Are your employees happy?

Happy at work?  Promoting Happiness in the Mission-Based and Nonprofit Work by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.

Betty loved accounting and budget planning and reveled in numbers and spreadsheets. She seemed a particularly talented candidate for the position of Finance Director in a nonprofit organization.  However, once in the position, she began experiencing attacks of anxiety.  As we discussed her experience of her work, it became clear that the expectation that she participate as a leader in financial planning discussions was outside her competence.  It was a fit for her to produce reports and conduct requested analyses, but she felt ill-prepared to make recommendations about opportunities for strengthening the organization’s finances.  When there was an opportunity to shift her to the Controller position and hire a different Finance Director, she experienced an optimal level of challenge and thoroughly enjoyed her work.

How can you promote a positive attitude toward challenge in your workplace? 

  1. Model it! Model optimism and a positive orientation toward challenge.  These are attitudes that correlate highly with happiness, effort, and goal achievement.  Furthermore, people can increase these attitudes by working at it.  The best employees in mission-based organizations cope well with challenge; in fact, they embrace challenge and take responsibility for finding solutions.  They believe that they can successfully do the work (self-efficacy), which leads them to work hard and to persist through difficulties.  Observing a skilled model is one of the best ways to learn a new skill.  Own up to your mistakes and demonstrate a light-hearted attitude toward challenge—“well, I’m not sure yet how we’re going to overcome this one, but I’m looking forward to finding out!”
  2. Manage it.
    • Match the person to the position. To have happy employees, you can’t hire or assign work just based on qualifications.  You must consider whether the position will draw out the employee’s talents and skills.
    • Optimize levels of challenge. People thrive with optimal levels of challenge – working at a task that requires skill and effort to achieve, and is achievable with effort.  Strive to give employees work that challenges them at an optimal level—stretching them, but not to the point that they can’t succeed.
  3. Name it. Be transparent about working to promote optimism and a positive orientation toward challenge.  Be clear that this is a leadership and a life skill that people can develop that will make them happier and more resilient.  And, did you know that adaptability, self-confidence, and an embracing attitude toward challenge are some of the specific leadership competencies that are linked to higher salaries?  (David McClelland and Hay-McBer)  That might get their attention!

What is the best trick you have found for promoting happiness in your workplace?

“To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

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