What else can we be doing to get that Happiness feeling at work?

This year, 23-27 September 2019 has been declared “International Week of Happiness at Work”! So, we thought it would be interesting (and hopefully fun given the theme!) to check in and see just how happy people are feeling and which solutions are making a difference both at a corporate and a personal level.

As I looked into it, I was intrigued to see that this self-declared “International Week of Happiness at Work” was apparently born out of The Netherlands only two years ago. That said, it has been picking up momentum fast and last year, organisations in over 30 countries joined in. This year, the expectation is that even more will join the swelling numbers.

No surprises!

The very fact that there is a felt need to develop an awareness campaign, should tell us that we have a problem in the happiness (or indeed lack of happiness) arena!

As someone once said, the day we no longer need initiatives to address Gender Pay Gaps, Diversity & Inclusion or the Stigma of Mental Ill-Health in the workplace will be the day we no longer have problems in those areas.  From where I stand though, it really shouldn’t come as a big surprise that initiatives to promote Happiness at Work are gaining speed at such a rate.  Here’s why…

Pressure drivers

I was recently blown away to hear a Chinese business leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) space share how his organisation had been very successful in attracting the best talent in the industry, with their 9/9/6 work policy.  The policy worked, he surmised, because it allowed people even the smallest bit of respite in an otherwise 100% focused race to global domination by the Chinese AI industry, where a 9/9/7 policy was the norm.  9/9/7, I mused, what’s that?  Turns out it’s where people work from 9:00am to 9:00pm, seven days a week! Woah!

Now, even if that is a bit extreme by most work standards, there seems to be no shortage of organisations facing the challenge of people burning out as a result of following some unarticulated drive to “overwork” and keep going for as long as they possibly can.  I’ll never forget talking with a Principal at a UK Strategy Consultancy who shared how in his drive to make Partner he had been working 90 hours a week.  I almost fell off my chair when I realised that even if you worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’d still need to find another 6 hours to get to 90!!!  The two stories together confirm that the problem is by no means unique to the Chinese. It seems Ambition is a global phenomenon whether the driver is nation-wide or individual.  And now with the tools available to help us continue working through the night if we so choose, or even while on holiday… breaking away from “always on” cultures is likely to be a challenge for a while yet.

That leaves us in the UK with increased levels of stress at work, growing trends in mental ill-health, productivity significantly behind our peers (UK productivity currently runs at somewhere between 10-20% less than the average of G7 countries), and breakdown rates in personal relationships at alarming levels (with 1-in-2 “long-term” relationships not going the distance).

It seems Happiness at Work faces a similar challenge to Climate Change.  We can all see the effects, but few seem to be doing what it takes to redress the balance.

Even attempts such as allowing people to remote-work in an attempt to help them better manage home/work/life pressures it seems are not without issue.  Let’s face it, ever since we crossed the Personal / Professional divide of taking work into the home through mobile phones, laptops and work-from-home policies, loneliness and distrust have increased as workplace wellbeing issues, as have the need for increased self-management and the ability to establish clear boundaries for effective work with minimal impact on the home.

Within that context, it should really come as no surprise that an awareness initiative as simple as “International Week of Happiness at Work” has gained such tremendous momentum. The question remains though, what do we really need to improve happiness at work?

What’s the Need?

For Organisations…one great need, is to recognise the importance of Personal Relationships in the Happiness Equation. Few would argue that a person’s Happiness affects their Energy. And fewer still that their Energy is greater the more positive their Relationships. And if you go further still and recognise that our Personal Relationships, rightly or wrongly, tend to have the greatest potential to swing our moods, you can begin to see how important our Personal Relationships are in impacting our Happiness.

If you follow the logic, you can see why it is our hypothesis at Soulmates Academy that Energy is a key restrictor between Capability and Productivity.

Energy is influenced at the very least by physical, mental and emotional health, and if any of these is poor, productivity suffers.  To date, most organisations active in this space have focused energies on attending to the physical (gym memberships & medicals), and the mental (yoga, mindfulness, mental first-aiders), but what about the emotional?

