2017.11.08 Leading With Happiness

“Leadership is the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you. It starts with our fundamental responsibility for the lives of people who we have the privilege of leading. Everybody wants to know that who they are and what they do matters. And when you genuinely show them that you care, it profoundly affects their lives.”
Bob Chapman, CEO and Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

I have had the opportunity to read Alexander Kjerulf's new book "Leading with Happiness" before it comes out on November 21st. Among many other quotes, it contains the above snippet.

With dozens of research references and many case studies from all over the world, Kjerulf makes a convincing argument for why employee satisfaction is not nearly as important as employee happiness.

It is commonly known that employee happiness is generally in the dumps. Engagement is down. Productivity gains have flattened out as employee attrition has risen and organizational knowledge has gone out the door with the not so happy employees.

While we can measure employee satisfaction and engagement by asking the employees - who may or may not answer truthfully or at all depending on whether they believe their data will be kept confidential - it is more difficult to measure happiness because happiness is a feeling in the moment where satisfaction is more how we think about it when asked.

Among the many methods Kjerulf advocates in his book is keeping a daily journal, noting events that made one feel inspired, in awe, grateful, or just plain old happy during the day. We are more used to write down ideas - and/or logging times and dates of harassment and bullying for later documentation in case one needs to sue ones employer (the latter absolutely antithetical to happiness at work.)

Our brains are super sensitive to bad events. It helps keep us alive that we are alert to potential dangers. But is can make it more difficult to remember the good times - particularly if the organizational culture is not all that friendly overall. By being more aware of what makes us happy, we not only remember that we were happy; many can also tweak their jobs to contain more of the elements that make them happy and not so much of what feels like drudgery.

While working conditions are important for everybody, they may be even more important for people who live abroad. Not only will colleagues often be the entry into the local society; your friends from school are far away and work provides the main social interactions. But until you have new friends, your support network will also be far away - both geographically and in frames of reference. It is difficult to commiserate with people who really don't understand what you are going through.

If you would think that creating happiness equals ping pong tables, extra perks, and employees who goof off instead of being productive, think again. Because the book demonstrates how happiness comes from creating results in positive relationships. We may even be more productive when we work less. Many countries in Western Europe have the same living standards as USA while their inhabitants work 10-20% fewer hours.

When we are happy, we are more productive and more creative. Feeling safe to come up with wacky ideas is a prerequisite for sometimes coming up with brilliant ideas. So between more creative and productive employees that stay longer with the company and take advantage of the experience they have gained along the way, what is there really to lose?

Well, if your definition of leadership is having the power to make people's lives as miserable as possible, I can see how you can be challenged by this idea. But even in that case it is better to read Kjerulf's book before your employees get it...