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Culture, Engagement and the Holy Grail

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Today, many of the most successful organizations are gravitating towards the idea that the greatest competitive advantage in business is a positive and engaged workforce.

In a study done by David Maister, Harvard professor, and business consultant, he says that by raising employees attitudes 20%, a company can boost its financial performance more than 43%. Having positive and emotionally engaged employees are now being thought of as the most direct route to a thriving company.

But this goes much deeper than having a ping pong table, free beer, and cool t-shirts.

Many businesses are beginning to prioritize happiness, well-being, and empathy as a bigger part of their culture and how they do business. Who says employee cultivating employee happiness can’t be on the company mission statement or a promoted value? Same goes for empathy or gratitude. At this point, raising consciousness around these emotional states seems foundational and imperative. With employee dissatisfaction at its highest levels in 22 years of polling and people chasing happiness so hard, it seems elusive, a company can truly align itself with its employees by cultivating more positive emotion and well-being at the office.

Positive emotion will always be the greatest (and deepest) resource a company has. If you have been looking for the HR holy grail, you may have just found it. A consistent, positive emotional state in the workplace creates the type of productivity leaders have long and futilely sought after.

Most of us have heard the about the trend of employee dissatisfaction (71% are actively looking for new employers) but perhaps what is less known is the prevailing wisdom of personal happiness is a flawed formula. According to Harvard professor and happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, the formula that underpins most of our management style, parenting style, and economic theory is literally backward.

Conventional wisdom on happiness says: we need to work harder to become more successful, and once we become more successful, then we will be happier.

This is a broken formula for two reasons:

1. Every time we have success our brain changes the goal post of what success looks like.

2. If happiness is on the other side of that success formula then we keep pushing happiness over the cognitive horizon. We will keep running towards it, but we’ll never find it.

The science says the formula works in the opposite direction. We now know that our brains and body operate much better when we are at an emotional positive.

The true happiness formula: when you increase your happiness (less stress, better relationships, and more trust) then your success rates rise, and you work better – more efficiently, creatively and with greater results.

Happiness fuels success, success doesn’t fuel happiness.

What if organizations helped their employees build a routine of healthy habits around this notion? Perhaps more stress reduction, support, and better communication can be embedded into the daily workflow? These new habits will take time, patience and practice. And to build them people may need reminders, encouragement and liberal doses of fun. The great news is, organizations have an awesome opportunity to help people help themselves and then realize the benefits.

In business, we are always trying to get the most out of our people. But people are not robots, which means they can be irrational, fearful, and stressed out; but they can also be joyful, supportive, creative and enthusiastic.

To build more engagement and performance, enlightened leaders need to create environments that dampen the former and cultivate the latter.

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