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Contagious ideas: Spreading happiness and fulfillment at work
I heard on the news that not only are Al and Tipper Gore getting divorced, but so are their two daughters. This news led to conjecture about the contagion of divorce, and sure enough someone has done a study about this topic. It seems that if people in your family or friends get divorced, and it need not be your immediate family or friends, that you and your spouse are likely to get divorced as well. Perhaps it’s something about the norms changing – making it OK for you to divorce because those around you are doing so.
This issue got me thinking about the norms in our work environments. So many people have been tolerating work environments in which they are ill treated. Clients complain to me that they are not appreciated for their work contributions and are treated negatively by their supervisors. After all, as a career coach, I’m usually the one who hears about the dissatisfaction in the workplace. This discontent is a sad state of affairs, because often people contact me to move away from their current situations, rather than towards what they really want. I would prefer to hear from those who are simply looking to move towards what they want, not because they are miserable at work. But until much changes in the norms of the workplace, I’m afraid that I will consistently be hearing from those who are unhappy at work.
Truthfully, I’d like to see the contagion of happy workplaces and happy employees take hold in our society. I’d like to see the norms be that the majority of people are happy at work, not unhappy.
Tony Hsieh, the 36-year-old chief executive of online shoe and apparel company, Zappos, agrees with me. He was recently featured in a CBS Sunday Morning segment coinciding with the publishing of his new book, Delivering Happiness. Hseih said the cultural norm in his company is for people’s true personalities to shine at work. And his philosophy of passion, purpose and profits seems to be working because his company is actually highly profitable. He’s discovered that it’s possible to make employees, customers and investors happy. Zappos is so successful that Amazon paid $1.2 billion dollars in 2009 to acquire the company. Fortune Magazine has put Zappos.com for two years running on its list of best companies for which to work.
Hsieh wants his 1,400 employees to see their work as a calling and to be so satisfied that they wouldn’t think of leaving. While they make salaries comparable to others in the industry, employees are truly reluctant to leave and won’t even be tempted by bonus lures of $3,000 to do so. They feel respected and as if they have the ability to make decisions on their own. Zappos customer service representatives, part of the loyalty team working right at the company, not off-shore, are given license to do whatever it takes to make a customer happy. There are no planned scripts, no time limits to phone calls.
Tony Hsieh feels it’s only a matter of time until other companies follow suit and create cultures that are more enjoyable work environments. He’s determined to spread the message and the norm. His book is one means of doing that.
And while we’re waiting for this norm of happiness to take hold and spread like wild fire, a good way to participate is to find a way to increase our own happiness quotient. Even if we have a boss who hasn’t read Tony Hsieh’s book or hasn’t gotten his memo, we can do our part to find a way to be happy in what we’re doing now – even as we make plans to do something else or work elsewhere. Because the sad truth is that if we wait for the climate to change out there, we may be waiting a while.
• Discover just what is not working for you in your current situation. If you are not feeling recognized, don’t stand around waiting for someone to notice what you’re doing, find ways to stand out – if not at work, then perhaps as a member of a professional organization or as part of a community project.
• Bring more humor to your job. One of my clients took my suggestion and checked out something called laughter yoga. He’s a salesman who found that as he integrated more light heartedness into his work life, not only did his attitude shift, but his sales quotient went up. In turn, he shared a great Web site with me that offers many resources for bringing more laughter into your life: www.followthelaughter.com.
• Refrain from playing the “ain’t it awful” game at work. Sometimes people bond by sharing their misery with others. The more they talk about how bad their work situation is, the more they feel connected. And in turn, they release a contagion of unhappiness. If you find yourself at the water cooler with someone who wants to share their dissatisfaction, politely change the subject or find a reason to walk away. Fueling unhappiness may feel good momentarily, but it reinforces a negative climate and a miserable norm.
So how about it? Will you contribute to spreading happiness and find ways to feel more fulfilled at work? Will you be the change you want to see in the world? I challenge you to carry the banner for the sake of yourself, the people you work with, and the community at large.
Melanie Keveles is a master certified coach, and co-authored Fired for Success: How to Turn Losing Your Job into the Opportunity of a Lifetime! (Warner Books). She also is the author of Scrappy Startups: How 15 Ordinary Women Turned their Unique Ideas into Profitable Business (Praeger Books). You can reach her at 715.394.4260; via e-mail at email@example.com; or www.startingfreshcoaching.com for a complimentary coaching session.Previous Coaches Corner Articles:
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