consider how your people want to grow. Don't know? Change that. Knowing how they define success positions you to help them create it. It gives you a powerful tool to use in setting goals, taking risks, and sharing feedback. When you help them see how to succeed on their terms -- not only on yours -- you become one of those leaders who activates potential and commitment. 

By the way, learning and growth in areas not directly related to work can pay dividends back at the office. One software company I know supports employees in taking classes in whatever interests them, be it woodworking, history, dance, or something else. Skills we build in any domain inherently affect the way we approach other domains, giving us context and a sense of mastery. 

Relationships, contribution, and growth: such simple things, yet so foundational to what makes us tick as humans -- and the better versions of ourselves we all want to be. Design your leadership around these themes. Talk about them openly. Help people understand their importance to effective teamwork and real business results.

Do that and you'll have "days of happiness," and the wins they bring, throughout the year. 

Published on: Mar 20, 2018