By Jennifer Jabaley, OD
Oct. 18, 2017
You hire the right people, and train them well, but something may still be missing: A positive, happy feeling. The mood of staff is heavily influenced by the practice leader. Encouraging positive feelings isn’t just an act of kindness; it’s a strategy to create a workforce better capable of serving patients and helping you grow the practice.
New research in the field of positive psychology and neuroscience finds that small shifts in our outlook on life and the way we communicate has a huge ripple effect on business outcomes. Is this research suggesting that happiness can be a precursor to success and achievement? Yes.
According to Michelle Gielan, author of Broadcasting Happiness, individuals and organizations that used techniques to emphasize a happy attitude and work environment see a 25 percent increase in performance ratings, 31 percent increase in productivity and 37 percent higher sales. In addition to driving success within companies, these happiness strategies also reduced personal stress by 23 percent.
Last week at work, I had a patient who, at the end of the exam, said to me, “The past few weeks, every time I turn on the TV anywhere I go, all the talk is negative – hurricanes, wildfires, shootings. I want to tell you that, here in your office, everyone has been so happy and positive, and it’s been a welcome change.” What a lovely complement. We have not done specific training, or had any conversations about projecting positivity and happiness recently, but I make a conscious effort every day to try and broadcast an uplifting and positive mindset, which I hope helps set the tone for the office. This comment inspired me to do research to find a more concrete strategy to maintain a work atmosphere that broadcasts happiness and generates positive outcomes.
According to The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, conventional wisdom preaches that if we work hard we will be more successful, then we will be happy. However, recent discoveries have shown that this formula is backward. Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains engage more, become more motivated, creative and resilient, which leads to increased productivity and success. Achor describes seven ways to re-program our brains to become more positive and happy, in addition to strategies to channel that positive attitude into the workplace to gain a competitive edge and maximize potential.
Exercise and fresh air are proven ways to boost your mood. Having something to look forward to, such as an upcoming vacation or special dinner, can light up the pleasure centers in your brain as much as the actual event or reward will.
Conscious acts of kindness are another great way to elevate your mood. At our office, we have a “secret sister” program. Each person is assigned anonymously to another. At random times, the secret sister will do something kind for their pal. It doesn’t have to be an expensive gift, but rather, just a simple note saying “you’re doing a great job,” or a surprise bag of their favorite candy. This not only brings joy to the recipient; it often leaves the giver feeling satisfied and fulfilled, too.
The Pygmalion Effect
The Pygmalion effect is the phenomenon that belief in another person’s potential brings that potential to life. For example, by saying to an employee, “you’ve a great flair for fashion, you’ll have a knack for frame selection,” you greatly increase the chance of your employee’s success at that task. Your belief in their potential will make that employee strive to meet the expectation.
The Tetris Effect
The Tetris effect is the idea that your brain can get stuck in a certain pattern. For example, someone who always harps on the negative will subconsciously find the negative in everything. The good news is, we can train our brain to scan for positivity, which, in turn, leads to more positivity. A recent study by Cornell University found that when researchers manipulated a person’s Facebook feed to be more positive, after reading so many uplifting posts, the person began to post more positive stories in his or her own feed. (Broadcasting Happiness, Michelle Gierlan). What you “broadcast” changes the broadcast choices made by others.
When you start your day at the office, if you begin interactions in a positive, happy way, you are guiding your staff into uplifting, positive terrain. This is the mark of a great leader.
Multiple studies show that reconstructing the idea of failure as an opportunity for growth sets ourselves up for future success and motivation. Our fear of consequences is often worse than the actual result. If we refocus into a more optimistic interpretation, our staff will feel more willing to take chances and more resilient to capitalize after setbacks.
The Zorro Circle
When people feel in control, they feel happier. If your employees feel like they control their own fate at work, it will drive positive well-being and performance. In your office, try giving each person small, manageable goals of moderate difficulty – not so easy that they don’t feel challenged, but not so difficult that they get discouraged. Small successes add up to major accomplishments.
In Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage, he notes that psychologists have found that gains in productivity, and ultimately, happiness, have less to do with how much control someone has, and more to do with how much control someone thinks they have.
Create Good Habits
By minimizing barriers to change, we have the power to create new habits. The less energy it takes to kick-start a new positive happiness-provoking habit, the more likely it will be to stick. The strategy to help adopt new habits is to create a ritual and repeat the practice until the action becomes ingrained in your brain chemistry. For example, if you set the intention to greet your staff every morning with one positive comment, it may be difficult at first to maintain. But after 30 days of repetitive practice, eventually without even realizing it, your early-morning thoughts will naturally lean positive and uplifting.
In all of the happiness research, it turns out there was only one constant characteristic that distinguished the happiest people from everybody else – the strength of their social relationships. Cultivating a social network outside of work is crucial, but at work the single most important social bond is the boss/employee relationship. If your employees are great friends with their co-workers, that’s great, but they will be happiest if their boss goes out of their way to make them feel respected, valued and cared for.
By utilizing the latest strategies from the field of positive psychology and happiness-based research, individuals can learn the practice of work optimism, positive engagement and investment in the success of others. Using these practices will not only increase your own personal level of happiness, but help achieve higher productivity, sales and performance in your offices.