6 Unconventional Ways to Make Your Employees Happier and More Successful

When you’re leading a big change to your company, odds are good that you’ll put stress on your people. But if you take steps to make them happy, they’ll make customers happier and your profits will rise.

How so? A former Harvard researcher found that keeping people happy is good for business. As Shawn Achor wrote in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, Positive Intelligence — keeping people happy instead of threatening them — produces better business outcomes during stressful situations.

Inspired by Achor, here are six unconventional ways to boost your employees’ success and happiness.

1. Single people out for praise.

If you’re leading your company through a big change — like expanding from selling in the U.S. to 18 other countries, your people are likely to feel stress because you feel it as well.

But in 2008, Burt’s Bees’s then-CEO, John Replogle, was taking the company global. And rather than fill their inboxes with question on their progress, every day he sent out an e-mail praising a team member for work related to the global rollout.

2. Encourage your managers to talk about corporate values.

Another surprising way to make people happy is to encourage your managers to talk with their teams about the company’s values.

Replogle took time away from talking about the global launch to encourage his direct-reports to discuss company values with their people. The reason? The values discussion would help people feel more connected to the company’s mission.

Achor wrote that Replogle’s “emphasis on fostering positive leadership kept his managers engaged and cohesive as they successfully made the transition to a global company.”

3. Exercise your peoples’ sense of well-being.

I’ve read that you can train yourself to be happy by smiling a lot.

But that’s not the only way. Achor ran a session on happiness with some soon-to-be stressed out tax managers at KPMG. He trained them to be happy by writing down things for which they were grateful or exercising for 10 minutes.

Four months later, the tax managers who did these happiness activities scored higher on the life satisfaction scale — a metric widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work, according to Achor — than they did before the happiness training.

4. Hire people with high life-satisfaction.

If you can’t train people to a higher life-satisfaction score, hire people who already have one.

Gallup researchers found that retail employees in an individual store who scored high on life satisfaction generated $21 more in earnings per square foot than employees with lower scores in the retailer’s other stores.

That sounds like a compelling business case for hiring happy people.

5. Follow the 10/5 path to social support.

Helping other people makes the social support providers — people who pick up slack for others, invite coworkers to lunch, and organize office activities — more engaged at work and more likely to get promoted.

One company — Ochsner Health System — uses this insight. Ochsner’s so-called “10/5 Way” encourages employees who walk within 10 feet of another person in the hospital, to make eye contact and smile. When they walk within 5 feet, they must say hello.

10/5 has paid off for Ochsner in the form of more unique patient visits, a 5 percent increase in patients’ likelihood to recommend Ochsner, and “a significant improvement in medical-practice provider scores,” according to Achor.

6. View stress as a performance-enhancer.

Since work is almost always stressful, I was surprised to learn that it’s possible to train people to think about stress positively — e.g., as a force that enhances the brain and body — and negatively —  as debilitating to performance.

Researchers showed videos with positive and negative messages on stress to managers at UBS. Six weeks later, the managers who saw the positive video experienced a big health improvement and an increase in their happiness at work, Achor wrote. 

Encourage your people to list their stresses and make small, concrete steps to reduce the stressors they can control. Those small steps can nudge their brains back to a positive–and productive–mind-set.