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Using the feel-good factor to counter stress at work

Stress is probably the most widely understood malaise of the modern workplace, blighting the lives of hundreds of millions of workers around the world. What’s been much less understood is how to deal with it. Now, however, the rise of ‘Feel-Good management’ offers a new answer to a longstanding problem.

 

Stress: A modern disease

Stress has been a challenge for employees and companies for decades, and was described by a United Nations report back in 1992 as “the 20th century disease.” Sadly, not much has changed in the 21st century. Research in the U.S. has found that 80% of workers felt stress on the job[1], with nearly half of them saying they needed help to deal with it. Another study[2] revealed that 65% of workers said that workplace stress had caused them difficulties. And if it’s bad for employees, the damaging effects of stress are no better for companies in terms of absenteeism, accidents, employee turnover, reduced productivity, medical and legal costs, and compensation.

 

Happier employees are more productive

The causes of stress are varied, but include job insecurity, long hours, lack of opportunity for development, low pay, and a lack of recognition. As a counterpoint to what can go wrong, research[3] by the American Psychological Association found that employees who felt positively valued by their employers were far less likely to feel stress, and far more likely to be engaged in their work and to have job satisfaction.

Studies carried out by Harvard/MIT made similar findings, with happy employees being 31% more productive, twice as less likely to be ill, six times less absent and 55% more creative.[4] A broader study carried out by the University of Warwick[5] also found clear evidence of an improvement of productivity with happier employees, while job satisfaction at Google rose 37% after investing in more support for their employees[6].

 

A range of Feel-Good options

That connection between how employees feel and how effective they are at work has now been highlighted by the growing popularity of Feel-Good management. The emphasis is on finding tailored ways to make employees or their teams feel happy at work. Feel-Good management involves taking the lead in organizing team-building exercises or social events – either on-site or at another location – and provide mentoring at either individual or a collective level. Helping new hires to settle in, supporting change programs, and helping employees to deal with stress are also part of the remit. At the same time, the Feel-Good approach is also there to encourage people to make positive lifestyle choices. Clearly, support from employers in providing the opportunity to access nutritious food, flexible working, and relaxation in the form of physical workouts or yoga/mindfulness exercises can all help to achieve those goals.

Such is the enthusiasm behind the idea that a growing number of companies around the world are now appointing an official Feel-Good Manager or Chief Happiness Officer – dedicated solely to creating a positive, upbeat atmosphere and supporting the employees. In France, job openings for CHOs rose 967% between 2014 and 2016, according to a recruitment specialist [7], while a survey in Australia[8] found that 79% of respondents were in favor of this role being established in corporations there.

Alternatively, companies can turn to external help for a fixed period of Feel-Good support. Happiness projects carried out by specialist Feel-Good providers can point to testimonials of rising revenues and significantly higher profits[9] (WooHoo Inc. in Denmark), and beating targets by double-digit percentages[10] (Feel Good Leadership in the UK). In the U.S., consultancies such as Delivering Happiness (see below) can point to feel-good services that provide a range of benefits for companies and individuals alike[11].

However, the hiring of a dedicated happiness officer or the outsourcing of project based advice may not suit all organizations and there are plenty of initiatives that existing managers can pursue to promote the Feel-Good factor at work.


Making employees feel good at work is a familiar task for Jenn Lim, the CEO and co-founder of Delivering Happiness, a company that provides coaching and consulting in happiness for employees. Her work is based on the bestseller “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. His book explains the science behind turning the feel-good factor into a more successful business.

What is Feel-Good management and how can it boost employees’ wellness? 

Feel-Good management focuses on prioritizing happiness and the well-being of employees as part of the workplace culture. The most substantial way it contributes to wellness is its contribution to alleviating stress and promoting a positive work-life balance. Having a culture around employee wellness allows employees to focus on themselves, put their positivity and energy towards their teams, and drives the effects further into customer experience – whether it’s a B2C or B2B organization. At Delivering Happiness we also integrate higher purpose into our clients’ business models since we know it to be a primary motivator for employees to perform their best, show up, and stick around.

How should a company introduce Feel-Good management?

The first step to any introduction to change requires alignment from the top-down. From executives and managers to first-level employees, the success of Feel-Good management is dependent on its acceptance throughout the team and organization. After acceptance and alignment, a roadmap for implementation should be followed to set expectations and goals for its rollout. Typically, this is a difficult step because many organizations are good at saying what they want to do rather than doing it. After a successful implementation, it’s essential to measure and compare changes based on appropriate wellness and engagement KPIs and to also invest in ways to sustain the culture over time – through workshops, coaching, onboarding experiences, etc.

Could you give an example of that implementation phase for employees?

We look at the core values of the organization to identify which behaviors support them. So if a core value is transparency, we think about actionable ways employees can be transparent in their interactions with one another. That way they start LIVING their values, as opposed to just reciting them. Though you may mentally follow these values, it’s important to create habits and practices around them to support feel-good management.

How do you make employees realize that their views are valued and understood?

It comes as part of culture change. Most organizations have employees who feel like they aren’t heard. If you take the time to listen to feedback from employees on their roles and the culture, then it will open up areas of opportunity for you to improve. Active listening can manifest through surveys and day-to-day conversation. Yet what you do with what you learn really tells your employees if you’re listening or not.

Is it relevant for all businesses, no matter their size, sector or country?

Happiness and wellness in the workplace are essential for all businesses, mainly since they both affect productivity, turnover rates, and even health insurance costs. In 2016, workplace stress was estimated to cost employers $300 billion annually. Whatever size the organization might be, the lost potential can hurt the bottom line and detour the roadmap to growth. Delivering Happiness’ clients have ranged in industries; whether they are in hospitality or healthcare, our clients have recognized that employee well-being and engagement require a sustainable culture.

 

[1] http://www.stress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/2001Attitude-in-the-Workplace-Harris.pdf
[2] https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/
[3] http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/04/employee-distrust.aspx
[4] https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive
[5] https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/681096
[6] https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/new_study_shows/ 
[7]  http://www.leparisien.fr/societe/metier-responsable-du-bonheur-27-01-2017-6624018.php 
[8] http://www.jll.com.au/australia/en-au/news/1203/chief-happiness-officer-apply-here-jll-tedxsydney-the-human-revolution 
[9] https://woohooinc.com/references/ 
[10] https://www.feelgoodleadership.co.uk/case-studies/increasing-team-performance/ 
[11] http://deliveringhappiness.com

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In a competitive market for employee talent, most companies focus on the salaries they can pay, in the hope that people will feel appreciated and happy to stay with their employer. If only it were that simple. While the paycheck may be important for recruitment and retention, large companies and SMEs alike are seeing the benefits of recognition programs that make employees feel valued. In a study by SHRM/Globoforce[1], HR…
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