Business and the Power of Positive Thinking

In the rush to deploy the latest collaboration solutions, cloud services, or video conferencing technologies, companies sometimes forget the obvious. The most important component of any corporate machine is not its software or infrastructure because it’s really not a machine at all.

The most important moving part in a business is its people

One very large and successful enterprise, Google, recently reminded us of this basic truth. Technology exists to support humans, not the other way around. All the tech in the world won’t help an organization that is dysfunctional at the human level, and so Google goes to great lengths to ensure the happiness, and therefore effectiveness, of its employees.

At a recent re:Work with Google event, Michelle Gielan of the Institute for Applied Positive Research spoke on the power of positive thinking. In collaboration with Ariana Huffington (Huffington Post) and happiness author and researcher Shawn Achor, Gielan conducted a study on the effects of positive or negative attitudes on employee performance.

The video is worth watching, but here’s the summary

The study consisted of showing employees one of two versions of a news story. In one version, the story detailed the severity of a major world problem (food insecurity), with a focus on the harm it causes to families around the globe. The other version of the story gave it a more positive spin, focusing on potential solutions and work already being done to combat the problem. Both groups were tested at the end of the day with a survey designed to measure their creativity, problem-solving, and overall contentment. The group shown the positive version of the story tested about 20% better.

Although the study is certainly not conclusive, it does point to another piece of common wisdom: happy employees work harder and perform better.

The science may or may not prove the concept 100%, but a manager or employee who doesn’t prefer a happy workplace would be an unusual sight. With that in mind, here are four concrete steps you can take to keep your employees happy, excited, and ready to tackle whatever comes their way.

1. Build Self-Esteem

Nothing is more important to employee happiness than the employees’ view of themselves. Workers who value themselves, and know they are valued by the organization, will work harder and approach problems more creatively. Employees who care about their job will apply themselves wholeheartedly, and that kind of genuine dedication is something that cannot be replaced by any amount of technology or training.

To foster self-worth, recognize accomplishments. Give praise and compliments liberally when they are deserved, and don’t miss an opportunity to give individual recognition to employees who have contributed to a goal. Workers should feel that they are valued as individuals, not simply treated as pieces of the corporate machine. Value their input and encourage feedback and ideas, either in open sessions or private emails or meetings.

2. Encourage Camaraderie

Especially in today’s collaborative workplace environment, it is more important than ever that employees get along each other on at least a basic level. Office feuds and grudges are never healthy, but today when employees work together closer than ever before, they can be outright damaging to productivity.

Team-building exercises, outings, and sports leagues can go a long way to fostering friendships and a sense of community among workers. Just as important is personal accountability. Supervisors and managers should “lead from the front” in this regard. Managers and supervisors should be willing to pitch in on daily tasks when needed, and should take accountability for mistakes or problems. When the time comes to hold employees accountable for theirs, it will be seen as fairness rather than a singling out.

3. Fun and Rewards

Adding some pleasure and fun to the workplace will go a long way to improving the mood of its inhabitants. This can be as simple as the occasional fun video sent around the company messaging system, or can involve themed days (think Casual Friday) and other events.

The décor of the office can have a strong effect on mood, as well. A reasonable amount of plants and greenery, especially in offices lacking in windows and natural light, are crucial to maintaining high spirits.  The color green has actually been shown to improve test performance in one study, and humans are naturally soothed by the presence of natural elements.

A simple rewards system can also do wonders to relieve the stress and anxiety of the workplace, elevating its mood. Monetary bonuses are an obvious go-to, but not always feasible and not strictly necessary. Smaller rewards such as movie tickets, coffee shop gift certificates, or pizza in the break room make for excellent recognition of a job well done. Even if they do not carry much material value, they still serve to as a goal to work towards, and can effectively incentive employees.

4. Use Mentors

The team-based structure of many modern offices can work to support positive thinking in the workplace, as well. Introduce a mentoring system in which newer employees can receive guidance and training from a more experienced co-worker. This will have the dual benefits of spreading knowledge and skillsets, and giving the younger employees the benefit of wisdom from someone who has been through the stresses and pressures of the workplace for a longer time.

There are other ways to increase happiness at work as well, of course. Google has made intensive studies of the effects of positive thinking and how to foster it, the re:Work at Google event being only one example.

One of their best works on the topic is Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). Written by senior Google engineer and “personal growth pioneer” Chade-Meng Tan, the book should be required reading for any manager or supervisor looking to improve the attitude of their employees.

It probably should be required reading for the employees, too.