WLP01 Happiness at Work and Work Holidays

Welcome to the first episode of the 21st Century Work Life podcast, a show created to look at how the world of work,and our attitudes to work are changing.

In this first episode, I reflect on how much how we talk about work has changed - we are now ok with placing the words "happiness" and "work" in the same sentence!

I also share with you Mark Trezona's thoughts and some tips on how we can move towards Happiness at Work. (Mark has made this subject his mission and he now delivers a Happiness at Work newsletter weekly.)

For the second part of the episode I have virtual coffee with Lisette Sutherland. I met Lisette on the Internet, when she interviewed me for her site (and now podcast!) Collaboration Superpowers. Lisette will be making an appearance in this podcast every other week and in today's episode she shares her tips on how to create the best Work Holiday. Yes, you heard right.

00:30 Introduction
02:50 Changes in attitude to work - talking about happiness at work. What does happiness at work mean?
11.15 I read Mark Trezona's view on happiness at work and Martin Seligman's PERMA principles.
20:40 Virtual coffee with Lisette: Work Holidays

Below is the script version of my contribution to the first half, in case you don't have your headset ready right now.


Happiness at Work

It used to be the case that, in order to understand human nature, we looked at everything that was wrong with our behaviour – our anger, our anxiety, our fears. But at one point, recently, this changed. Positive psychology turned this around, saying Hey, enough of looking at what’s wrong with us. Why don’t we look at those things that are working in our psyche, try to dissect them and become better people for it? Around the same time, we might have started to hear that there is no point in always trying to address our weaknesses while what we should be doing is building on our strengths.

I hope I’m not too far off when I say that Positive Psychology is, more or less, the study of happiness – happiness being a state we want to achieve. It’s not a glorified nirvana – for I’m sure that in order to be happy, you need to struggle at some points, you need to recognize that you could be worse off. (Reminds me of Sondheim’s line in Into the Woods, when the Bakers Wife says “Oh if life were made of moments, even now and then a bad one, but If life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one.” Best musical ever by the way.)

Happiness is still regarded as fluffy, mainly because of it’s smiley face association, but I think happiness is a state of content, of fulfillment of “I wouldn’t have it any other way” – for as soon as we start wishing, that’s it, we’re not in the moment, we’re just longing and that is not a comfortable state.

However, already it’s being talked about and backed up by some institutions we might not think of as being that fluffy – think of the Harvard Business Review, for me, the magazine that leads the way in leadership practice in organisations. Already back in January/February 2012, they released a whole issue on happiness at work. While Berkeley has only recently in September 2014 has created a course called the Science of Happiness, through the Coursera MOOC platform. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. Coursera and Edx are well worth checking out.

So, in order to be taken seriously, there has to be a science to happiness. We need to be able to measure it if we want to make the case for incorporating it into the workplace. Happiness is, of course, subjective. And that is one good way of measuring it. The best way to know whether someone is happy is to ask them. Are you happy? And indeed, technology has made it possible to measure this, by sending text messages or quick surveys to people in studies, asking them questions along the lines of what are you doing right now and on a scale of 1- 10 how happy are you? (Matt Killingsworth)

So happiness can refer to wellbeing, to a psychological trait, to the emotions you’re feeling or even to a sensation – feedback from your senses that is having a positive effect on your mind – something you eat, something that feels nice on your skin. (Kahnemman 1999)

At work, it probably has to do with a sense of progress, with a sense of fulfillment, with a sense of worth – what I’m doing, matters. It doesn’t need to be a big sense of worth, but even just a sense that what you do is going to be appreciated by other people. And this, this is a great motivator of work.

And talking of working with others, or even being in charge with others. Confucius defines being happy as:

bringing the good things of others to completion while not bringing the bad things of others to completion.

I really believe this is an absolute requirement of leadership – bringing out the best in others. Helping them to be happy about what they’re doing. Not smiley smiley all the time, and as we have heard from some stories about CEOs, sometimes people are not happy happy smiley smiley at work but feel like they’re contributing to something important and interesting and therefore are willing to go the extra mile. So bringing out the best in others is essential. If people are just working to their max capacity all ready – maybe that’s the nature of the job, maybe that’s all the job requires, is there anything else we can do to make them feel like they matter? How about some social connection? How about some appreciation? Don’t take for granted that people feel appreciated. And I’m not just talking about those feeling in charge –when was the last time you told your boss they were doing a great job? (Assuming they have, of course.) It gets lonely at the top and if someone is doing something well, why not let them know about it.

The science of Happiness is not my speciality, though being happy at work has driven everything I’ve done – from the way I used to run a theatre company to what I share with those I’m training to the way I’ve built my professional life. But, as I said, I’m not an expert, so I thought I’d bring in some lines from a friend of mine, Mark Trezona, who specializes precisely in Happiness at Work. Mark diligently, every Friday, sends out a newsletter with a digest of articles from the week around happiness at work. If you’re into Twitter, then you can connect with him via @MarkTrez. For now, let me read out some lines he sent back to me when I asked him to contribute a bit to this episode.

