Are your efforts to engage and inspire people in your workplace being met with a lackluster apathy? Have you found strategies that used to work in the past are now falling on disinterested ears?  If so, it may be time to take a new approach.    

“Emotions are often considered an unwelcome guest in the workplace, as organizations ask their people to leave their emotions at the door because they are not professional,” explained Eric Karpinski, author of Put Happiness to Work when I interviewed him recently.  “Unfortunately, this means we’re often missing out on the benefits of our emotions, as they are a powerful source of motivation and a driver of engagement for people.  Instead of squashing or ignoring our emotions, organizations can leverage emotions to help their people to feel happier at work.”

But the very root of the word emotion is motion—emotions move us to action.  By minimizing or hiding emotions at work, Eric cautioned we are taking away people’s most basic motivation for action—activated happiness (the amount and frequency of positive emotions like interest, pride, enthusiasm and gratitude, among others).  In fact, studies have found that activated happiness is one of the most powerful drivers of engagement and wellbeing that leaders have available to them particularly for workers who are not engaged (i.e. usually low in activated positive emotions) and those who are overwhelmed (i.e. a lot of time in highly-activated, but negative, emotional states of stress). 

Eric suggested that some of the evidence-based strategies you can try, to increase activated happiness in your workplace include:

  • Tap your team for good stories – Each of us has a limited ability to see all the things that are happening in our team.  Tap into your team to build a longer list of potential recognition items.  A powerful routine that you can add to your one-on-one meetings is to kick off each one with a simple question: “What is one good thing you’ve seen one of your team members do this week?”  When you start this practice, it may take a bit of time for them to think of something.  They may say they can’t think of anything or want to defer their answer to later. Don’t let them off the hook.  Give them a minute to come up with something.  Let them know it doesn’t have to be a world-changing, goal-attaining, above-and-beyond action, but just something positive that they saw. 
  • Prioritize social connection, even during isolation – With so many people experiencing loneliness and isolation as a result of the pandemic, it’s important to intentionally socially connect people – even if this can only be done over Zoom.  You can do this playfully by asking people to put up a Zoom background photo of something that makes them happy and let each person speak about it.  Another strategy is to implement a ritual of PechaKucha (which is Japanese for chit chat) where someone shows 20 photos and talks about them for 20 seconds each.  This plants the seeds for social connection to happen, either in the meeting or offline, as people connect with each other over shared passions and experiences.
  • Put stress to work – Helping people understand that stress isn’t inherently bad can help them move from a threat to a challenge response.  Thinking about stress as a continuum between “threat” and “challenge,” help people who are feeling overwhelmed by asking them questions to shift their perspective, such as, “What skills do I have?  What knowledge do I have?  What tools do I have to address this problem?”  This will help people to see they have the resources to meet the challenge, help them connect it to their meaning, and move them out of a threat response towards a challenge response.

Are there actions you can take today to activate more happiness in your workplace?

To discover more evidence-based practices to help people thrive at work, check out the Making Positive Psychology Work Podcast.