A Measure of Happiness: The Business Advantage


By Raluca Manolache

Conventional wisdom declares that if we work hard, we will be successful. Most people are taught that only once they are successful, they will be happy.

The Happiness Advantage
However, as recent positive psychology studies have shown, that ‘work hard’ formula for success has fallen on hard times and not been yielding the desired results.

Instead, as per the words and work of Shawn Achor, author, human potential consultant and former Harvard University professor, people who have happiness first in mind are most likely to succeed. His supporting research from around the world encompasses more than 200 scientific studies involving nearly 275,000 people.

Achor spent a decade at Harvard, where he studied and taught one of the most popular courses on campus which focused on positive psychology. In 2007, he founded Good Think Inc., a research consultancy which builds on Achor’s work and helps companies implement the principles and findings.

As per Achor’s take on The Happiness Advantage at work, he is to the point: “Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success. Cultivating a positive brain makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative and productive.”

Seven Positive Steps Forward
The seven principles at the core of Achor’s research are:

  • The Happiness Advantage: retraining our brains to focus on the positive;
  • The Fulcrum and the Lever: having a positive mindset;
  • The Tetris Effect: training our brains to look for positive patterns;
  • Falling Up: finding the mental path out of failure;
  • The Zorro Circle: controlling emotions when faced with crisis or threat by focusing on manageable, small goals and tasks;
  • The 20-Second Rule: smaller tasks that are easier to achieve are a great place to start when it comes to forming a habit; and
  • Social Investment: social support networks are one of the most reliable predictors of future success.

Taking Ownership of Happiness
Garry Priam, owner of Mossa International Inc., a business consultancy with a focus on training, development and project management, agrees there is a strong connection happiness and engagement.  However, he challenges the notion that the two are interchangeable.

“Engagement and happiness are not the same; however, they are undeniably interrelated,” says Priam. “Employees must ultimately take ownership of their own happiness through open communication with their managers and to help meet their career and work related goals and aspirations”.

With over 20 years experience working a project manager, a corporate trainer, and as a keynote speaker, Priam excels at strengthening companies by ensuring the three sides of the “organizational triangle”—the employees, the customers and the organization—work in harmony.

Realizing the benefits of happiness, before reaching for success is the most effective way achieving the desired results. After all, though happy employees have a higher potential to be successful, successful employees are not necessarily happy.

Making Happiness Manageable
Priam shares that HR and business processes play a primary role in facilitating that happiness—with a performance management program playing a key role.

However, he notes that “in order for a performance management program to work ALL of the following steps need to be accomplished or else it becomes ineffective:”

  • Establishing job performance, setting goals, expectations and standards;
  • Coaching and mentoring;
  • Ongoing workplace training (which can incorporate team building events that promote trust and cooperation);
  • On-the-job experience and development opportunities (i.e. job rotation or project work);
  • Providing effective performance reviews;
  • Reiterating that the employee and their work matter to an organization that values and solicits their input; and
  • Rewarding strong performance.

Learning to Smile Anew
Happiness does not always come easily or naturally for every organization. Corporate training for leaders and employees is a vital tool when implemented efficiently. Achor’s approach is to provide personal and corporate tools and methods which emphasize our brains’ inherent neuroplasticity with a sole goal—to change behaviour through the adaptation of neural pathways in the human brain.

Having worked with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies, and lectured in more than 50 countries speaking to CEOs in China, senior leaders at the Pentagon, schoolchildren in South Africa, and farmers in Zimbabwe—Achor has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success for ‘good’ reason.

Smiles really are contagious, as are the resultant affects in the workplace. Positive behaviour is a powerful culture contagion. Adopting the right behaviour at work, or changing one’s behaviour through continuous practice (even at a later stage in life) can create a positive “butterfly effect” in the workplace.

Happiness and HR
With the right tools and mindset, HR and business leaders can inspire happiness and engagement, as well as drive results, in the workplace. What is essential, is the buy-in at all levels of leadership.

“The leaders within the organization are the champions of understanding engagement drivers and leading positive change,” says Priam who encourages leaders to be “using every opportunity to give employees work that is meaningful to them and that they are passionate about.”

Actions as such foster engagement and grant recognition which, regardless of its direct connection to happiness, serves any business well. “Engaged employees bring a ‘skill-liquidity’—an ability to adapt skills to changing business needs—which improves a company’s flexibility to evolve and capitalize on new business environments.”

Coupled with Achor’s conviction that, “what we spend our time and mental energy focusing on can indeed become our reality,” now is as good a time as any to think a happy thought or two about how much better your business (and life) might yet be.

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