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How Bosses Can Create a Happy Workforce

Mindful ways to create a happy and successful workplace

The comedy The Internship pokes fun at the quirky, innovative, utopia-like work environment of Google headquarters. We have all heard stories about Google’s carefully designed “adult playground,” where brilliant minds are nurtured with a creative mix of work and play. The stimulating and seemingly self-sustaining “community” created by Google captivates imaginations with visions of the ideal workplace. And with the ideas that are born on-site, it’s easy to see why.

Where we work has a heavy impact, not only on our personal well-being, but on our value to the company we work for. One of my favorite things about attending the 4th annual Wisdom 2.0, a conference that brought together CEOs and experts on mindfulness, was the overwhelming sense that people care. Too often in the world today, people use their power in destructive ways. At Wisdom 2.0, however, business and spiritual leaders from around the world collaborated to discuss the intersection between explosive technologies and personal well-being. Their mission for attendees was “to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.”

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What struck me about the gathering was that a group of driven and powerful figures from our society were there in hopes of learning how they can have an impact, how they can use their power for good. This spirit of community is one that would greatly benefit any business hoping to survive today’s economy. Mindfulness is a practice that can help individuals feel more integrated, both personally and interpersonally. By mindfully forging a sense of connectedness and camaraderie, employers not only enhance the well-being of their employees but of the business itself.

Bill Clinton recently commented on this at the 2013 “Health Matters” conference, stating, “If you look at what’s working where the places that are growing economically in America, places that are doing best around the world, you have these creative networks of cooperation.”

Human beings are hardwired to connect. While some creativity is clearly achieved in moments of isolation, managers are well-advised to create a socially smart workplace. They can do so by making an investment in the people who work for them. Managers should have a vested interest in taking a vested interest in their employees. Part of that is creating a team environment. People are more driven when they are a part of a team and tend to feel a more personal investment in the company’s success. As a group, they often express an elevated level of intelligence.

In his speech, Clinton also cited a study showing that “if you put a group of people with average IQs together and asked them to work on a problem for a year, and you give the same problem to a genius, the group of average intelligence with great numbers working together will work better than one genius acting alone.” Collective intelligence refers to a condition in which a group of people working together demonstrate a higher intelligence than any one individual among them. A 2010 MIT study showed that, “such intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups’ individual members.” Researchers further deduced that the collective intelligence of the group was based very much on how well the group worked together.

Another study by Dr. Christopher Chabris of Union College on “collective intelligence” recently revealed three important characteristics of teams with high intelligence. The first was “the ability of group members to read and respond to social cues.” The second was the “proportion of women in the group (women tend to do better on social perception tests).” The third factor involved “evenly distributed conversational turn-taking, rather than dominance by a few members.”

The importance of social skills and collective intelligence become clear in the context of the workplace. Studies have found that emotional intelligence predicts success even better than IQ. Emotional intelligence reflects a social ability, a person’s capacity to understand, read, and express emotions. Thus, the more employees are encouraged to make social connections and collaborate, the more successful the company will likely be as a whole. Things tend to go more smoothly when we connect with others. Most researchers believe human beings are even more hardwired to cooperate than to compete.

Naturally, a sense of healthy competition can have a positive effect on one’s work environment and productivity. Unfortunately, our society tends to be too extreme in its focus on competition. In truth, cooperation and connection can be just as important. These attributes lead to a smooth flow of team work and an overall boosted performance from the work force.

Although, as a manager, you should be encouraging a team environment, you should also be regarding of your employees as individuals. Instead of seeing them as cogs in a machine, you are far better off looking at what each person offers and how you can maximize the quality of that person’s work life. When an employee’s performance waivers, a supervisor can ask why he or she isn’t working as well. Does the person feel he is part of a team? What is getting in the way of her being productive? How can I offer the support the person needs to get back on track? By finding out what works, you can create a sustainable level of productivity, while ensuring your employees’ well-being.

The psychological well-being of a work force can strongly influence productivity levels. Depression, for example, is the leading cause of reduced work productivity in the United States. Employers are estimated to lose 44 billion dollars per year in productive time lost for employees who suffer from depression. Unfortunately, at work, we tend to exist in our own bubbles and forget that the people around us are people just like us. However, it’s beneficial for everyone to start thinking about the ways we can improve or enhance the lives of the people who work for us or alongside us.

As managers, we can learn to be mindful in our decisions, policies and practices. The best way to start is by thinking about what our values are and choosing to live by them. If all of us were to do this in each of our interactions, we would find that our attitude is contagious. We will communicate more clearly, relate more personally and create a more integrated environment that benefits the businesses we work for and the lives of the people who surround us.

Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at PsychAlive.org

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association.

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