Feeling happy at work isn’t a luxury, says Adele Hawkes. It’s a competitive advantage for both individuals and businesses.
Last week, I was at a charity event listening to an inspiring panel talk about leadership challenges. As the discussion deepened, it transpired that three out of the four panellists had suffered such mental overwhelm at some point during their career that they had become astonishingly physically unwell.
Two of them had needed ambulances called in the middle of the night. One had temporarily lost all feeling in half her body. All three spoke about the long arduous journey of physical and mental recovery as they eventually regained their equilibrium.
Such wake-up calls are extreme, and hammer home yet again just how critical the current spotlight on mental health at work is.
But while focusing on workplace wellbeing is a step in the right direction, the conversation still revolves around addressing and reducing symptoms of mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and stress. Of course, it’s crucial we tackle this, but companies who see it as their end goal are really selling themselves – and the people that work for them – pretty short.
The thing is, mental health in the truest sense of the term can’t just be characterised by a deficit of disorders.
Instead, it’s about feeling you have the tools at your disposal to deal with whatever is coming your way. It’s about that wonderful feeling that life is going well and you’re functionally optimally as a person. It’s about knowing your strengths and using them. It’s about recognising when you’re at your limits and you need to recharge. It’s about thriving rather than surviving.
In short, it’s about flourishing. And for both businesses and individuals this is, without doubt, a competitive advantage.
Research into the benefits of mental wellbeing and happiness have found that positively-wired people are more productive, more creative, more engaged, better at sales, better and faster at making decisions and better at problem-solving. Happier people are more likely to help colleagues and also more likely to have happier teammates. They are also more satisfied with their jobs.
People are often surprised to learn that happiness is a skill, like any other, that can be taught and honed. It isn’t just a momentary feeling of joy – although having this type of positive emotion in your life can actually start to build a broader psychological state of wellbeing. Rather, it’s a mix of purpose, meaning and fulfilment. And because our internal world is scaffolded by our social one, companies that take the time to check that staff and business values are aligned will see a real upswing in mood, mindset and motivation at work.
If that sounds like the kind of atmosphere you want to build, consider these three strategies for ensuring a mentally healthy climate at work:
- Create a culture of conversation
Providing opportunities to chat at work has an incredible amount of benefits. Firstly, social connectivity is highly correlated with wellbeing. Secondly, good working relationships increase engagement and improve employee satisfaction. Thirdly, knowing you can ask for help when needed means any issues, mental or otherwise, are less likely to reach crisis point. Finally, employees who feel listened to and accepted are more likely to feel psychologically ‘safe’. And that means they will be more willing to go the extra mile when it comes to thinking outside the box and driving your company’s aims forward.
- Model the right behaviour
Both positive and negative emotions are catching – we can’t help but be influenced by the attitudes, emotions and behaviours of others. Leaders need to be personally developed as role models, ensuring that their own values align with the business, so that they can inspire those around them to use their strengths, seize opportunities to grow and approach even difficult tasks with a sense of optimistic realism.
- Build an attitude of gratitude
It costs nothing to say thank you yet recognition and praise are often more valued by employees than financial rewards. Furthermore, the simple act of expressing gratitude also has benefits. It’s associated with increased energy, optimism and empathy, and helps people reframe their thinking process to notice the positive and feel happier. At work, that’s called a win win.
Adele Hawkes is a positive psychology coach, who helps professionals and companies use their strengths to move from where they are now to where they want to be.