Our pursuit of happiness has built billion-dollar industries — and not surprisingly, it has also bled into the workplace. While business leaders are busy conjuring up new perks and strategies to keep employees smiling, they’re also chasing their own happiness during the workday.
But spending so much time and effort trying to be happy at work — or make your employees happy — can have unintended negative consequences.
According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, happiness doesn’t necessarily lead to more engagement or productivity among workers; and in fact, the pursuit of happiness can leave us feeling drained and exhausted. When we devote our energy to chasing happiness, we tend to miss out on activities that truly impact overall satisfaction, such as building deeper connections with our team.
Gallup CEO Jim Clifton told Fast Company that trying to make people feel happy at work isn’t worth the effort. Instead, he said, leaders should focus on human development, which is what ultimately brings out the most positive feelings in team members.
So happiness may be a fleeting and superficial feeling, but when people find their work meaningful — and when they feel connected to and appreciated by the people around them — they tend to have a much deeper sense of satisfaction.
Rather than obsess about happiness in the workplace, leaders should cultivate these disciplines in themselves and their teams.
Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University, told Forbes that running a business is about bringing people together to make the community better off — which requires a strong sense of empathy.
When you build empathy in your team, you encourage your coworkers to understand other perspectives — whether that means considering a customer’s needs while designing a new product, or recognizing why a tight deadline could be challenging for team members in another department.
This ability to shift perspectives can reduce fear and friction among team members. As a result, employees could become more eager to work together and pitch innovative solutions that they might have held back otherwise. Teams with a rich sense of empathy are less likely to have projects derailed by interpersonal issues, and more likely to bridge cultural gaps and work as a cohesive unit — which is a more positive experience for everyone involved.
According to research, the practice of feeling and showing gratitude can bring a particularly long-lasting mood boost. Researchers at Harvard Health have found that gratitude has an overall positive effect on personal well-being, and Catholic Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast has even called gratitude “the key to joy.”
You can encourage your team members to practice gratitude by providing more opportunities for them to show appreciation for one another. In an article for Fast Company, Emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf suggests that leaders could begin monthly meetings by going around the room and sharing positive feedback to incorporate a sense of gratitude in the work environment.
At Building Champions, our team members celebrate each other’s work by filling out recognition cards and dropping them into a collection box. Once a month, we pull a card to read aloud during a team meeting.
Cultivating a culture of gratitude and peer-to-peer recognition will spread benefits throughout the entire office, helping employees feel more appreciated for their hard work and more appreciative of their teammates.
If you want your team to experience the satisfaction of nailing a presentation or crushing a deadline, start by creating a culture of givers, suggests Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” in an article for Inc. Magazine.
That’s because when colleagues are generous with their time and expertise, the entire team benefits. Teams can swiftly tackle complex problems that might otherwise have taken days to figure out — and they can do it with better results. Team members — who might initially have been shy about asking for assistance or admitting when they’re stuck — are more likely to ask for help when they need it.
A culture of generosity breeds a culture of sharing and collaboration.
By focusing on empathy, gratitude and generosity, business leaders can build stronger relationships among team members and foster more meaningful work at the office. That should put a smile on your team members’ faces far longer than a fleeting gesture at simple happiness.