The Happy Secret to Better Work

Here is an entertaining yet serious look at how positive psychology and happiness can be the answer to more productive employees and organizations: Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work.

Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., researches life’s “positive outliers,” people who are considered “well above average,” to better understand where human potential, success, and happiness intersect. He points to research that shows individual happiness and organizational success as inextricably linked, that employees who have higher levels of life satisfaction are more productive, produce greater sales, and are more resilient in the face of challenges.

In his recent TED talk, Achor says, “It is not necessarily reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we could change the lens not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.” He adds, “Ninety percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.” Achor also says that 75% of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”

Unfortunately, Achor notes, the common view of success goes something like this: “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful; and if I’m more successful then I’ll be happier.” He argues that this formula is essentially backwards. Instead he contends that if we can raise positivity and happiness in the present, that the brain at “positive” performs significantly better than when negative, neutral, or stressed. Your intelligence, your creativity, and your energy levels rise.

“Every single business outcome improves,” says Achor. “Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed.” A salesperson, for example, is 37% better in sales when the brain is in a positive state. This is what Achor calls the “happiness advantage.”

Achor wonders why organizations spend tens of billions of dollars worldwide every year on employee training, when quite often the long-term ROI is questionable at best. He conducted his own study to learn what a training session on “positive psychology” might instead accomplish. In his study, results showed that a single training session on the principles of positive psychology improved the overall happiness, energy, and stress management skills of 77 managers against a control group.

For those of us in the training and development world, this certainly gives us something to consider. When we conduct our next training needs analysis, perhaps we should consider whether the real “need” is a little more happiness and positivity in the workplace.

Read more about Achor’s study on the “ROI of Positive Psychology Training.