"Countless studies have found that social relationships are the best guarantee of heightened well-being and lowered stress," Achor told me, "and both are an antidote for depression and a prescription for high performance."
While it’s all too common in business for bosses to spot a few employees chatting it up in the halls and instinctively conclude that they’re dodging work, the research proves that the better people feel about workplace relationships, the more effective they become.
When surveying employee engagement all over the world, Gallup routinely asks workers, "Do you have a supervisor or someone at work who cares about you?" While many CEOs have asked Gallup to remove this question with the belief that it’s inherently soft and un-useful, Gallup discovered that people who answered "yes" to it were more productive, contributed more to profits, and were significantly more likely to remain with the firm.
During the early days of the financial meltdown, financial services firm, UBS, elected to eliminate the beer carts that circulated on the market floor every Friday afternoon. Achor told me that there was one manager who noticed an immediate and negative impact on his team’s spirits tied to this one cost-cutting move—and he decided to dip into his pocket to bring it back. As the economic crisis wore on, his team proved to be tighter, stronger, and less inclined to leave for a higher paying job. "I’m a professional investor," the manager said, "and this was the best investment I ever made."
Said Achor, "that simple act of paying for refreshments showed that he cared about his team’s level of happiness—not just their level of performance. And we now know those two things are directly linked."
Yale Psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski interviewed hundreds of workers in all professions and found that people have one of three work "orientations" or mindsets:
They see work as being a "job," or a chore, and use the paycheck as its reward.
They approach work as a "career" and work to advance and succeed.
They see their work as a "calling" and find work fulfilling because it gives them feelings of meaning and purpose.
Wrzesniewski shows that people with a calling will work harder and longer simply because their jobs are rewarding. Consequently, Achor’s advice to hiring managers is to ask people, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" Their answer will reveal how much of their heart they’ll likely bring to their work.
University of North Carolina psychologist, Barbara Frederickson, took a team of researchers into 60 companies and transcribed every word used in their business meetings. Afterwards, they parsed every sentence for positive and negative words, and took a simple ratio of the positive-to-negative statements.
What they discovered was that the companies with the greatest financial performance had a better than 3:1 ratio for positive communication. They additionally found that a ratio of 6:1 was characteristic of teams with consistently extraordinary achievement.
Achor’s advice: "Go out of your way to build employee strengths instead of routinely correcting weaknesses. When you dip below the Losada line, performance quickly suffers."
The idea that it’s become the job of organizations to foster employee happiness is unquestionably one that still rankles many in business. Many of us can’t get beyond the traditional belief that happy workers produce unhappy shareholders.
But Achor offers this advice to the slow-to-adapt and openly skeptical: "We’re hitting a tipping point where we realize we can no longer increase the number of hours and stress loads that we’re putting on people to raise their level of productivity.
"What we’re finding is that if you want to see what people are capable of achieving, it requires new types of leadership—and new definitions of how we pursue happiness in organizations."