nickFrom the desk of Nick Mills…

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk of work-life balance. We all understand that happier workers are more productive workers. The question is: how do we become happier?

Try the following — what I call my top happiness secrets — and see if your team starts working together better with less stress and greater satisfaction:

 

1. REASONABLE WORKING HOURS

I know of an Australian who took a job as a manager at a Danish company. Wanting to prove his worth, he did what he had always done and put in 60 to 70 hours a week. After a month, his boss invited him to a meeting. The Australian was fully expecting to be praised for his hard work, but instead he was asked, “Why do you work so much? Is something wrong? Do you have a problem delegating? What can we do to fix this?” Working so many hours is considered a problem that needs fixing.

According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics, the average American works around 1,790 hours per year, with Australians close on their heels. This contrasts with Scandinavian countries, where the average employee only works around 1,440. Scandinavians also have more leisure hours than other OECD workers. All the research demonstrates the strong link between sufficient leisure and happiness.

The difference in the U.S. and Australia is stark, where too many companies celebrate overwork as a sign of commitment. There is a mistaken belief that the more hours you work, the more work you get done. We call this “The Cult of Overwork.” Scandinavian companies, on the other hand, recognise that employees also have a life outside of work and that working 80 hours a week is bad for both employees and the bottom line.

2. MORE DEMOCRACY

In Australia, many companies are organised in a hierarchy. The orders come from the top down: if your boss tells you what to do, you do it. Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede, has looked at business culture and found that a high power distance means that bosses are undisputed kings whose every word is law. Australian workplaces have a power distance of  36, which is better than U.S. workplaces’ power distance of 40 but a far cry from Danish workplaces with a score of 18 (the lowest in the world).

The lower the power distance, the greater the job satisfaction. We know from neuroscience research, that autonomy is a great motivating force for many people. When it’s missing, they can have a threat response, something that also inhibits performance.

3. FLEXIBILITY

No one should feel stuck in a job. People should feel that they can redefine their roles and even their careers as they move through life. Feeling stuck can only lead to unhappiness all around.

If you don’t like your job, your chances of quitting that job without risking serious financial problems can be harsh in many places — even in Australia. As a society, it’s important to truly value the work-life balance, and to provide benefits for people making changes.

Companies and organisations that value employee satisfaction will look for ways to match the role with inherent motivations of an employee, and to allow them the flexibility to redefine themselves.

4. PROFESSIONAL IMPROVEMENT THROUGH TRAINING

Workers who have confidence in their abilities and who also feel challenged tend to be the happiest. And they are also the most productive.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law states that a little bit of stress is a good thing. It calls on us to challenge our abilities and to strive.

inverted-u-graph

If employees are given simple, repetitive tasks that aren’t challenging, they are likely to feel bored, something that can ultimately lead to depression. On the other hand, if employees don’t have the skills to match the challenge, they will feel stressed and anxious, and their performance will drop.

Find ways to let your workers constantly grow and develop in ways that keep them relevant even in a changing work environment. Offer training programs, chances to develop new skills, opportunities to do new things outside of their normal comfort zones.

5. A FOCUS ON HAPPINESS

A friend of mine told me that whenever she was sad, her mother told her to go outside and skip. This wise woman maintained that it was impossible to skip and cry at the same time. Even now, my friend skips whenever she’s feeling blue.

But this idea works with something less dramatic: the simple habit of smiling.

Int the 1980s, the psychologist Paul Ekman and his colleagues were studying and thus making faces that signaled sadness and distress. They found that they began to feel terrible. So they monitored their own body changes as they practiced the expressions and discovered that the sad expressions created marked changes in their autonomic nervous system, changes that would have developed if they were truly sad. On the other hand, smiling has a positive effect, releasing endorphins in the brain.

Unfortunately, many people consider it entirely appropriate to share with others that they feel overworked and stressed. Telling others how busy they are and how stressed out they feel does nothing but reinforce the negative experience and spread it around.

Having positive thoughts and actions leads to happiness. It’s a habit we can all develop.