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12 steps you can take to create a happier workforce

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in Centerpiece,HR Management,Human Resources

by Todd Patkin

happy workforceEven people who are successful in business can suffer from worry and depression. I speak from experience. By the time I was 36, I had been working in my family’s wholesale business for years, and it was thriving. Still, I was so worried about the future that I couldn’t see my own good fortune. I had a breakdown.

It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to look at why I was unhappy. It led me to suggest that my family sell the business, so I could spend time with people who are important to me, doing work that I like.

As an HR professional, you’re in a unique position to guide your organization to a culture that causes less worry and stress for employees—and better health and productivity. Here are 12 ways to get started:

1. Encourage employees to exercise. It’s a natural antidepressant. Tip: If your organization can afford gym memberships for employees, that’s great. But even a brisk, 15-minute walk every other day will do the trick. Help staff form lunchtime walking teams.

2. Focus on the positive. Most of us listen to too much bad news. Tip: Tell employees about what’s going right. Send out a daily email with a positive quotation or tidbit of good business news. Reading something positive first thing in the morning sets a positive tone for the day.

3. Train managers to listen for negative “self-talk.” Employees who beat themselves up over every mistake tend to focus on what they’re doing wrong, not their successes. Tip: Encourage bosses who hear negativity to remind employees that the good they do always outweighs the little goofs. Preach the value of making it OK for employees to make honest mistakes.

4. Play up employees’ strengths. Everyone is good at something, but few of us excel at everything. Tip: Help managers identify each employees’ strengths, and then assign them work that they’re good at. Build teams whose members’ skills complement one another.

5. Manage stress. No workplace is entirely stress-free, but some employees handle stress better than others. Tip: Bring in lunchtime speakers to educate employees about stress-management. Post stress-busting exercises on your internal website.

6. Engage employees in their work. The less they worry about squeezing in personal business, the better they can focus on work. Tip: Re-advertise your work/life benefits, such as flextime, telework, child and elder care and on-site conveniences like an ATM or cafeteria.

7. Stop the negativity. Employees might not be able to completely avoid toxic co-workers, but they can limit their exposure. Tip: Enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy against harmful gossip.

8. Encourage high-quality relationships. They are critical to employee happiness. Tip: Create opportunities for co-workers and their families to socialize with “work friends.” Remind employees that your employee assistance plan can help them strengthen personal relationships when they must cope with divorce, drug addiction and family issues.

9. Reward cheerfulness. Walking into a workplace of cheerful colleagues is a great way to shake off the blues. Tip: Encourage managers to “catch” people smiling and thank them for it.

10. Help employees give back. Studies show that people who donate time and money are happier and healthier than others. Tip: Organize employees to volunteer at community events. If you can spare them for an hour or two a month, let employees volunteer on work time.

11. Focus on the greater good. Tip: Regularly remind employees of the value to others of the work they do, whether it’s to fill a need, make customers happier or help the company meet its goals.

12. Show gratitude. Remind supervisors to thank employees often. Celebrate employees’ accomplishments. Tip: Encourage bosses to praise employees in front of their peers.


Todd Patkin is the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. He spent 18 years working for his family business, which was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005. Contact him at tpatkin@tgpco.org.

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{ 1 commentsῂ read them below or add one }

Michelle Pokorny February 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

Just a few observations. Studies in human science show that the right level of “good’ stress is motivating and rewarding, and drives the best performance from people. So, a company environment doesn’t have to be all fun and games for employees to be engaged in their work and ‘happy’ to work there. We do know from the research of Barb Frederickson and others that positive experiences can lead to greater health, creativity, resilience, problem solving… So, a work environment that fosters positive experiences is a good goal. These experiences could include coming through times of challenge together, could be receiving authentic recognition and appreciation for contributions to company goals. And experiencing trust (delegation or being given autonomy in your work, having transparent communications with your boss, etc) is certainly a positive experience. Thanks for these tips!


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