Happiness Means Good Business

Posted on August 8, 2016

The UAE recently appointed Her Excellency, Ohood Al Roumi, as the first ever Minister of State for Happiness.  The appointment has sparked interest in what it means to create and maintain happiness. Of course, such interest isn’t new. 

More than two millennia ago, Artistotle pondered what it meant to be happy. He concluded that although happiness was a goal for individuals, it was more broadly a central purpose of human life.

Religious thinkers and philosophers through the ages (and from all corners of the globe) have continued to ponder happiness. Today, economists, politicians, libertarians, and others continue the same quest to unpack what it means to be happy.

Some equate happiness with what psychologists call ‘high arousal’ emotions, such as excitement, or alternatively, ‘low arousal’ emotions, for example peace. Unquestionably, happiness means different things to different people. One useful framework for considering happiness is from the school of positive psychology that has gained traction over the past few decades.

According to Professor Martin Selligman, three levels of happiness are achievable. A Pleasant Life is based on high arousal emotions. It means experiencing as many pleasures and positive emotions as possible. The next hierarchal level, a Good Life, is one where pleasurable emotion is balanced with using strengths and being in ‘flow.’ Finally, a Meaningful Life is where you know your strengths (in a flow state) and use them in the service of others.

Positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, says flow is when you are totally immersed in something that stimulates you and for which you have the competence (strengths) to complete.

Imagine you are playing the Wimbledon Final. You have practiced and know you have the competence to win. While you play, the outside world disappears while you focus on the ball, the next point, the next game. Time passes away. In the fifth set, you are exhausted and in pain, but don’t notice because you are totally in the moment. This is a flow state.

In a business context, this could be an individual or team engaged in a project that is well organised, the tasks are clear, and the capacity exists to focus entirely on the project.

Csikszentmihalyi says that a flow state happens when an individual has a task or activity that has clear goals that require a specific response. In other words, when the challenge is “just about manageable” that results in prompting the “learning [of] new skills and increasing challenges.” 

Adapted from Csikszentmihalyi, M., Optimal Experience, Cambridge University Press, 1988 in Kouzes, P., and Posner, B. The Leadership Challenge]

Flow occurs when the individual can balance their skill level with the task at hand. When the challenge is too high, the employee will move out of a flow experience and require new skills to move back into a flow state. Similarly, when the challenge is too low compared to skill level, only increasing the challenge moves the employee back to flow.

A key underpinning of achieving flow (and thus higher levels of happiness) is knowing, and using, primary strengths.

The outdated (but still often used) deficit-model that emphasises employee weaknesses is no longer viable in a globally-connected labour market. Instead, identifying and linking an individual’s key strengths with value-adding business activities and learning opportunities, is the better way forward.

Working to make your teams happy makes good business sense.

Research indicates a number of benefits for businesses that have happy workforce. Employees are more motivated, creative and innovative, better at working together, more productive, take less sick leave and are less stressed, and are better thinkers and cognitively flexible – all of which positively impacts the bottom line.

If organisational systems, leadership, values and culture are harmonised around a strengths-based ethos, it’s likely you can derive many benefits in your company. If you haven’t already, perhaps it is time to consider a cultural realignment around strengths.

Workplace Happiness Tips.jpg

Six steps to happiness

First, identify what employee strengths are. Put them together in project teams based on their strengths or assign activities that implicitly use their strengths.

Second, be well planned. Create clear goals and objectives for employees that are attainable, but still challenging. Stretch goals encourage your people to continue learning and building higher skill levels. This means creating a balance between the level of skill required and the challenge itself.

Third, create fulfilling work. Activities and tasks should be intrinsically rewarding to the employee.

Fourth, provide feedback immediately. Employees respond well to constructive feedback given in the ‘here and now,’ thus providing them the chance to continuously improve.

Fifth, empower them to work. Feeling a sense of personal control over the work and the outcome builds ownership and creates a greater chance of ‘losing themselves’ in the activity.

Sixth, provide space to work. Enabling the capacity for employees to completely focus attention on the task or activity is more likely to lead to a Flow state.

If you enjoyed this blog and would like us to assist you with building workplace happiness, please email us at info@focusonpeople.com.

(Note: this blog also appeared in Capital Letter, published by the British Business Group. It was authored by Focus).

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