Happiness An emotion that improves productivity

Happy, contented people live longer and are more productive than their unhappy counterparts according to scientists like Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the father of positive psychology, a branch of scientific psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and organizations to thrive.

According to Seligman, there are two kinds of happiness: event or short term happiness, which has little lasting impact, and enduring long-term happiness, which impacts our lives in many positive ways. You experience “event” happiness when your favorite team wins the World Series. Long-term or “enduring” happiness is that feeling you get when you realize how fortunate you’ve been thus far in life. Enduring happiness impacts life-span and productivity.

Those who reflect on the positive aspects of their past typically have a positive outlook on the future and, as a result, are blessed with enduring happiness. Interesting, but so what, you say? The following account is an example of the value and power of enduring happiness, on a practical level.

Happiness Brings Its Own Reward
Stress, in the workplace, is responsible for much unhappiness. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, stress in the workplace is estimated to cost U. S. industry over $300 billion annually due to its impact on the mental and physical state of workers. People under stress are not happy people. Individuals and organizations spent nearly 15 billion dollars on stress management in 2005 alone.  One of the greatest causes of stress in the workplace is poor management. Researchers have found for instance that over 65 percent of workplace sabotage stems from unhappiness with management’s unfair behavior toward workers.

One of the most important studies on employee productivity in recent years was done by the Gallop organization. Between the years 1995 and 2001, they surveyed over three million employees from more than 300,000 business units. They found  that employee happiness and contentment were directly connected to productivity, and the workforce could be divided into three categories; those who were engaged (working to achieve the goals of the organization), those who were not engaged (those who came to work but did care about the organization goals), and those who were actively dis-engaged (those who work to sabotage the organization goals). Only one-third of employees in U.S. companies were believed to be engaged. Nearly twenty percent were actively dis-engaged or working against the goals and objectives of the organization.

That is not the case for LGI Development, a land development company, in Houston, Texas where engagement is taken seriously. Self-described as  a sales organization that develops land (rather than a land development organization that sells land), LGI’s Bender’s Landing sales team is so successful they are known to be one of the top–if not the top–land sales team in the country.

In 2007, the sales team sold residential acreage worth over $35,000,000 in a nice but non-pretentious sub-division in the face of stiff, nearby competition. Every  member of this sales team earned in excess of $250,000 in commissions and bonuses last year–some earned in excess of $800,000. This exceptional team is not particularly unique in their sales skills, but they are unique when it comes to their high-performance and accomplishments.

Karen Brooks, Vice President of Land Sales at LGI, understands the importance of happiness and employee engagement to her team. Her number one focus is to create the physical and mental environment in which her team can excel. A student of Marcus Buckingham, Curtis Coffman and their two ground breaking books First Break All the Rules and Follow This Path, she’s well aware of the largest study ever done by the Gallop organization on attitudes and behavior of outstanding employees. That study reached two central conclusions:

  • There are a set of twelve conditions that impact the outcome of every business.
  • The responsibility for creating these conditions lies with the manager

While many mangers ignore how employees feel while at work, Karen does not. She ensures the physical environment encourages people by offering visual beauty in their work surroundings, the opportunity to exercise, and an auditory environment of appropriate music at the right volume. Additionally, Karen takes measures to insure:

  • the sales team know what is expected of them.
  • employees can work in a way that fits their lifestyle
  • each team member receives praise
  • team members feel they are cared about
  • training and coaching occurs regularly

While these measures help employees, I decided to probe deeper and assess her team to examine what emotional intelligence (EQ) traits they had. I used the Revuen Bar-On EQi assessment. The EQi assessment measures fifteen different aspects of emotional intelligence. My plan was to find what, if anything, was unique among these outstanding sales performers.

We saw, as expected, assertiveness and interpersonal relationships among the top and most consistent attributes of this team, but also saw, as not expected, happiness in the cluster of attributes.

What did that mean? I believe it means this: Happy, content workers are the workers that are “engaged.” Happiness, the enduring kind, drives interpersonal relationships. Happy people are like magnets. People run rather than walk to be around happy people. A happy person has more opportunity to build relationships and influence others than an unhappy or pessimistic person.

Tips for Improving Your Happiness
As with most traits, happiness can be learned. If you want to be happier just focus on the five rules that follow:

  • Manage your environment, and connect with positive people and events as often as possible
  • Build a rich, robust network of friends and colleagues
  • Improve your spiritual life
  • Reflect more often on positive past events in your life
  • Do something for someone other than yourself

In 1989 Bobby Ferrin released the Grammy winning song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. It was the only a cappella production ever to rise to number one in the music charts. Its success, in my opinion, was largely due to one message, “Don’t focus on the negative and happiness will surface.”
Stephen Blakesley is Managing Partner of GMS Talent L P, and author of the book Strategic Hiring–Tomorrow’s Benefits Today.

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