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Tips for a happy workplace

Donna Marshall //April 10, 2015//

Tips for a happy workplace

Donna Marshall //April 10, 2015//

When it comes to wellness program trends, employers are whistling an old tune. 

Nearly 30 years after Bobby McFerrin urged us to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” employers are reclaiming that call to action, fueled by research indicating that happy workers are not only more productive and engaged but healthier, too.

A five-year study of 3,000 people conducted by the Oxford-based iOpener Institute found that happy employees do the equivalent of an extra day’s work every week and take 66 percent less sick time than their least happy colleagues.  Happiness is also linked to lower risk for heart and vascular disease, with Harvard School of Public Health researchers finding that optimistic people at risk for heart disease were less like to have heart attacks or strokes than their peers with a more pessimistic outlook.

“Happiness boosts the immune system. It benefits your relationships. It’s good for our kids. It’s good for our communities,” said Marcia Kent, an organizational psychology specialist and president of Denver-based BizPsych.

Kent, who works with a number of clients, presenting training on stress management, team building and personal development, says she can tell immediately if an environment has a happy vibe.

“The people are smiling, they are laughing and they are exchanging information. Their posture is open and relaxed.” Kent says.

In workplaces where happiness is lacking, Kent says, “There’s no levity, people don’t give each other attention and mainly it’s just the leaders that speak.”

An unhappy workforce can eventually impact a company’s financials. Human resources consulting firm Tower Perrin found that companies with a low level of employee engagement had a 33 percent decline in operating income.

Since it’s clear that happiness can have a real impact on performance, I asked Kent to lead a session on creating a culture of happiness and well-being at work at this year’s Colorado Culture of Health Conference, which will be presented by the Colorado Business Group on Health and the Mountain States Employers Council in April.

Here are a few of her tips to foster a happy environment:

  • Be open with praise. When a BizPsych employee goes above and beyond or earns positive feedback from a client, that strong performance is shared with everyone through emails and other communications. That, in turn, becomes a social contagion. Recognizing contributions publicly helps build momentum.
  • Change the mindset. Instead of viewing a group of employees laughing and talking as a negative, think about how those water cooler conversations encourage collaboration. Reconsider what success at your firm means if it translates into working 60 hour weeks and getting by on four hours of sleep. Management must value and model behaviors that  encourage engagement and well-being.
  • Contribute to the larger community. Offer employees opportunities to do volunteer work. Companies that reward people with time to pursue charitable work will see improved satisfaction levels because these contributions create the opportunity for employees to feel better. These don’t have to be expensive or big endeavors. Even small project can turn into big wins.
  • Encourage movement. Getting up and moving – even for 15 minutes a day – creates helps to create a healthy habit. It gets the endorphins going and creates a sense of well-being.