The Science of Happiness at Work
Ensuring that your people are happy at work means that they will work to their optimal ability and boost performance, says Tracey Proudfoot at Stoke, the local partner of the iOpener Institute, which has carried out years of rigorous research worldwide into the subject and developed the Science of Happiness at Work™.
This unique understanding of the tangible items that link happiness at work to performance reinforces what we instinctively knew: that our people truly are the most important asset in our organisation. But do our actions echo this understanding? Unfortunately, as women, we can unintentionally overcompensate for our lack of masculinity in the workplace by demonstrating less-than-favourable behaviours that only detract from our team’s happiness and productivity levels. But what are we trying to prove? In fact, perhaps the way to the top – the way to best infiltrate the Boys’ Club – might be the very opposite.
Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery
Gone are the days in which a leader’s sole purpose was to drive task-related outcomes. We now have a compelling body of evidence showing people to be best motivated when they can find
NEWSLETTER | MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN
by Tracey Proudfoot
purpose at work, when they are given the freedom to decide how best to manage their tasks, and when they are empowered to excel at what they do best. For these three factors to be fulfilled, the leader’s position is, importantly, one of inspiring, empowering, coaching and mentoring. It’s also very important to women that they can connect how their work has a positive impact on the world. Meaning is a must-have work fundamental that compensates in part for the opportunity cost of not being a stay-at-home mom. Women’s drive to fulfil their career ambitions could also be a nation-building mindset in our modern South Africa, which is about knowing we should be following our dreams in a free and democratic society and that we can now bury the mindset of limitation.
In our work at Stoke, we often ask the question, “Who is your role model in terms of leadership?” Very few people we consult to in organisations will answer with a business role model. Often, their role model is a teacher, a parent or a religious figure, and, of course, Nelson Mandela. But who are the role models at work? We are urging women to stand for excellence at work: to understand that profitability and the value-add of organisations begin in the mindset of the individual. We want women leaders to set this happiness-at-work mindset as a benchmark for their organisations and to exemplify how this mindset translates into actions that are a set of management or leadership competencies exuding a thriving, high-performing work team. Jessica Pryce-Jones describes these competencies in her book, Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success (Wiley-Blackwell 2010).
So, how do we do that? First of all, we must do away with the old-school thinking that ‘command-and-control’ style leadership is acceptable. Fear and disempowerment do nothing to increase human motivation. Conscious and authentic leaders attract followers and don’t take hostages. They advocate ethical business that thrives on people-centric values. And this means spending more time on nurturing the optimal, work-enhancing mind-set in organisations. It can’t be ‘ordered’ from a catalogue nor instructed. It comes with leading by example. Casciaro and Sousa Lobo’s famous article published in the Harvard Business Review, entitled ‘Competent Jerk, Lovable Fool’ (June 2005), discusses people’s propensity to do good work when they are teamed up with the competent jerk or when they are teamed up with the lovable fool. What they found is that we choose to work with (and to be led by) people based on two questions: Is this person competent? Is this person likeable? Obviously, we all want to work with the competent and lovable star. But, when having to choose between competence and likeability, it may surprise you that people – time and again – would rather work with the lovable fool than the competent jerk.
In fact, if someone is strongly disliked (because they don’t show respect for others, don’t listen to others, and don’t empower them and help them learn), it’s irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won’t want to work with her anyway. And, on the other hand, if someone is liked, colleagues will strive to bring out every drop of competence she has to offer. Women are very much needed in, and at the top of, organisations, as they bring a valuable and refreshingly different perspective. Female purchasing power is a poerful and growing portion of our economy, so no-one is still deliberating the value of women in the workplace, but rather their style of execution that does not have to emulate the masculine way. They can be ‘soft’ in terms of their communication style, yet hard on issues that matter to the organisation. A formidable combination! Happiness at Work is not a soft subject. Directly linked to performance, it’s about discovering this effective combination of efficiency, effectiveness, resilience and the ability to raise issues that matter to the success of the team; combined with self-belief, with meaningful engagement, with the ability to give positive feedback as well as ‘constructive’ feedback, and with being able to show appreciation in the workplace for other people. In fact, there are 25 items in the Performance Happiness Model. The ideal combination is recognised by industrial psychologists, neuroscientists and economists the world over. It’s a science. But it’s not rocket science.
Measuring Happiness at Work
So, how do you know whether your people are in fact happy at work? Here are three sets of proxy questions based on the elements of Trust, Recognition and Pride that, as the model shows, encapsulate happiness at work and give you a very good gauge of how your people are faring:
Do you trust your employer? What helped build that trust? What erodes it? How do you reinforce the trust element to others? How consistent is your decision making when it impacts on others’ experience of working at this organisation?
Do you get recognition for the job you do? How do you get recognition? On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being recognition whenever it is well earned, how do you rate this level of recognition? How do you show recognition for others? How do you make time to show this recognition?
Are you proud to work for this organisation? What makes you proud? What would make you prouder? How do you demonstrate or articulate this pride to others? What tells you that your colleagues are proud or not?
iOpener Institute’s research found that there are very few gender differences in their worldwide data. One of the few items in which there was a difference, however, was in the importance attached to learning. It’s more important to women. Why? Perhaps we do have to work harder to get the same as our male counterparts. Perhaps we value personal growth all the more because we instinctively want to create a legacy to pass on to the next generation. We are nurturers and we are teachers. So, Happiness at Work is a hard science that leads quite simply to improved results in the workplace. And female ambassadors of this mindset may well feel it’s a more authentic way to the top. If they do, then they must embrace this new science and be resolute in changing the way organisations are run. After all, helping organisations become more humane is a sustainable path forward in this day and age.