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Happiness and work – What does one have to do with the other? Though it would certainly be nice if everyone was happy to come to work, for many organizations, the idea that everyone can be happy at work seems at best a stretch. But keeping employees happy is not just a nice-to-have – it’s also a strategic advantage that impacts everything from company culture to your bottom line. Research shows that happiness has dramatic effects on retention, productivity and success at work, so why aren’t employers paying closer attention to employee happiness?

Our guess is that while employers care whether employees feel happy and fulfilled, they may not be sure what they can do to help employees feel happier! Though there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to fostering happiness at work, there are a few key things that employers can do to create happier workplaces:

Recognize stress. Every organization experiences ebbs and flows in workload, and seasons where things can get a bit chaotic. Stressful situations at work are inevitable, but too often the triggers are minimized or swept under the rug. When that happens, it typically becomes each person for themselves – everyone goes “heads down”, pushing through with teeth gritted while they individually weather the stress storm until it eventually passes.

Though stressful situations are sure to arise, the negative impacts of stress can be mitigated by bolstering our social connections at work. Employers can minimize burnout and help employees tolerate stress better, (even thrive!) by strengthening teams and connection during stressful situations. Maximize peer support networks, and bolster employee happiness by creating environments where colleagues can support one another – ensure there are formalized opportunities for collaborating on difficult tasks, as well as regular opportunities for debriefs, and team-building decompression activities during peak times of stress.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. From the time we’re born, most of us pattern our brains to find faults by constantly looking for threats and risks, and anticipating potential problems that could arise. As we age, we become hardwired to detect flaws, and most of us only have this tendency reinforced through our work: accountants are trained to find errors in financial statements, lawyers are trained to find holes in testimony, athletes are trained to recognize their opponent’s mistakes … the list goes on. And all of this fault-finding and focus on the negative naturally impacts our happiness levels.

To mitigate our well-trained tendency to identify what’s going wrong, we can train our brains to also recognize what is going well. We do this by habitually identifying things that are working, and by expressing our gratitude for those things, and the reasons why. Though it may feel stilted at first, it’s worth it to invest some time in flexing your gratitude muscles.

Try starting each team meeting with a quick “gratitude lightning round” where you go around the table and each state one work-related thing that came up over the last week that you are grateful for, and the reason why. By doing this, you are retraining neural pathways to habitually focus on the positive, resulting over time in happier teams.

Being friendly matters. We all know that it is more difficult to remain smiley and optimistic with our coworkers when we’re navigating a tricky situation. But our happiness levels are directly related to our social connections, meaning that when those around us are negative and miserable, we’re likely to become miserable as well. On the flip side, if we surround ourselves with friendly people who exude positivity and satisfaction, we are more likely to be positive and feel happy and satisfied as well. Think back to the last time someone unexpectedly smiled and greeted you with a warm “hello” – odds are good it improved your day.

As cheesy as it may sound, be a force for happiness in your organization and combat negativity by starting small: smile, make eye contact, and say hello to everyone in your organization who comes across your path. Change starts at the top, and we suspect you’ll be surprised at how much difference this small commitment to creating a friendlier work environment makes!

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

Are you actively encouraging employee happiness? If not, now’s the time to do something about it! Take five minutes today to reflect on the strategies above, and identify one can implement immediately in your organization.

Measuring engagement and happiness is half the battle! Not sure where to start with gauging employee satisfaction? We’d be thrilled to help you up your organization’s happiness quotient!

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