“I know from our work making learning programmes with a variety of different professionals and organisations, that ‘happiness’ can seem, at best, like a luxurious extra, only to be contemplated when the harder agenda of results, efficiencies, increased performance and productive relationships have been achieved, and, at worst, it can seem like an irrelevant piece of frippery that has no place whatsoever in the serious business of business.

But I am convinced by the growing research findings, case studies, intelligence garnered from psychology, neuroscience, biology and economics, as well as our own experience with what works best, that happiness at work is far from being an optional extra, and is in fact a baseline essential for all of the other outcomes we aim to accomplish: high quality results, customer service and staff relationships, peak performance and productivity, high motivation and engagement, successful learning, creativity and resilience and high levels of employee loyalty, commitment and retention.

And we now know conclusively that ‘happiness’ is the engine that drives and sustains all of these outcomes, not the other way around.

The old model that told us we would find happiness as a result of success and achieving what we want has now been completely disproved, I’m basing these thoughts on the work by Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage, and also by Jessica Pryce-Jones and her Five C’s Science of Happiness model.

We now know that the happier we can be: the more successful we will be, the better our relationships will be, the better we will manage stress and challenges, the better we will be at learning new things, and taking risks and using our creativity to solve problems, and… the list goes on. And we know from research too that happier people are healthier and will live longer.

So happiness leads us to success not the other way around."

Mark continues: "Twenty-something years ago when we started our training company, BridgeBuilders., we decided our mission was going to be to try and help people to be happier at work, alongside whatever the specific learning objectives might be.

And so in 2014 it is significant and exciting to us that the science of happiness at work really does seem to have arrived centre stage and is growing, both as a field of legitimate study and as a beacon of interest for professionals wanting to increase their own success and the success of their teams and organisations.

A big thanks to Mark and of course, if you want to check out his collection of articles about happiness at work, go to bridgebuilders.co.uk And I will include this website in the show notes.

So, I think the fact that we’re starting to talk about Happiness at Work now makes complete sense. It also shows that our attitude to work is changing. Happiness and work just wouldn’t go together before we talked about things like finding your passion, being fulfilled at work and generally, just knowing that work can be something we enjoy if we have the right conditions.

But also, now, many of us feel like we can be a bit more in control at work. Like we can find information when we need it, like we can connect to others when we want to, not when luck throws us in the same room together. Technology is having a really important effect in our lives by facilitating connections (with others, with information) that we never dreamed we could find. So no wonder that now, we feel like we can control our levels of happiness, to a certain degree. There is still much luck involved, but maybe, just maybe, there are small things we can do here and there to make this world a better, or dare I say happier, place."

Mark Trezona has given me a collection if you will, of elements that determine happiness at work, the breakdown of the absolute essentials for happiness at work. This comes from Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, and author of a series of very popular books on the subject, including “Authentic Happiness” and “Flourish”.

This recipe for happiness at work can be remembered by the acronym PERMA. So let’s start.

P is for Positive emotion – which is the feeling of happiness - we feel happy and enjoy what we’re doing, not all of the time but enough to feel satisfied.

E is for Engagement – which means we are getting enough time doing things that completely absorb us, using our strengths and leaving us feeling fulfilled and energised;

R is for Relationships – which means we are satisfied that we have the right kind of stimulation, support, interest and recognition with the people we connect with in our work;

M is for Meaning – which means that we feel satisfied that enough of what we doing at work is making a positive difference to something beyond our own self-interests;

And A is for Accomplishment – which means we are satisfied with the outcomes of our efforts: we are proud of what we are achieving and happy with the recognition and appreciation our achievements are earning us.

So, maybe there are small things we can do every day to increase our happiness, and that of others at work. If you’re in a management position, you probably have the authority to make more changes than other team members, but there is no way I’m saying you should be responsible for your team’s happiness. What you are responsible is for making sure that you don’t get in their way.

There are also big things we can do to increase happiness at work, and one of these has only been possible in the past few years, by super fast broadband and a whole range of technology which has meant that many people, mainly knowledge workers, just need a laptop to do their work. Not just to type and create documents but also to stay connected to team mates, clients, suppliers etc, to do their banking online, to have meetings, to market new and existing products, you name it. So, if you work in any of the industries that are making this possible, thank you thank you thank you.

And one of the things that is now possible is to travel while continuing to do your work. To clear your mind by going to a different place, a different setting and increasing your happiness levels by one, discovering a new place you’re attracted to and also, let’s not forget, by getting that sense of autonomy that you get when you decide where you want to work from. My friend Sinead MacManus, who you’ll meet in a future, started doing this many years ago. She would go over one of the winter months to a foreign (warmer) country, she lives in London, and work on one of her projects, dedicating her time to that thing she wanted to do, write a book, create a course… Now it’s possible to go away and for no one you’re working with to notice this. And to talk about that, I’m going to bring my new friend Lisette to tell us about in this very first serving of Virtual coffee with Lisette. So if you fancy it, pause the podcast, grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or just a banana and, Here we go.