Use Positive Psychology to Pump Up Employee Engagement

by Dora Wang on May 18, 2015 8:00:00 AM

Science Says You’ve Got Employee Engagement BackwardsWhen it comes to employee engagement, managers have been doing it backwards. This is a problem that will reverberate through the entire company, as disengaged workers will infect productivity, increase turnover, and cost your company money — not to mention success.

But employee happiness? That could be the key to fixing the problem. According to Good.Co:

  • 70% of U.S. workers are disengaged at work, and these workers cost the U.S. between $450 and $550 billion dollars in lost productivity each year
  • Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave an organization
  • Companies with engaged workers outperform disengaged workers by 202%
  • Happy employees have 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and 3 times more creativity

In short, happy employees seem to be engaged employees. It seems like a no-brainer, but this theory of positive psychology is a new wave of thinking for many companies. According to People Lab, previously, many companies worked under the assumption that finding success at work would increase productivity, boost morale, and lead to engagement. And now, the bottom line: Engagement comes first. It’s the employees who are already happy and engaged that will flourish and thrive.

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The Psychology Behind Employee Happiness

Even if you didn’t take psychology in high school or college, it’s not hard to understand why happy employees make engaged, productive employees. It comes down to brain chemistry, and it’s hard to ignore the science.

Positive emotions lead to a rise in neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine — at the basic level, chemicals that make us feel good. But what you might not know about these chemicals is that they also increase learning in our brains, making it easier for us to retain and organize new information for longer and for faster retrieval.

The connections made with dopamine and serotonin — the feel-good neurotransmitters — help us think more innovatively, boosting our ability to problem solve and analyze complex information.

How Managers Should Apply the Science

Managers should be focused on supporting an environment where happy, creative brains can thrive. Work life shouldn’t be a negative. Specifically, People Lab says there are five activities that will help your brain “scan” for the positive rather than going to the negative emotions, and they all can be tied to an element managers can build into the workplace.

#1: Three Instances of Gratitude Each Day

Build a culture of employee recognition: Your employees should feel appreciated and respected every day at work. This can be as simple as thank you notes or cultivating a culture of peer-to-peer recognition.

#2: Journaling and #3: Meditation

Leave room for “me” time: These two ideas can easily be put together in the office. Times for quiet reflection are crucial to our happiness, and many offices are already getting on board with this idea by building a “quiet” room, even if it’s just a small conference room with comfortable chairs, where employees can step away from their work and take a little time to themselves.

#4: Exercise

Focus on health to find happiness: If there isn’t a gym in your office — and you can’t easily create one — sponsor employees’ gym memberships, bring in an exercise instructor, or have a staff member who is big into yoga lead a class over a lunch period. And leave time, showing employees that they’re free to take the time to dedicate to it.

#5: Random Acts of Kindness

Help foster employee relationships: Have a place in your office where employees can eat lunch together or take a break and chat. Make mentorships and peer groups a part of the culture. Do what you can to foster relationships between your workers if you want happy employees.

There’s a science behind employee productivity, and managers who ignore it will be the ones to fall behind.



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This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

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