At a glance
By Johanna Leggatt
Whether you have made it to the C-suite or are just starting out in your career, and regardless of where you work, chances are your work has prompted bouts of stress and anxiety.
Stress leave, insomnia, burnout and even depression are common across the working world. According to Safe Work Australia, stress leave costs businesses A$10.9 billion every year.
The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report, by Beyond Blue and TNS Social Research, found that 91 per cent of workers believe mental health in the work context is important, but despite this, only 52 per cent of employees believe their work atmosphere or team dynamic is conducive to good mental health.
Anastasia Massouras, CEO of Work Happy, a business that helps organisations achieve workplace happiness, argues that both employers and employees need to consider how to boost happiness at work.
“It’s a two-way street,” Massouras says. “You need to ask what accountability you take for your own happiness and also the accountability of the organisation.”
The bottom-line cost of unhappiness
A mentally healthy work environment is important for many reasons, not least of which are staff productivity and the bottom line.
A 2014 PwC report, Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace, found that for every A$1 employers spent on implementing mental health initiatives in the workplace, they gain an average of A$2.30 in benefits.
More recently, a 2019 study at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School tracked 1800 call centre workers at British telecom firm BT, and found employees who frequently reported feeling happy not only worked faster – making more calls per hour – but also achieved 13 per cent higher sales than their less happy colleagues.
Is it fair to argue that a happy work environment is vital for company success?
“Yes, yes and more yes,” enthuses Timothy Sharp, chief happiness officer at The Happiness Institute. “There’s a solid and growing database of valid and reliable research that has found that happy workers are better workers.”
While Sharp notes that many factors influence company success, there is no doubt that “real and meaningful, appropriate and authentic happiness at work is associated with attracting and retaining the best employees”.
Companies are starting to wise up to the fact that happy staff equals profit. In 2012, Dutch IT firm Incentro upended its hierarchical structure for a more collaborative work environment, in which staff help decide salaries based on how well the company is doing and take part in company-wide decisions. The result? A booming business, in which staff grew from 40 in 2008 to more than 300 across four countries by 2017.
Melbourne’s VERSA digital marketing agency CEO, Kath Blackham, introduced a no-work Wednesday policy in 2018, which sees employees working a 37.5-hour work week spread over four days. The move resulted in revenue increasing by almost 50 per cent and profits almost tripling over the period.
This does not surprise experts such as Massouras, who notes that a happy employee has a flow-on effect across the work environment.
“If you work with a positive mindset, it spreads,” she adds.
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How to ensure your own happiness
Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to work for an employer that removes hump day and allows us to set our own salaries and work tasks.
According to Sharp, a proponent of positive psychology, there are still plenty of ways to maximise happiness at work if your boss is a little more traditional.
“Try to find or create meaning in what you do,” Sharp says.
“Ask yourself what’s the bigger picture, and how is your work contributing to some greater good.”
Sharp says it’s important to analyse whether your thinking style could be more constructive.
“Could you be more appreciative and grateful? Would focusing more on solutions rather than problems be worth trying?”
Massouras agrees that a positive headspace is vital, and she also recommends focusing on creating meaning at work.
“Having connections with others at work is really beneficial,” she says.
“Feeling you have a purpose and are connected to something bigger than you is also important.”
Practising workplace gratitude may also put you in the right frame of mind. “We do a 10-minute gratitude session in the morning, focusing on what staff are feeling positive about, and it’s really helpful,” Massouras says.
Massouras notes that adopting good habits will also help, such as limiting technology when not working, monitoring stress levels, eating well, and going on short walks if possible.
Finally, sometimes the best way to be happy in your work environment is to remind yourself that work is just one part – not the whole – of your life, and you can always seek out a healthier environment if you need to.
“Once you have done all you can do, but work is still having a negative impact on you and your life, then it may be time to move on,” Massouras says.
“We’ve only got one life.”
Tim Sharp's top tips for feeling happier at work
- Take care of your own health and wellbeing: exercise, eat well, and ensure you get enough sleep.
- Take breaks as often as is appropriate, and learn how to switch off after hours.
- Build positive relationships in the workplace. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but having a few people you trust and talk to is helpful.
- Rather than just focusing on your weaknesses and how you can fix them, find ways to identify your strengths and how you can use these as often as possible.
- Have fun. Appropriate fun and play are massively underestimated in workplaces.