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5 Ways Leaders Can Use the Third Metric to Improve Employee Happiness

03/17/2014 04:22 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2014
  • Michelle McQuaid best-selling author, workplace wellbeing teacher and playful change activator
Chris Ryan via Getty Images

As the UN's International Day of Happiness approaches (March 20), it's worth taking a moment to consider the growing number of employees who feel constantly stressed with two-thirds of people reporting they now feel "overwhelmed" at work.

Is it any wonder levels of employee engagement are down to just 13 percent around the world, when many workers report feeling unappreciated for their efforts, that their bosses don't care about their wellbeing and that they're being overworked?

But can organizations really afford to care about levels of employee happiness?

Unfortunately, many leaders still believe it's desirable to have some worker unhappiness. The idea being that keeping people under some constant tension is a powerful driver of productivity and ensures no one is slacking off or becoming soft.

Yet the market has proven this belief to be completely outdated, with investment funds who choose to only select companies for their solid reputations for treating employees with profound respect, outperforming the S&P Index consistently by more than four percent every year.

So how can investing in employee wellbeing and happiness have such a significant effect on the bottom line?

A growing body of data is showing positive emotions -- like joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love -- change the way our brains function helping us to be more optimistic, more flexible and innovative in our thinking, more psychologically resilient and better at connecting and collaborating with others. Outcomes most organizations are desperately trying to achieve.

As a result, happier employees are being found to have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions and receive higher performance ratings. They're also less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out. All outcomes that impact the bottom-line.

So what are tested, practical ways leaders can improve well-being amongst their employees on the UN's International Day of Happiness?

Drawing on the latest scientific discoveries from fields like positive psychology and neuroscience, a growing movement called the Third Metric, led by Arianna Huffington, offers an interesting roadmap leaders can draw upon to have a more positive impact on the wellbeing of their employees.

Try starting with:

  • Being aware of what you're spreading when it comes to wellbeing -- 20 to 30 percent of business performance is determined by the mood of employees, and the number one of predictor of their mood is -- you -- their leader. Be sure you're getting the right balance of positive and negative emotions to help people perform at their best by taking the free survey at www.positivityratio.com.
  • Use your energy wisely -- Research has found giving people the chance to do what they do best each day, improves engagement, productivity and customer satisfaction. Yet only two out of every ten employees say they have a chance to use their strengths each day at work. Discover your teams' strengths and put them to work by taking the free survey at www.viame.org,
  • Put the wonder back into your relationships -- We have a biological need for social support, which is why research has found other people are the best chance of lowering levels of stress and raising wellbeing at the office. Before you head home each night, take the time to genuinely thank at least one person for how they made your day better or easier, and be specific about what you appreciated and why.
  • Give people a sense of purpose -- When it comes to long term sustainable innovation, culture maintenance and performance in organizations studies suggest few avenues offer better results than creating a sense of meaning for people in their work. "You can run a company, but you can only lead people," notes leadership researcher Simon Sinek. So how would you finish this sentence, he poses: "Everything I do is to ___________, so that _________. " And would others be motivated to follow you there?

Implementing the Third Metric approach in organizations in neither difficult, nor expensive. It simply requires leaders to practice prioritizing their attention on the behaviors we know bring out the best in themselves, their teams and their organizations.

So if you're a leader, what will you do this year on the International Day of Happiness to start improving wellbeing for your employees?

For more on how to be a Positive Leader join the International Day of Happiness Virtual Conference takes place on March 20, 2014 -- learn more here.