Moving past a time when businesses didn't care about staff
THERE was a time when businesses couldn't care less about the happiness of their employees. Many employers held the idea that employees should turn up, do the work, and be grateful that they had a job.
Their happiness was something to be dealt with at home, not at work. However, in recent years that mindset has proven to be ineffective - both on a human level and in terms of business productivity and success.
It seems that if a business is to thrive, there needs to be a very strong focus on the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of the people who make it tick.
Wellbeing in the workplace is a concept that is already widespread in the US, particularly in California. At its essence, wellbeing is founded on mindfulness, which is about awareness - being conscious of your thoughts and feelings, and being "present and in the moment".
Mindfulness helps us to appreciate who we really are without judging ourselves, which helps to simplify many of the complexities of modern life.
This concept of mindfulness in the workplace is now a fundamental tool in the focus on the happiness and mental wellbeing of employees.
Recent studies* have proven mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety and conflict, and increase resilience and emotional intelligence, while improving communication in the workplace.
Putting theory into practice
Google, one of the most successful businesses on the planet, is famous for its focus on the health and happiness of its employees. From organic juice bars to gyms and meditation and yoga facilities, Google obviously believes a healthy and happy employee is a productive employee.
Closer to home, Australian businesses of various sizes and industries are realising the very real business rewards that a focus on employees' mindfulness and happiness can bring. My Holland is the founder and director of EQ at Happiness Quotient, a consulting business based in northern NSW that works with businesses to assess and improve wellbeing and positive engagement in the workplace.
Ms Holland works with clients such as Macquarie University, Leighton Holdings, NSW Health and NSW Government Trade and Investment.
She offers emotional intelligence assessments, leadership training, workshops, and consulting to improve happiness at work, as well as positive employee engagement.
Ms Holland said no matter what the industry or business type, she has found one constant finding in the emotional assessments and studies she has conducted as part of her work: that employees value respect and recognition above financial reward, and that this respect and recognition was essential to their happiness in the workplace.
"For a long time businesses have operated on the premise that financial reward is the number-one motivator for staff, but numerous studies - and certainly my own work in the field - shows this isn't the case," Ms Holland told APN.
"People want to be recognised for what they achieve, and they want to feel that they are a contributing member of a winning team. It is not enough to simply take their pay and go home; employees need to know that their work is contributing to the success of the company."
Happiness at work
Ms Holland said employees' happiness at work needed to be a strong focus for businesses if they were to thrive.
"People who are happy at work are more motivated, inspired to do their best and more likely to stay in your company," Ms Holland said. "Seemingly simple steps such as offering flexibility in hours to parents or carers, or the capacity to work from home if a family situation arises, can have a huge impact on an employee's happiness at work, and in turn their productivity.
"Work teams very quickly develop creative low-cost solutions when given the opportunity to link their happiness to productivity.
"A Gallup study** involving 8000 people found that happiness at work leads to lower absenteeism, lower employee turnover, higher productivity, higher customer satisfaction, higher sales and higher profits."
It is a concept that Deidre Anderson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie University, is keen to explore, having recently engaged Ms Holland to conduct a positive leadership workshop for the university's leadership team.
"How we feel inside affects how we impact on others - both in and outside the workplace," Ms Anderson told APN.
"I wanted to test the concept of how happy we are and how that impacts on our work.
"My philosophy is that you cannot separate work from the rest of your life, yet many of us are very fragmented - one person at work and another at home. I believe that focusing on our happiness at work can have a very positive influence on other areas of our lives as well as our work."
Ms Anderson said that while some of her leadership team may have been sceptical at first about the concepts of positivity and mindfulness, the workshop quickly showed them how it has an impact on every aspect of our lives.
"Of course in a workplace environment, people are always going to ask the question 'how does this impact my bottom line?', and what we are learning is that mindfulness and happiness can absolutely affect productivity outcomes.
"How can you effectively take on information and be productive if you are not mindful?
"If you are always looking at the future and not embracing the moment you are in, you can miss vital information and possibilities. So our challenge is to look at each day and say 'what can I do to make today a successful day?'."
Ms Holland said that more companies would focus on happiness at work in coming years, and they would reap the benefits. "It is no longer a concept confined to forward-thinking Californian or Silicon Valley companies," she said.
SOURCES: *Study: The Potential for Mindfulness-Based Intervention in Workplace. Department of Psychology, Chung-Shan Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan.
**Well-Being In The Workplace and Its Relationship To Business Outcomes - a review of the Gallup Studies, James K. Harter, Frank L. Schmidt and Corey L. M. Keys.
My Holland's tips for employers to build a more positive and happy workplace:
- People matter
- Establishing trust and respect
- Building on employees' strengths
- Rewarding more than blaming
- Emphasising growth of employees' self-improvement
- Purpose, vision
- Showing appreciation
- Positive communication
- Employee feedback
- Showing you care - in action