Three Practices To Help Conquer Unhappiness In The Workplace

In 2019, Michael Papay was selected as a member of the Forbes San Francisco Business Council. Throughout the last year, he contributed several pieces to Forbes. These articles offer prescriptive advice to people leaders based on over two decades of experience working with Human Resources professionals and HR Technology.

Michael’s point of view is that Employee Voice is the unique DNA of your organization. Employee insights offer leaders the most powerful possible competitive advantage when trying to measure, and then improve engagement.

Stay tuned as we re-post each article, originally published in Forbes, here monthly.

When I was in business school, I took a course in organizational development. I remember my professor describing how, while he was working in New York, he would watch people take huge breaths to brace themselves before grabbing the door handle to enter their buildings on their way to work. He commented to the class that if we ever found ourselves doing that, we might want to assess whether we had the right job fit.I’ve found that many people have simply resigned themselves to having unhappy work experiences. But if you take a closer look at the larger cost of unhappiness in the workplace, I believe it’s clear that this is an issue that business leaders need to address.

Why should we care?

We’ve all likely experienced the impact of unhappiness in the workplace. If you think about the difference between employees with exceptional output versus those with mediocre output, it’s day and night. Simply put, an unhappy workforce makes a huge impact on organizational productivity and profitability. According to Gallup, more than 80% of employees are not engaged at work, and actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity.

Unhappiness is having an even greater impact on individual employee health and well-being.  The biggest driver of health problems is stress, and one of the biggest drivers of workplace stress is bad bosses.  The reality is that we’re now working more than ever. The average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, which can drastically diminish the amount of time they’re able to spend with family and loved ones. One study by Deloitte found that 40% of Americans believe it’s impossible to have a successful job and a balanced family lifeBut increased work time does not always translate into greater productivity or happiness. Asking people to be plugged in and responsive all the time can lead to burnout and work-related stress.

I believe workplace stress is also a humanitarian issue. In his book Dying for a Paycheck, professor and author Jeremy Pfeffer described the costs of extreme workloads. For example, workplace stress has been linked to premature deathvarious illnesses and hospitalization.

What can we do about it?

At a basic level, I believe human beings want to be connected. They want to know that they matter and that they are heard. When business leaders don’t listen to their employees, that connection can be lost.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Business leaders can promote connection and make the workplace more “human.” In a data-intensive reality where change and disruption are the norm, connection to one another and to our organizations is more vital than ever before. In fact, competitive business advantage today lies in the ability to find the right signals in a busy universe and apply these insights quickly.

As an entrepreneur myself, I’ve discovered three things you can do to help your employees feel more connected and have a greater sense of purpose in the workplace:

1. Be inclusiveIn my experience, decisions within an organization are often made with a certain set of leaders, and these decisions aren’t always shared with the rest of the employees. In my opinion, this is why more than 70% of change initiatives fail — you’re overlooking key players who could help execute those decisions. So instead of keeping things inside a closed room, include everyone’s voices in your organization in topics that matter (e.g., values, culture, strategy, change, process improvement). This helps employees feel connected to the organization and empowered to drive change. I’ve found people are far more likely to get on board with decisions if they understand the reasoning behind them.

2. Embrace transparency. Transparent communication is the key to building trust and rapport in the workplace and to developing a healthy culture. The narrative we let people write on their own is often much worse than the truth. Offering visibility into both the good and bad can remove uncertainty and benefit your company as a whole. For example, I’ve seen that being transparent with what’s happening within your company can boost collaboration, as well as build a shared sense of purpose. In my experience, your team will be excited about finding remedies to problems if they have some visibility into what’s happening, and they will be far more effective in implementing solutions.

3. Show vulnerability. Share your humanity. I believe the idea of the “infallible leader” is as realistic as believing in minotaurs or mermaids — they don’t exist. In any sizable organization, there’s too much-nuanced information for leaders to have all the answers. So, be humble, and ask your team questions to tap into their wisdom. In her book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, author Sheryl Sandberg found that showing vulnerability led to better outcomes and more realistic expectations for all employees. Acknowledging one another’s humanity inspires more engagement and, in turn, higher performance increased productivity and better business outcomes.

After working with hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of leaders over the past five years at Waggl, I have found that those who fully embrace these three simple — but powerful — concepts have vibrant and healthy organizational cultures. The best organizations are finding ways to activate the best in everyone, making the workplace experience more meaningful.