Three Leadership Behaviors That Increase Employees’ Happiness (and Productivity) at Work

collaborateA happy employee is a productive employee. Studies have shown that happy people are more successful generally, experience increased employee satisfaction, earn higher pay throughout a career, and exhibit enhanced job performance.

Specifically, research shows that compared to unhappy employees, those who are happy at work are:
· Twice as productive;
· Stay 5 times longer with an employer;
· Are 6 times more energized;
· Use 10 times less sick leave;
· Are helpful to colleagues 33% more of the time;
· Achieving 31% more of their goals;
· Are 36% more motivated than their colleagues; and
· Raise performance issues 46% more often.

Sounds like a manager’s dream! So, what must leaders do to create “happier” (and more productive) workplaces? The answers are simple and not necessarily easy.

1. Help Employees Use Their Strengths; Don’t Focus on Weaknesses.

To create happier places for employees, help them focus on their strengths. (This is good advice for yourself, too.) Now, this seems a bit odd, since you’ve probably believed that bolstering weaknesses would make people “better”. Although it might be counterintuitive, the research is clear.

In a psychological study, bowlers were divided into groups. After receiving instructions, the groups practiced bowling. Some groups were videotaped; others were not. Of those videotaped, one group saw only positive things they did, and the other group saw only the negative. Those who saw only the positive improved significantly over the rest of the bowlers (videotaped and not). Among the most unskilled bowlers, those who saw only the positive videotapes improved significantly more than anyone (Cooperrider, 1990). (Having second thoughts on how your company does performance evaluations and give feedback in general?)

What do I mean by a “strength”? I don’t mean simply the activities and skills employees are good at, although that’s a start. Marcus Buckingham takes “strengths” a step further when he says that strengths are the things that you are good at AND in which you lose yourself while doing them AND that energize you.

Have you ever been working on a project at home or work and looked up to see that much more time had passed than you realized? Maybe you spent an evening dancing with friends, writing, painting, listening to others tell their stories . . . if the time passed quickly and you felt energized after doing it, you were in what is known as “flow”, and that activity could be a strength for you.

Once an employee determines her strengths, help her find ways to do more work activities that them. Build more of activities that use her strengths into the job or encourage an employee to apply for another job in your company that could incorporate more of her strengths.

So, while maintaining an adequate level of competence at something that isn’t a strength is usually required on the job, employees are better served (and by extrapolation so is the company) if they can do more work activities that showcase their strengths and get more feedback about how they are doing with respect to their strengths.

2. Create a Sense of Belonging and Contribution

So, what type of work environment leads to happiness at work? According to the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, happy employees reported a stronger correlation with the 5 C’s:

Contribution– feeling your efforts make a difference
Conviction – short-term motivation
Culture– feeling you “fit in” at work
Commitment – long-term engagement
Confidence – belief in your own abilities

Thus, if employees do not perceive they are making a difference, fit in, or are having impact, chances are they are not happy. And if they are not happy, they are not as productive as they could be. These themes are echoed in the Gallup Organization’s Q12.

One way to increase employees’ sense of belonging and contribution is to allow them to use their strengths as noted above, which allows employees the opportunity to do what they do best, let’s employees know you care about them as a person, gives you the opportunity to talk about their progress at work, and lets them know you care about their skill and career development.

3. Cross the Losada Line

The final tip to creating more happiness at work rests squarely on the shoulders of those in charge. To increase happiness and productivity at work, count the ratio of positive to negative interaction you have with your employees. According to research by Marcial Losada, supervisors need to have more positive interactions than negative ones with their employees. Specifically, a phenomenon known as the “Losada Line” says you must have 2.9013 positive interactions to every negative interaction you’re your employees to make your team moderately successful. To lead teams to their very best work, you need to raise that ratio to 6 to 1! (Losada, 1999). How many positive interactions or communications have you given your employees or received from your manager lately? See. Not as easy as it sounds . . . especially if your motto has been “no news is good news”.

What small thing can you start doing today that will increase your employees’ happiness at work?

UPDATE: The validity of Losada’s research was challenged in 2013 by Nick Brown, a graduate student in applied positive psychology, who maintains there is no evidence for the ratio found by Losada.

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