In November 2019, I led two discussions at the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Annual Conference and Trade Show on happiness in the workplace. The workshops centered around a Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage.”
Achor, along with other social psychologists, psychologists, and scholars, has been researching the effects of a positive mindset on performance and productivity in a variety of settings and industries. Part of the premise behind his theory is that we’re far more productive — “31% more productive,” according to Achor — when our brain is in a positive rather than stressed, negative, or neutral state.
Achor offers numerous examples of things we can each to do create and then sustain a more positive outlook. For example, he contends that writing three new things you’re grateful for in a daily journal for a minimum of 21 days will begin to reprogram your brain to scan the world for positive rather than negative experiences. His program also includes daily exercise (move your body to reprogram it to work for you, he suggests), meditate, and, one of my favorite suggestions, reach out to a different person in your network each week and let them know how they positively impact your life.
Part of his premise is that maintaining a spirit of positivity in the workplace helps to engage employees, improve performance, increase retention, and therefore enhances an organization’s image.
Both workshops I facilitated were packed, so apparently many of us are curious about how positivity, happiness, or even just a plain-old better mood affects our productivity.
Each group watched “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” Achor’s funny and insightful Ted Talk, and then split into groups to discuss his ideas. I created structured questions to help guide our conversations, inviting participants to spend 12 to 15 minutes contributing their ideas to each question. Our discussions produced a wealth of ideas that you can implement for yourself and your organization.
Is it true that a positive mindset leads more often to a positive outcome?
One corner of the room shared personal examples of how an optimistic perspective transformed a presumably negative experience into a more positive one. One participant described how utterly infectious one employee’s positivity is to the rest of the team. Others recounted examples of missed flights, snow days, traffic, and new work policies — all which turned out OK because of a positive attitude and belief. Once you experience the power of positivity, it’s easier to become a believer.
Another corner of the room tackled the more pressing question:
Why should we care about happiness or positivity at work?
After all, isn’t that why we call it “work?” Why put effort into creating a more positive and welcoming work environment?
Many participants felt that instilling more positivity into our workplaces is crucial, because a happier, more positive workplace improves overall staff morale. Happier drivers and other employees lead to a better experience on the bus, which leads to better student interactions, which makes students happier and produces less negative behavior, which makes drivers — and parents and administrators — happier, which reduces turnover, which results in a more efficient operation, which translates to a better overall industry image. Whew! Simple, huh?
In short, there was overwhelming opinion among the discussion participants that positivity and a happier workplace would in some fashion improve work relationships, create efficiencies, and produce an overall better image for the industry.
I encourage you and your staff during one of your team meetings to go through the academic exercise and imagine: “If we were happier and more positive at work, how would that impact our organization?” and “What can we each do to create a more positive workplace culture?”
I also asked the participants:
What are you presently doing, or what can you do to create a more positive workplace culture?
Many simple but powerful ideas arose from this discussion. One was that a positive workplace culture really begins with each of us, so it’s important to check our own negative attitudes and moods at the door.
Some additional themes that emerged from the discussion were:
Food bonds us. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; even a simple candy jar at your desk can go a long way toward putting a smile on someone’s face. Some people bake treats themselves and bring them to work. Others have theme days, like “Popcorn Friday,” or potlucks on special occasions. The act of sitting with others and enjoying a meal increases the bonds that hold us together.
That led to a second theme that emerged from this question. Many respondents acknowledged that showing “genuine care and concern” is an easy way to create a positive workplace culture.
Greet your drivers and employees every day with a smile and a warm welcome (“Hey beautiful people!”). Be present and sincerely listen to each other, learn everyone’s names, and take the time to sit and visit with people when you can.
Communicate often, clearly, and in a variety of ways was the next general theme. Be open and transparent with information and, above all, don’t hoard the good news. People feel part of an organization when they’re included in the information loop. If you keep your employees informed and aware of new initiatives, concerns of the day, or forthcoming issues, it helps to emphasize that we are all integral to the team.
Finally, make time to recognize the accomplishments of your staff. If you are in a leadership position, never assume that your staff know that you appreciate them — find simple but sincere ways to reward your staff for going above and beyond. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. In fact, sometimes, the best reward is that genuine “thank you” that includes a warm smile and a pat on the back.
If you were a part of those two workshops, you experienced a microcosm of a positive environment. The energy in that small room was vibrant from the laughter, a willingness to share, a commitment to learn, and the friendly spirit that participants brought. I think that’s what you feel when you are working in a positive environment. The ideas we created weren’t complicated. In fact, they are all pretty simple, which means there is no excuse for us to not implement one or two of them. What do we have to lose?
If you were a part of that collective brainstorming, thank you for sharing your ideas and energy. If you are interested in exploring this subject further, Achor provides a list of authors and books that inspired him to pursue this topic. Also, feel free to email me with your thoughts and experiences about creating more positivity in your workplace. I’ll be anxious to hear about your successes.
Karen Main is the owner of Innovations in Training, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development, team building, and process improvement services. Her programs incorporate challenges, activities, and discussion that engage participants in the learning process. She can be reached at K_main@msn.com.