Think about this scenario: You run into Colleague A in the hallway and ask, “How’s it going?” Colleague A replies, “Ugh, don’t ask. I am so busy, I barely have time to breathe. I’m stressed but that’s just how it is. Too much to do and not enough time!” You then see Colleague B in the pantry and ask the same question, “How’s it going?” Colleague B replies, “Great! Couldn’t be better. I’m feeling terrific. Just came back from my afternoon walk. Needed some fresh air before I get on my next conference call. How are you doing?”

Now, be honest. Which response are you more likely to hear in your workplace? If you’re like most people, it’s Colleague A’s response. And what about easygoing Colleague B? When you walk out of that pantry, what would you be thinking about Colleague B? Again, if you’re like most people in the majority of workplaces, you’re probably thinking that Colleague B must be slacking off and certainly can’t be working as hard or being as productive as Colleague A.

That’s the way it is for many places of work. How busy and stressed you are is a badge of honor and often the automatic response to questions of our well-being. So much so that, even when we are feeling relaxed and in control of our time at work, we don’t want to tell anyone for fear of being seen as not working hard enough. As a result, we create an environment where misery and stress is valued over happiness and calm. This leads to the frenzy, chaos, and burnout that many employees experience in their day-to-day work.

If you manage and lead in an environment that seems to put a low price on happiness, here are five things you can do to shift the negative culture:

  • Be a role model – Demonstrate a more balanced lifestyle. Limit lunch at your desk. Speak positively about your well-being and attitude toward your work and the organization overall.
  • Understand the stressors – Inquire about the causes of workplace stress and misery. Use pulse surveys or other feedback mechanisms to learn more from employees. Meet one-on-one with your team members to truly listen and understand what is impacting their experience at work.
  • Initiate a positivity effort – Start each meeting with a call out to what is working. List achievements – individual, team, department, and organization – at the end of each day or each week, and include how different people helped make the achievement happen. Thank people for sharing their positive outlook, and encourage them to help you learn to be more positive with a simple, “Tell me more about that.”
  • Fix what needs to be fixed – Rally a few people to address issues you glean from feedback surveys or one-on-one conversations. Recommend changes to workplace policies and consider implementing pilots of potential programs to lower resistance and encourage new ideas.
  • Encourage healthy habits – Stressful work environments often bring with them unhealthy work habits like grinding through hours of work without a break and fueling up with caffeine and sugar. To combat that, promote better work habits and healthy choices and then reinforce and reward them. Start a walking group; institute standing or walking meetings; offer water and fruit at meetings, not just coffee, soda, and danishes; establish “accountability partners” to hold everyone to their healthier, more positive commitments.

Research has shown that creating a more positive work environment that chooses happiness over misery will lead to greater job satisfaction, less turnover, and, though it may seem counterintuitive, greater productivity and results. It’s time to get on that bandwagon now.

In what ways does your organization unconsciously promote an environment of misery and stress, and what steps have you taken to overcome that?
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