We suggest through encouraging Strong Relationship Capability, organisations can foster better emotional health and achieve other goals like Inclusion and Psychologically Safe Environments.  We expand more on this in a talk we gave recently at Howard Kennedy’s HR Directors Forum.  See the full presentation here: When should an employer get involved in the personal?

For Individuals…the need is to equip themselves to better manage the intersection of work and home.  Few would turn down a great career opportunity just because it is likely to put increased pressure on their home relationships.  The hope is always that “we’ll find a way to make it work”.  Yet increasingly anecdotal evidence confirms high-pressure work environments cause relationships to break down at a higher rate. I always remember a former partner at one of the Big 4 Global Management Consultancies telling me that when he first made Partner at the firm, they put him on a great “life skills” program in which he learned amongst other things what colour his urine should be if he was properly hydrated, what good nutrition looks like, how to relax, and what sensible financial planning looks like.  But as he spoke, he paused and reflected “Now that I think about it, there was nothing on Relationships!  Wouldn’t it have been awesome if we had to equip in this space too… because the firm knows that the divorce rate amongst the partnership is 70%”.  Very few people are going to turn down the opportunity to make Partner at one of these firms if offered… the challenge though is, as individuals, what can we be doing to ensure that we beat the statistics and that our personal relationships do not become the inevitable casualty of our career progression?

The simple solution, we would argue, is to help people develop their Self-Awareness, their ability to Self-Manage, their Empathy and their Social Skills.  These are the 4 Pillars of Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, as outlined by New York Times Best Selling Author Daniel Goleman in his book of the same title.  As it turns out, Goleman’s 4 pillars map directly to the 4 habits that we spoke about in our TEDx talk “The 4 Habits of ALL Successful Relationships”.  The fact that this talk has already passed 425,000 views (at the time of writing) confirms the interest people have in talking about relationship capability and that The 4 Habits resonate strongly.

These 4 Habits are the keys to better-managing home/work/life tensions:

  • Habit #1 – BE CURIOUS, not critical helps couples and individuals become more aware of different strengths and weaknesses so they can manage expectations, make allowances for others and find strengths in differences.
  • Habit #2 – BE CAREFUL, not crushing is all about managing inevitable conflict situations effectively so that the relationship comes out stronger.
  • Habit 3 – ASK, don’t assume is about establishing principles of Trust & Respect, recognising that we each have deeply help views and assumptions and learning how to have courageous conversations around sensitive topics.
  • Habit #4 – CONNECT, before you correct is all about improving social skills to help us all better connect with those around us, especially where we want the relationships to last. As the saying goes “People go where they feel welcomed, but stay where they feel valued”.

So, how do we do it?

Well, the good news is that with a little bit of a proactive approach, we can all absolutely make a difference.

In our 20+ years’ experience of working with all forms of relationships, we have come to realise that ALL relationships face a similar set of challenges.  Long-term success in any particular relationship comes from being equipped to get over the hurdles, and ideally being equipped in advance. The statistics confirm that going for counselling after people have actually hit a few hurdles in their relationship is often too little, too late.  We say, like the hurdler settling down into the starter blocks at the beginning of a race, it helps to know that you’re prepared for the hurdles that lie ahead.

Preparation is everything

To individuals and couples, we say, learn and develop The 4 Habits in your lives.  Once you start practising them, they will make a huge difference in ALL your relationships, at home, at work and in life.

To organisations we say, one way to improve your people’s happiness at work is to help them get better at managing the intersection of work and home and the impact of work demands on their personal relationships.  Now, of course, it’s crucial to recognise that not too many people are going to be putting their hands up asking for help with improving their personal relationships. In our experience however, we’ve found that people are generally absolutely open to getting equipped in this space at what they would consider natural career transition/life trigger points. So, promotion to Partner, preparing to head off on extended travel assignments, having their first child, etc.  Successful implementation comes down to a series of carefully thought-through initiatives as a part of existing Well-being, Learning & Development or Culture Change Initiatives.

To ALL…on a fun note, as it’s Happiness Week, why not take 4 minutes out of your busy schedule, plug in your headphones, and join the almost 525 million YouTube viewers that have had a smile brought to their faces by Pharell Williams’ song Happy! 🙂  Enjoy!

A man leans back with his hand behind his head smiling as he sits in front of his laptop.

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