The world has never before seen such high levels of productivity – even in France with our 5 weeks of vacation – and it is very much a consequence of the digital revolution and the automatization of many tasks. But the side effects of this faster work pace are not always welcome: burnout, depression, lack of purpose… Is being “sick on the job” the scourge of our age?

One thing’s for sure: a good paycheck is no longer enough to attract and retain the best talent. And companies know this: chief happiness officers, stress management coaches, and wellbeing programs are emerging to improve happiness in the workplace. So, what is actually at stake?

Happiness at work, the key to increased productivity?

Researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK have actually validated the theory. In 2014, Pr. Andrew J. Oswald, Pr. Eugenio Proto, and Pr. Daniel Sgroi published the striking results of their study: happy people were found to be 12% more productive, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. According to the three economists, “human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”

What is true for individuals is all the more true for organizations. Companies that invest in employee support and satisfaction tend to succeed in fostering happier workers. And happy workers tend to work better with others, to have more energy, to be more creative, to fix problems instead of complaining about them, and to make better decisions overall.

The proof is in the profit. In 2005, Jerome Dodson, the founder of Parnassus Investments, added a new branch to his activities: the Parnassus Workplace Fund, a mutual fund that invests exclusively in large American firms proven to have outstanding workplaces, where employees are really happy. The kinds of firms that “genuinely cared about their employees as people, not just hired hands.”

Dodson scouted the country, not for the most promising companies, but for the companies that treated employees with profound respect and offered them ongoing training and personal development. Other criteria included:

  • Providing a meaningful form of profit sharing
  • Offering healthcare and retirement benefits
  • Being supportive of working mothers

Happiness pays! To Dodson’s delight, the Parnassus Workplace Fund proved immediately, enormously, and enduringly successful. Since the fund’s inception and for 8 years, it “has had returns over 4% better than the S&P Index every year.” I’m sure we’d all like to get the same yield!

(For those of you who are not familiar with market valuations, the Standard & Poor’s 500, is an American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500 large companies with common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ. Now you know.)

So when the latest Gallup study tells you that “only 13 percent of employees are engaged at work worldwide” it makes you wonder why happiness in the workplace isn’t a higher priority.

How do you boost wellbeing at work?

After sharing those results, you must be wondering: how can I boost employee engagement and happiness in my company?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is: you cannot impose happiness on your employees. They have their share of responsibility in their own happiness. However, you can still set up ground rules and working conditions that will help your employees and teammates blossom.

Develop a culture of trust and transparency…

… where your employees can share their doubts and flaws, ask questions, challenge one another.. Keeping people afraid of failing or of showing weakness is the best way to hinder creativity. Your choice.

Show gratitude and value positive intelligence

Lead by example. To set up a culture of gratitude and kindness, just display these qualities. If you are convincing enough, your teammates will follow your lead.

Foster empowerment and accountability

To stay engaged, a worker needs to feel that his job matters, and to be recognized for it. Empowering each individual to carry out his or her own tasks, and praising the results is the best way to boost employee engagement – which doesn’t mean disparaging them should they need help.

Favor breaks and downtime

Contrary to what most people may think, procrastination is actually good for productivity. While at ease, our brain enters its default mode and starts processing and sorting out information. These default mode phases are essential to our brain. Promoting breaks and relaxation will boost your teammates’ productivity and creativity. It will also lower stress and frustration. Once again, I’d advise you to lead by example. Take a real lunch break and invite your teammates to join you. Take the time for coffee breaks and talk about anything but work. You can even set up a space to meditate, nap or do some yoga.

Launch a wellness program

Set up a healthy lunch or snacks program, sponsor gym membership, dedicate a room to yoga or fitness… Did you know that exercise actually stimulates endorphins (endorphins are neurotransmitters that induce a feeling of euphoria) (what better way to get happy?).

Now it’s your turn to be creative. What are your top tips for improving well being at your workplace?


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