I thought you would never ask. Like most things that should be simple, this seems complicated. Also like most things, it is simple once we understand it. Oliver Wendell Holmes might call it the “simplicity on the far side of complexity”. Most of us cannot figure out what we really want ourselves, much less figure out what other people want. Let’s step back a moment and think about the relationship between employer and employee.
The employer creates a job to produce an outcome to meet the needs of customers. Payroll must always be less than the income they produce, so the company can use the difference to pay overhead and produce some reasonable profit. Fortunately, for both the employee and the employer, once the employee makes a livable wage, money is far from what makes people happy. According to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at University of PA, five core areas of the human experience allow people to flourish. Flourish is the name of his latest book, a dramatic expansion on his previous study on authentic happiness. Seligman helps us remember the five “pillars” of flourish with the acronym P.E.R.M.A. P for positive emotions, E for engagement, R for relationships, M for meaning and A for achievement. It is simple for an employer to consider what they could contribute to each of these areas in an employee’s life. For example, does the workplace culture focus on what is working and how to do more of that? Does it ask what can we do? Or, does it focus on what goes wrong and what we cannot do? Successful companies and relationships use more positive language than negative language.
Engagement is a hot topic relating to employee productivity, and it means more than carrots and sticks to train them
like circus performers. The more we can utilize our natural gifts and strengths, the happier and more successful we will be. Let us not ask the super-creative, outgoing people to do assembly work while the detail-oriented analytic does the art work. I ask everyone to take a simple, free and confidential, twenty minute test online to help identify their top 5 character strengths. Go to www.authentichappiness.org and take the VIA Character Strengths Survey. If you are not using your top strengths now, bring those strengths into any or all aspects of your life and great positive change will come your way. If you are an employer, have the courage to ask your employees to take this test!
Does the boss sit down for a coffee with staff on a regular basis for informal conversations? Is the boss afraid of
learning something or losing status? Does the staff go out for a beer after work occasionally? No, I am not promoting beer specifically; it is just an example of common social gatherings that might indicate positive relationships between
There is meaning in all work. Finding it is harder at some jobs than at others. It helps if every employee understands the idea and company goals behind the work. It helps if the employee has personal goals that their job helps them achieve. Does this sound like your company?
Finally, we value achievement. Most of us do not go home and feel like we had a great day because we got away with doing nothing. Even lazy, unmotivated workers who seem to do as little as possible do not feel good about their work. Yes, it is the employees’ responsibility to motivate themselves to engage and achieve. It is also the employers’ job to find, keep and develop motivated, engaged employees. While we talk about where responsibility lies, we must all accept the responsibility, and that includes helping others become what they can.
My regular readers have also heard me quote Daniel Pink, who, in his book Drive, which explains the gap between what science knows and what business does, says the three things that matter most to people who do creative work are autonomy, mastery and purpose. By creative work, we mean any work that requires cognitive skill. Nearly all there work has been (or soon will be) replaced by machines or outsourced. Any employer should consider how they might, at least to some degree, be able to give employees more autonomy, achieve some level of mastery and find some meaning in their work.
There is a great deal of overlap between the positive psychology experts, the business experts, the self-help gurus and spiritual leaders. The only place the message seems to be lost is at work. Why is the workplace so easy to be cynical, selfish, greedy and unhappy when it is, by design, a place to be creative, productive, giving and happy? Unhappy people either come to work with their personal unhappiness and share it at work, or they go home unhappy and share it with their family. Neither is acceptable and the workplace can help improve both.
It’s always a good time to start or shift our journey in a positive direction, why not use the start of a new year as our
excuse for doing something really positive at work?