Dr. John Izzo

August 31, 2012 by Speakers' Spotlight

Happy Employees are Good for Your Bottom Line

Guest blog from Dr. John Izzo

Dr. John Izzo consults and advises some of the most admired companies in the world; teaches at major universities; conducts leading edge research on workplace values; and has spoken to more than one million people across the globe, from Brazil to Russia, from New York to London.  He is a leading business strategy expert, a community leader, and an avid conservationist who has worked with over 100 companies to create more socially responsible workplaces. Izzo is also a bestselling author of five books, his most recent being Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything. In his talks, Izzo addresses everything from the importance of effective leadership to inspire loyalty in both employees and customers alike, to how creating an environmentally responsible business can translate into sustainable – and exceptional – profit.

Did you know that the single most important thing you could do to engage your employees is to train them to be happy? Getting your leaders to be more engaging is important, but it’s just as vital to help your people learn how to get engaged in their own work. In this competitive, ever changing and highly demanding business environment, helping your people find more happiness might just be the big competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.

Emerging research shows that happiness leads to greater success, innovation, creativity, resilience and engagement. And the good news is that you can actually train your people (and yourself) to be happier.

Ever since I wrote Awakening Corporate Soul in 1994, I have been helping leaders create more engaging workplaces and inspiring individuals to discover more purpose and wellbeing in their own work and life. The emerging field of “positive psychology” is so fascinating because the latest research shows compelling evidence that happy people are more effective at work and that contrary to long held beliefs, we can train people to be happier!

Let’s explore this. Most of us assume two things that are not supported by the emerging research. The first is that someone’s engagement and success at work is almost entirely dependent on their manager. Don’t get me wrong, leaders matter a great deal. The best leaders help create highly effective teams. But what we miss is that engaged, happy people often stay productive even when they have less than optimal leaders. Even if we accept that happy people are more productive, more successful and more resilient, we wrongly assume that most people can’t be trained to be any happier than they are right now. Again, the research shows the opposite—happiness is trainable.

Here are some research findings to ponder: Doctors who are optimistic and in a good mood reach the right diagnosis 19% faster than doctors who are in an unhappy mood. Employees who are happy take 15 less sick days every year than unhappy employees. Optimistic salespeople outsell pessimistic salespeople by 56%. A study that looked at the happiness of Catholic nuns who had produced journals when they were in their twenties found that happiness was a great predictor of how long they lived with about ten more years added to their lives!

Some of you may be thinking that the moral to the story is to hire happy people (which is probably not a bad idea) but since happiness follows a bell curve like everything else, you likely can’t corner the market on happiness. Instead, why not train people to be happier?

For years, we have conducted Spirit in Work events for companies training people to find more meaning in their work by focusing on the positive aspects, and to take better care of themselves. Managers would routinely report that these employees came back more motivated, more productive and more influential colleagues. By helping them discover how to become happier, we were helping them become more successful at work.

Recent research in neuroscience shows that just knowing what makes you happy is not enough. Rather, we need to train our brains for happiness and resilience. Here are two examples. If people regularly track what they are grateful in their work/life, they train themselves to be focused on what they like about their jobs. When people identify tasks they enjoy in their work and focus on doing more of these tasks they become more engaged over time.

In those sessions we help people discover the meaning in their work, train their minds for gratitude, and support them to discover the things that bring them happiness and make more room for those things in their life. We also teach them coping mechanisms for becoming more personally resilient.

Why does all this matter? Well here is one example. People who see their work as a calling as opposed to a job are more productive, work longer hours and put more effort into their work. And the interesting part is that this is true regardless of the nature of the work. It’s just a true for housekeepers as it is for engineers!

So maybe we need to focus as much on helping our people engage in their own work as we do on training their managers. Maybe instead of just telling people to keep their nose to the grindstone, we need to help them train themselves to be more resilient and happy while all the stress goes on around them.