Happiness. The New Productivity?

Happiness. The New Productivity?

Written by Jess Dunbar

It’s a New Year – and isn’t the pursuit of happiness everyone’s ultimate resolution?  

In fact, happiness seems to have been firmly on the nation’s agenda for some time.  Scandinavian ways of life have been hugely influential in Britain since last year’s obsession with “hygge” (a wellness trend based on living cosily), which was swiftly followed up with a succession of other ideologies.  And who are we to argue?  Fika; the habit of stopping for coffee with cake, or Lagom; the Swedish secret to contentment, all just sound too good to pass up.

But what if the pursuit of happiness isn’t just confined to our time off, but is actually a vital part of business too?  What if focusing on happiness is actually the key to a more productive professional life?

Incredibly, research shows it’s true.  A happier workforce is more productive; we work harder when we’re happier.  The 2014 report by Warwick University showed that happiness lead to a 12% spike in output, whilst unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

And the concept isn’t a new one.  Nearly a decade ago, in fact, entrepreneur Vishen Lakhiani introduced the happiness = productivity formula at a motivational speech in Canada.  He claimed the secret to success in business is to find a state of “flow” in which you are happy in the now, but have a vision for the future.

But that still leaves the biggest question of all. How do you find happiness?

James Ross-Smith, a personal development trainer from North Devon has spent pretty much all his adult life interested in how we can lead happier lives. A degree in philosophy gave him an intellectual starting point, but further studies of Positive Psychology have helped him secure some answers.

“A good first step in looking at happiness is to question yourself about your core values.  I like to use Self Determination Theory to give you an analysis you can apply to anything and anyone.”

Self-Determination Theory asks you to examine the motivation you feel towards a goal, for example; your motivation to work.  What researchers found was that answers fell into one of two categories: internal and external.  People whose motivation is internal might answer: “it’s a part of who I am, I love it” or “I find it interesting”.  Those who say, “I do it because I feel I should” or simply, “I do it for the money”, are motivated externally.

James says finding out whether your motivation is internal or external is a big factor in personal happiness.  

“The reason this matters so much is because psychologists have discovered that people who are more internally motivated are more likely to complete their life goals.  These people then felt a boost in wellbeing and got happier.  On the other hand, those who are externally motivated, even if they succeed, don’t feel any happier.  So, if you want to be both happier AND more successful, you need to pick internally motivated goals to work on.”

And there is a more practical application. James’ business, Incremental Training is based around coaching people and companies to understand their drive and direction and teach them how to  apply it to achieve their own aims or the vision of the business.

“If you can find out what people really care about,”, he says, “or ask yourself what your true motivators are, then match those values to a role in business, you’re setting yourself on the path to happiness and productivity.”

Sometimes these exercises can have dramatic results.  Hannah Stuart was in a job she hated when she met James last year.  Just days later she wrote her resignation, to take up her lifelong dream; teaching yoga to children.  She says,

“The idea just came out of nowhere whilst I worked through my values with James.  It suddenly seemed completely obvious to me that I should be teaching kids yoga.  My life now has a much nicer balance; I’m doing something I love and it’s a job that fits in with my kids.”

But finding happiness doesn’t have to involve such dramatic change.  James says,

If quitting your job is impractical, try applying your values to what you already do.  For instance, if you’re stuck with a dull task at work but love learning new skills, see if you can find a different way to complete the job.  Applying your values to an old task can turn it into something new and challenging; this works particularly well for teams too, and keeps staff inspired with fresh ideas.”

Searching for happiness can get you to the root of a conflict issue too.  Mat Patey at Bluewave Electrical in Braunton enlisted James’ help after communication between directors broke down.

“After a series of coaching sessions, James got us all talking again, it was amazing”, Mat says. “Looking at our goals and what is important to us, aligned two of us and lead to the third director parting ways with the business.  However, he is now running a business of his own and we are going from strength to strength.”

So, if happiness is so important in the workplace, why don’t more companies invest in it?

Dr Craig Knight, an honorary research fellow at Exeter University thinks he has the answer.  

“No company goes out deliberately to do something wrong, but most businesses are run on heuristics – things are done the way they’ve always been done.”

His research has been looking at how something as seemingly straightforward as the office environment can impact staff wellbeing and rates of productivity.

He says, “We’ve found people are happiest when they can develop their own space.  The more say we have over our environment, the better we work.

Craig says companies often overlook this in one of two ways.  

“Often if there is a cost-cutting exercise, the staff room, kitchen or personal areas of the office are first to go and that’s probably the most damaging step to take.  On the other hand, many businesses will invest thousands in glamorous offices for their staff, but whilst this is undoubtedly better than a minimalist alternative, it is far from best practise.  The best spaces in an office are the ones people create themselves.”

Nigel Wilkinson is Managing Director of marketing firm WNW Digital in Exeter.  He enlisted Craig’s help to put his theories into practise.  As a result, the office layout was completely reorganised, based on the team’s own ideas and the walls covered with photos taken by staff members.  Nigel says it’s not been an easy process but it’s undeniably proven its worth.

“I would say that if you’re a manager who likes to have control you might find it a challenging exercise, but the outcome is well worth the time and investment.  We’ve noticed an immediate improvement in the atmosphere in the office and team morale is so much better.  After all, the space people are working in was devised by them and so they have a sense of ownership of their surroundings and an intention to go on improving the office.”

So if a happy office and a productive business sounds like a good proposition for 2018, perhaps it’s time to apply some Positive Psychology.

It’s not as daunting as it sounds.  If you’re running an office, here’s where Dr Knight suggests; give people autonomy in their role and decisional involvement in the workplace.

“Choosing how and when to work is ideal, but despite the mobile working revolution, there are millions of employees still stuck working in denuded, lean, physiologically unhelpful spaces.  Give as much autonomy to your staff as possible; empower them to take pride in managing their own role and when decisions are made about shared office space, try to be democratic.”

And on a personal level, why not take a moment to work out if your job is satisfying your core values?  James Ross-Smith says,

“Simply ask yourself what’s important to you in life and in work.  Write it all down and then rank them in priority order.  Your top few will give you an insight into what really matters most.”

There’s no better time than a rather dull January for a bit of personal life coaching.  After all, who doesn’t want to make 2018 a truly happy – and productive – New Year?


Jess Dunbar is our featured guest writer this month.  An established copywriter & content marketer, we’re proud to feature her work. Head over to http://jessdunbar.com to connect and read some of her other work.

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