Let’s face it managing people can be tough, and despite your best efforts your people may be part of the growing numbers who feel disengaged from their jobs.   And while a recent survey has found that many leaders have the technical and operational competencies they need, it seems most lack the crucial people management skills to lead their teams effectively.  So given the growing body of evidence for the benefits that a positive workplace culture can bring, could finding ways to make your people happier help to improve the performance of your leaders and teams?

“At a time when technology is creating disruption and uncertainty across most workplaces I believe it’s important to get back to basics,” explained Vanessa King, from UK Action for Happiness and author of 10 Keys for Happier Living, when I interviewed her recently. ”And nothing is more fundamental than being happier  – focusing on what enables us to feel good and function well over time.”

Vanessa suggests being happier means being realistic about what life brings and making the most of the good times, whilst finding ways to bounce back when things get hard.  She explains that this can be achieved by understanding and investing in practices that can influence how you feel on the inside (like investing in acts of kindness) and how you respond to the external world (like changing your mindsets).

She combines these practices in her ten keys to happier living, which are summed up by her helpful GREAT DREAM acronym.  

Where: “G” is giving and doing things for others; “R” is relating; “E” is exercising and taking care of your body; “A” is awareness and living life in a mindful way; and “T” is about trying out and being open to new experiences and continuously learning.

DREAM incorporates: “D” for direction, so setting and being hopeful about your small and bigger life goals; “R” is resilience; “E” is building more positive emotions; “A” refers to acceptance, self-compassion, and an awareness of your strengths; and “M” is meaning and finding ways to contribute something to the world beyond yourself. 

So how can you embed these practices into workplaces?

“Programs to help improve people’s happiness at work shouldn’t be focused on trying to fix employees,” explained Vanessa.  “They should be focused on helping leaders adopt practices that can create a culture and systems across the organization that is good for people and the planet, as well as for productivity and performance.”

To help make your workplace happier Vanessa shared the following suggestions:

  • Aiming for systemic change - while neuroscience has found that it’s possible to change your thoughts and behaviors for the better, rewiring your brain in this way requires intentional effort and repeated practice.  So if you’re expecting returns or lasting changes from short sharp one-off workshops or programs you may be disappointed. Instead look for ways to embed opportunities for learning and practice of the GREAT DREAM activities across the organization for managers and their teams.
  • Encouraging people to laying with what works for them – there’s a broad array of activities in Vanessa’s Ten Keys to Happier Living that can help people to feel happier, but it’s important to be aware that it’s rare any intervention will work well for everyone, all of the time.  Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, encourage people to think of these happiness practices as a menu to be explored and adapted to their individual needs, rather than a prescription that has to be strictly followed.   
  • Investing in small changes that become social norms  – sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest differences at work.  Many of these practices don’t take a lot of extra time and resources away from the important tasks your people still need to get done each day.  For example, by encouraging people not to multitask when someone comes to seek their advice, and instead pausing, turning to them and giving them your undivided attention can dramatically improve the quality of your connections and relationships with others.   By making the keys to happier living social norms in your culture, you can make it easier for people to consistently practice these approaches.
  • Anchoring practices - it’s easy to come unstuck when we’re making changes if we rely on willpower alone.  But by anchoring new practices to triggers in our environment they are more likely to become regular habits. For example, if you want to help people to experience more positive emotions anchor the start of each team meeting with a check-in on what’s working well for people right now.  By placing this at the start of every agenda, you ensure people have the space and support to notice the good things that are happening around them.
  • Sharing with others  - offer group settings where people can hear about what others are trying and provide each other with support and accountability for the practices they have committed to.  Social support has been found to be a key factor in helping us to create changes provided it’s not overbearing or taking away people’s sense of autonomy.

How could you embed the practices for happier living to help your workplace, and the people in it, to thrive?  

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