Happy Workplaces = Competitive Edge – It’s Proven!

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At the last ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) conference, a highly reputable speaker spoke to us in all seriousness about…happiness, and how to use it as a genuine tool for success. Like almost everyone else in the room, I thought he had it backwards.

American researcher and author Shawn Anchor dedicated his PhD studies to the effects of happiness on workplace performance in various organizations. (By the way, the average PhD thesis is read by about 7 people, including the author’s mother.)

Mr. Anchor is convinced that we should completely reverse the traditional paradigm stating that hard work leads to success, and success leads to happiness. Instead, he says that happiness should be the starting point in making people more productive and delivering better results – a virtuous spiral that comes as a total surprise to the rational thinker in me. Webster’s dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment”; Wikipedia mentions “fulfilment, satisfaction or serenity, a positive state, a balance in mind and body, with an absence of suffering, stress, worry and troubles”.

But Shawn Anchor goes even further: happiness at work is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It’s the understanding that we can change, the joy we feel when we realize that we’re on our way to fulfilling our potential. Simple, right? But how do we manage to turn things around?

Here are 7 principles to put in place in order to gain this sort of competitive edge:

  1. The benefits of happiness, i.e. training our brain to capitalize on positive thoughts and emotions
  2. Supports and levers, i.e. working on our state of mind
  3. The Tetris effect, i.e. training ourselves to see the possibilities and opportunities, instead of the problems
  4. Reversing the fall, i.e. seeing the positive side of problems and setbacks
  5. The circle of Zorro, i.e. tackling a big challenge by starting with modest objectives, and then gradually moving on the bigger things
  6. The 20-second rule, i.e. making small, durable changes that require little energy
  7. Social investment, i.e. investing in our friends and families as a way to achieve success

Science shows that we can actually train our brains into being happy, and that happy employees are more productive, deliver better sales results, are better leaders, get better performance evaluations, and are better paid. Plus, they’re less likely to quit, go on sick leave or have burn-outs. Now that’s a worthwhile investment!

So it turns out that happiness is the key that opens the door to everything else – not the other way around.

To learn more on this topic: The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor, Crown Business Publishing, 2010