Creating Sustainable Happiness in the Workplace: What SMART Leaders Know!

(This article was published in the SW Florida Health and Wellness Magazine)

It is no coincidence that most suicides occur on Sunday night or Monday morning.

Some would rather die than put in another day at work.  In a recent study by Health Partners Canada  it was determined that depression and anxiety are an epidemic in our world.  The people who experience these debilitating diseases the most are those that work in toxic, negative, fear-based workplaces.  Furthermore, the organizations that maintain these ‘lack of happiness’ cultures lose millions of dollars each year due to low productivity, sick leave, and constant employee turnover, just to name a few.  Some businesses are oblivious to the fact that chronic negativity breeds physical diseases. This is a passionate topic for me as at one point in my career, I worked in an emotionally toxic environment where nearly 50% of our team had been diagnosed with some form of cancer.  What an eye opener into the mind-body connection!  Many had no idea that it was their chronic work stress and trauma that was killing them. Interestingly, many organizations turn a blind eye to these statistics, and would rather continue taking these huge annual loses, than make positive changes in the culture of their workplace. Some, simply don’t know what to do.  But, there is a relatively easy fix.

Given that research studies have consistently shown that depression, anxiety, and a negative mindset lead to chronic illnesses and disease, it makes sense to find ways to instill happiness and positive emotions in the workplace.  However, for many this is a foreign concept as we have been socialized to believe that work is a ‘form of drudgery that we must endure in order to earn a living’.  The very first step in changing this paradigm in our culture is to realize that people can be happy, smiling, joking around, and productive at the same time.  As a matter of fact, a human being’s natural state is one of happiness, therefore, when they are happy they are creative and productive.

Training selected staff members to become Corporate Integrative Health Coaches (IHC) is an effective first step to changing organizational culture on a sustainable level. IHCs have the skills to work individually and in groups throughout the organization to provide education and information on how to maintain a positive mindset and uplifting emotions.  For many, this actually involves developing new neurological pathways in the brain such that improved thought processing can be attained.  Even those who have denied themselves happiness and joy throughout their lives due to family programming in their early years can master the art of learned optimism with consistent desire and practice.
Some of the methods that IHCs use to develop a happy and healthy workplace involve working one on one with employees, developing ‘happiness’ groups, and working with administration to implement basic strategies that change the culture from one of strife and fear to one of love and thriving…and then to becoming an organization that breeds going ‘beyond thriving’.  Yes, it is possible! To find out more about the pursuit of happiness in the workplace, click here.

Organizations that truly understand the importance of increasing happiness in their workplaces can do their part too by using strategies such as allowing for flextime, scheduling exercise breaks, devising methods to create a fun environment, lead with laughter, encourage mini time-outs, find the humor in negative situations, designate a humor corner, create a ‘fun squad’, acknowledge workplace anniversaries, build a ‘wall of fame’, and plan group excursions. All of these activities lead to decreased stress and increased happiness (Duari and Kumar, 2013).

The most important of these activities is teaching people how to deal with stress and anxiety, and developing the mindset of learned optimism and happiness.

Certifying several motivated staff members in corporate integrative health coaching is crucial to advancing the level of employee health, happiness culture, productivity, and bottom line in any organization.  A small price for a huge change!

All emotions either stem from fear or love. Fear/stress is contagious and causes contraction: inhibits creativity, brain activity, the immune system, and over extensive periods of time leads to a breakdown of the nervous system. Knowing this makes you wonder why leaders still continue to use threats and intimidation to instill fear in their employees, when in actuality, it does just the opposite.

Love (positive beliefs and emotions) on the other hand has high impact and causes expansion: creativity, physical and mental endurance, and more productivity in a shorter time because we make decisions quicker when we are highly perceptive.

Love is an emotion that is related to appreciation, happiness, connection, and kindness.  It makes sense to instill these types of emotions in employees not only for their happiness, but for their personal health and the overall productivity and success of the organization.

As Adrian Low depicted in a recent research paper, Corporate Integrative Health Coaches can teach the following concepts and techniques to create a happy workplace (Duari and Kumar, 2013)

OPTIMISM — Optimism is about choosing to interpret people, events, and the world in a positive light.  It is about training the brain to see the benefits of what is happening.

GRATITUDE — Consciously, willing and deliberately take moments throughout the day to feel gratitude leading to positive working relationships.  When a person is in a state of gratitude, brain structure is actually transformed such that optimal performance is achieved.

FORGIVENESS — Learning forgiveness in the workplace is an incredible gift that flows over into one’s personal and family life.  Forgiveness is directly related to the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and heart disease. Holding anger and resentment impedes work flow and productivity.

IMPROVE SELF-TALK — People’s self-talk transforms the negative and punishing to positive and emerging. When an employee makes a mistake and thinks, “I am idiot,” he/she can take a deep breath and ask him/herself, “How can I use my smarts to make this better?” Positive self-talk diffuses stressful situations and when the brain relaxes it is more creative and better at problem solving.

FLOW — Flow is a deeply peaceful state where employees forget about everything (including time) and are engaged with the natural rhythm of their job. Being in a state of flow actually increases worker happiness.

REFRAME — Reframing is another technique to shift an employee’s perspective. They can learn to look at a potentially stressful situation and begin to see it as a blessing in disguise.

Duari, P., & Kumar, S. S. (2013). Importance of Happiness at the Workplace.Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(3), 453-456. Adrian Low contact –

Blog Post written by:

Dr. Nickerson's professional experience as a psychologist and personal passion for developing the mind-body-spirit connection have fueled her success and devotion to training individuals and organizations to foster whole wellness.

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