Shannon Polly, MAPP '09, is a facilitator, speaker and coach in Washington, D.C. and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Shannon Polly and Associates, where she applies positive psychology to leadership development. She also co-founded Positive Business DC (@positivebizdc) and she has facilitated resilience training for the U.S. Army. Full bio. Shannon's solo articles are here, her articles with Louisa Jewell here, and her articles with Genna Douglass here.
Have you ever tried speaking to a tough crowd? How about teaching positive psychology to engineers?
Jocelyn Davis has done just that at the University of Maryland for the last eight years. Davis was our recent speaker at the webinar series hosted by Positive Business DC. She and Kathryn Britton teach the required course, Managing Project Teams, to engineers becoming project managers. So she knows a tough audience.
During the webinar, Davis shared an example that often moves her students. Imagine that you had a high performance automobile, and you ran it for weeks or months in the red zone. (At this point she says her students open their eyes wide.) What would happen to the car? At some point it would no longer be a high performance car. You’d have to take it off the track. Students quickly grasp the analogy that you can burn out at work. You can’t have long hours with no breaks or no vacations and still be a high performer in your job.
Originally I thought her webinar for Positive Business DC’s last week, Happiness at Work: Measure it For Success, would mostly appeal to positive psychology practitioners who might need an assessment to use with clients. In the end, I discovered new things about the tool and practical ways to improve well-being at work that might be useful for anyone thinking about work, the place where we spend more time than anywhere else.
Why Does Happiness at Work Matter?
There are many reasons, but here are three that Davis mentioned:
- Well-being yields better organizational outcomes in terms of productivity, profitability, sales, creativity, customer service ratings, customer loyalty, retention of staff, and customers. Well-being at work decreases healthcare costs. Measurements are important to managing businesses. You can create a happier workplace, and you can measure the difference.
For the people in the organization, focus on well-being makes high-quality work possible and sustainable for the long haul.
- When people experience work in more positive ways, there is a cascading effect that affects everyone they have contact with. If you are beaten down and working to burnout, you go home to friends and family and pass the expeirence along. It is contagious. If we can increase happiness at work, we can increase well-being at home and in the community.
Assessing Happiness at Work
Davis introduced the audience to the Happiness at Work survey created by Nic Marks after his work on the Happy Planet Index. The Happiness at Work is freely available online, so you can use it to get a checkup on your own happiness at work. There are comparative baselines available for the UK, the United States, and other countries, so you can see how your own happiness at work stacks up relative to other workers.
The survey is an empirically based set of 40 questions, which only takes 10-15 minutes to complete. You get your own results immediately. Unusual in the survey arena, your results are available for a year so that you can return, take the survey again, and see whether your happiness at work has changed. There was a person on our call who was surprised to receive a 2.6. This is a relatively low result, given that 5 is average out of a maximum of 10. She wondered what she could do about it. Davis suggested that she could decide on a plan of action and then take the survey again after a few months to see if she is making progress. To help her formulate her plan of action, every question in the survey points to research and specific actions, videos, articles, and books.
“We believe that happiness is a serious business. Research shows that happiness and wellbeing at work is the foundation of a productive and optimised organization and makes a real difference to a company’s bottom line.” ~ The Happiness at Work website
Results show that Brits assess their happiness slightly lower than Americans, which could be a sign of the American cultural optimism. We had composite results for our group, Positive Business DC. We were mostly in the top 40% with some outliers.
The survey assesses four different areas: personal resources, experience of work, functioning at work, and organizational systems. Each of those areas breaks down into four subcategories. You can see how you scored on each one relative to the average score of 5. I’ll cover two of the four areas here just to pique your interest. Then you can take the survey on your own to explore all four areas.Personal Resources
Since I found myself lowest in this category, I took an interest in its four subcategories. Apparently having a low score on personal resources is often true of younger working mothers. People in upper management or in the 50-65 year old age range tend to have higher scores for personal resources at work.
- Vitality: Are you healthy and energetic? Do you get time to take a break every 90 minutes?
- Happiness: This equates to your personal happiness at work. It doesn’t mean that you are happy all the time. It is a net measurement.
- Confidence: Do you have self-efficacy and the resilience to bounce back when you encounter obstacles?
- Work-life balance: What state are you in as you walk in the door at home in the evening?
If you are not sleeping, not eating well, and not socializing with friends, your score here might be low. Davis shared that frequently women are lower in this category because they don’t have the time to take care of themselves. For thinking about vitality, she recommended a great book called The Power of Full Engagement.
Loehr and Schwartz talk about set up cycles of rest and recovery following periods of high stress. You can’t get up at 6, work from 7 to 7, skip lunch and breakfast and be at your best. You can find the book here. Having been through the training courses based on the book, I highly recommend it. It changed the way I thought about exercise on the road as well as what the real size of a ‘snack’ is. You can find out about the Human Performance Institute training course here.
High Functioning at Work
Performance at work is a result of four things that guide intrinsic motivation:
- Strong work relationships: This is important for anyone who remembers the Gallup Q12. “Do you have a best friend at work?” is one of the best predictors of workplace well-being.
- Mastery: Can you make progress every day? Can you succeed at your work?
- Self expression: Can you be yourself? If you walked in tomorrow with three nose piercings would you be accepted?
- Sense of control: Do you get feedback? Do you have the autonomy to select your own approach? If your answer is no for either question, can you ask for it?
For her engineering students, since it is a male-dominated profession, women might not find as many female friends at work.
Proud to be an Entrepreneur
I was heartened to learn that entrepreneurs are the happiest group that Davis has seen in her work with the survey. They get to make decisions that put them in charge of their lives and work. They get immediate feedback and make progress every day. If you aren’t an entrepreneur, Davis recommended trying to create autonomous elements elements in the job that you have.
Listen to the Webinar
If you want to hear what Jocelyn Davis had to say about happiness at work, listen to the Happiness at Work: Measure it for Success Recording. We wish you much happiness – at work and in life!
Marks, N. (2011). The Happiness Manifesto. TEDx Danubia.
Davis, J. S. (2013). Positive psychology. In D. Lock & L. Scott (Eds.), Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Gower.
Davis, J. S. (2010). Building the positive workplace: A preliminary report from the field. In P. A. Linley, S. Harrington, & N. Page (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work (pp. 289-300). New York: Oxford University Press.
Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.