In my previous article, I outlined how discretionary effort (how much of yourself you bring to work) is critical to employee engagement. There’s a proven relationship between engagement and performance, in a COVID environment, that matters even more. Great companies are separated by millimetres, not meters. That little extra from your team, especially when freely given, shows up on the bottom line of an organisation. 

The bottom line of the bottom line is, it works to be engaged.

Engaged people are generally happy people. That begs the question. How do you become more satisfied if you aren’t? There are several ways to address this.

Adopting a Growth mindset

The way you think about your life and your work matters. We all face challenges the key is to find meaning in the process. Adopting a growth mindset works.

For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.

Carol Dweck

It comes down to the way you view your life. The way you see yourself and life is changeable. A Growth mindset allows you to love what you’re doing and will enable you to embrace what’s in front of you be that challenge, struggle, criticism or even potential failure. It all contributes to your growth.

Enter positive psychology

The way we look at life influences how we process the world. This flows on to how we respond to it. If we are on the lookout for the positive and reasons to be happy, this will naturally have a flow-on effect. The result is increased happiness, optimism and gratitude. When we embrace failure as an opportunity for growth, we are more likely to not only experience growth but to also feel more positively and this leads to success.

We become more successful when we are happier and more positive.

Shawn Achor

Positive psychology, especially from Achor’s work, is really about the bottom line stats. Specifically, how happiness translates into dollars, whether that is through decreased sick-leave (15 less days taken a year), increased productivity (31% more productive) or profitability (37% increased sales). Ultimately, Positive Psychology shows when what we are working on is enjoyable, we are more likely to produce more. For this to be beneficial both to the team and the organization, there has to be a fit. It has to fit within our talents. When we experience a fit within a team or organization or culture, we feel happier, and this makes us predisposed to higher output.

Moreover, we care more about what we’re doing. Our attention is on the quality of the work we produce and we have higher grade quality and quantity. It comes down to willingness.

There’s that discretionary effort again.

Happier and more contented employees are willing to produce more. I become more willing to, more interested in, more focused on and more attentive to, and I feel more content. The net result is fewer stress hormones produced more of the happy hormones are produced, which make us feel better about ourselves and what we do.

The reverse is also true.

Stress is counterproductive and harms productivity. Eustress, which is good stress, is not only beneficial, it’s necessary: It’s a healthy form of stress for us. When we don’t have enough challenge or we are overwhelmed, we get into distress, and that’s when unhealthy stress hormones are released into the body. 

Those hormones lead to us feeling anxious and potentially overwhelmed. That, in turn, causes the body to release hormones that constrict oxygen to the brain. When this happens we don’t think as well, we don’t innovate as well, we don’t problem solve as well. 

When we are in that stressed state, we are less responsive and more reactive. We are less able to deal with the stimulus that comes at us from a calm space. We’re more likely to be testy with someone who acts out of character or behaves in ways that are not aligned. Statistics show that when we are disengaged and or unhappy, we are less inclined to give discretionary effort, we bring the bare minimum or less. Think ‘work to rule’, for example. And when we feel disgruntled, we’re more likely to have a mindset that says “I can’t” rather than one that says, “I can“. We’re more likely to feel that issue is “out there“, we move into victimhood, and we tell ourselves that we can’t. We see our locus of control sitting outside ourselves. At really chronic stages, we can slip into learned helplessness.

Enter mindfulness

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. Whether you take a spiritual bent and be in the now. Or, you take a more conventional route where you look at mindfulness in terms of being present in the task, you get to a point where you achieve flow. Once in flow, focus follows. Distraction leaves, as you go through stages that move you into flow. Flow is when time either speeds up or slows down. We experience flow when we find ourselves present and mindful in the things we enjoy. We come away with a sensation of happiness due to neurological chemicals that are released that allow us to feel that sense of contentment.

Even merely, breathing can be enough to begin to interrupt this process and return a feeling of calm. When we breathe, it slows our heart rate down. Breathing mindfully allows for increased blood flow and more oxygen into the body and brain. This allows the prefrontal cortex to engage in decision making; we become calmer and will enable us to reset and counteract the cortisol created by stress. We can use our deliberate intention to find things to focus on that guide us back to a positive mindset. Mindfulness is proven to influence mood and generally increases our satisfaction and happiness, which in turn drives engagement.

“It is not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”

Shawn Achor