How organisations can help promote happiness
Of course, we’re not always going to feel happy, we’re not always going to make progress, and we’re going to have failures. Individuals and organisations need to understand that a big part of happiness is recovery. Being happy isn’t just about how long you can sustain happiness for, it’s about how quickly you can recover and get back to a positive state after a setback.
This is something that organisations can help with. In creating space or capabilities for people to recover from negative experiences or setbacks, they promote a more resilient, and ultimately happier, workforce. Organisations with very supportive cultures that understand that humans have complex needs and emotions are better at creating that space and support. For example, some organisations develop high trust with employees and give them the flexibility to take off time when they are struggling. Others rely on supportive colleagues and leaders who help transform their co-workers’ negative experiences into more positive, optimistic outlooks. However, many organisations fail at these recovery capabilities; essentially they want people to be happy but they don’t want to have to work through problems and setbacks to do that.
The risk to organisations that don’t recognise unhappiness as an inevitable part of the process can burnout its employees. In my research on emotion climates at work, I have found that teams with more open, supportive environments for sharing authentic feelings have greater viability and creativity because they work through negative experiences as opposed to avoiding or suppressing them, which the latter usually leads to more tension and aversive states.
Keep in mind that these recommendations aren’t to suggest that organisations must attempt to fix peoples’ lives and turn management into counselling; that’s something that needs highly-skilled and trained facilitators. However, the middle ground and simple place to start is supporting people’s workplace experiences and understanding how they are doing on an ongoing basis. If something’s wrong, it could be a simple fix or a more systematic issue, but if you don’t explore it, you don’t know. It is helpful for leaders to understand the differing motivators and emotions of their employees.
Technology is also helping leaders and organisations to better understand their employees’ internal experiences and states of mind. For example, a company called Butterfly helps companies track indicators of employees’ happiness and engagement at work. Weekly or monthly, they send out short questionnaires that identify important factors to workplace engagement, such as: How is your work/life balance? How’s your role clarity? How is your opportunity to grow? The responses are anonymised and given to managers, who then use the information to follow up and address issues that surface. Such tools help create habits and routines for managers to check in with employees and provide a system and structure to address their concerns. Many good managers and leaders are very well-intentioned, but they often get so busy with their own responsibilities that they can forget to conduct simple check-ins with followers that are often critical to satisfying their needs.
Recognising the diversity of happiness
Where we are can also influence how we define happiness. Different countries can have different norms about what’s expected in terms of emotions from each other. In the US, what people label happiness is often the high energy, positive emotions such as interest, excitement, passion, or optimism. Those who are calm and happy may even be regarded as being unenthusiastic. In other parts of the world, such as European countries and parts of Asia, people can prefer more calm and neutral pleasant states. Therefore, both country and organisation-specific values matter in defining one’s happiness.
Given such differences, an important question comes into play here regarding emotional authenticity: what if we’re just more open and accepting of people’s differences in their emotions as opposed to shunning people who do not feel or express what is normally preferred? Research in this area, including some of my own, is starting to show that organisations and teams that adopt such authentic emotion climates can increase engagement by allowing people to be their authentic selves instead of requiring them to constantly manufacture fake emotions. Some scholars even go as far to argue that emotion authenticity is the more humane and just approach to managing emotions in the workplace, especially when compared to other management traditions that require employees to be happy and upbeat and to avoid or hide any negative feelings.
Instead of socialising people’s happiness to the organisation, can we have organisations that are more open to the moulds of individuals’ uniqueness, talents, personalities, and what makes them happy. It’s certainly challenging, because that means more differences and these are more difficult to manage. But it also means potentially greater engagement and creativity, and those components of the workplace are really going to drive the future.