Are successful people happy, or are happy people successful?

success-is-not-the-key-to-happiness-happiness-is-the-key-to-success-albert-schweitzerFocus, trust, perseverance, engagement, incremental effort, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, and loyalty. I don’t question the value of these qualities. But are these a RESULT of success or the CAUSE? And how is your company treating them?

It’s easy to pay these things lip service and say “we need people who embody these qualities” or we put it on the workforce to magically change their existence by telling them to “be” these. Well it doesn’t just happen. But as it turns out there is one thing that can get you all of these wonderful attributes in your workforce. Happiness.

Most companies act as though when they are successful, people will be happy. But actually the statement is backwards, and research proves it. When people are happy, they are successful. The happiness hormone in the human body, oxytocin, produces all of the above qualities. It has been shown to raise trust, increase collaboration, encourage people to take risks, make them more adaptable and accommodating to change, and increases people’s commitment and willingness to give. This brief article in the Wall Street Journal highlights some of the research.

Although sometimes a happy hour is thrown or food is brought in for a random event, how leaders interact and connect with their people on a day-to-day basis has a much bigger impact than such window dressing. Having beer and wine at the quarterly meeting but never asking how your employees are doing and really sitting down with them is like an estranged parent sending a present to their abandoned child. At a point, the presents seem more like an insult than a genuine expression of gratitude. Your employees are not stupid, they know when you really care and when you are only pretending.

Now back to oxytocin. So before anyone asks, no, you cannot buy oxytocin and put it in the water like fluoride. As it turns out though there are some very simple things that produce oxytocin as a natural byproduct and the most wonderful part about all of them – THEY ARE FREE! But here is the rub, they all involve that most fearful of subjects when it comes to executive leadership – feelings. Of the two “f-words” I have thrown around my office, this one is the least accepted. I’ve even been told not to use it with the executives because it makes them uncomfortable. While occasionally, the word “fuck” will get dropped and while it makes some people gasp in surprise, no one has ever said “don’t use that word.” In fact, people react more like the 6-year-old that uses it with their friends for the first time, with giggles and a blushed feeling of embarrassment.  But the word “feelings” tends to elicit reactions of vitriol and distance, the irony of which is not lost on me.

If you’re still reading (and you got past my two f-bombs) you may wonder, “so what are those FREE things I can do to increase oxytocin and get all those wonderful business buzz-words?” Here is a list:

  1. Genuinely listen – and not just about the things YOU care about, listen to the things your employee cares about. Ask them about their dogs, cats, kids, rabbits, hobbies, and sure, business, if you want to keep things sterile. But if you find something THEY are passionate about – listening to them and being interested will flood their system with oxytocin
  2. Say Thank You – it seems simple, but it is often the most missed element of working relationships. Feelings of gratitude and appreciation release stress and how does it do that? By creating oxytocin. And according to LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, it may be the highest ROI tool in a leader’s toolbox.
  3. Physical contact – now, I am sure many of you are cringing at that one. And sure, it’s a tough barrier to break. But hell at least start with a handshake. Once you build a relationship you can do the handshake-to-sideways-hug maneuver that can garner extra oxytocin. Or, if that is a little too over the top yet, consider placing your other hand on top of your normal handshake. A small but powerful gesture. And I am not giving you license to sexually harass your coworkers – if you need to know where that line starts, then you’re probably already creeping out your fellow employees – this is not an excuse to hug the hot chick.
  4. Sing/Dance – yeah, not all of us feel like shaking our groove thang at work but what about using it as a team building exercise? Zappos has a “Dance Revolution” game in their lobby for goodness sake. Karaoke anyone?
  5. Take a Walk – Have a one on one meeting? Go for a walk. This does several things. First, it removes any physical barriers that may be causing a metaphorical one. Second, it removes the power dynamic of your office/my office. Third, it removes people from “the box” which is the office, the cubicle, the conference room, the building and enhances creativity. Fourth, even mild exercise released oxytocin…which in turns makes people more creative at solving problems. Win-win.
  6. Buy them lunch – or coffee, or whatever. And, okay this one costs a little bit of money. But if you do it in conjunction with all the others above it has much better return than if you do it by itself. Plus, if you are ONLY doing this you may be seen as simply trying to “buy your way” back into their circle.
  7. Get connected – Social media, while not AS effective as person-to-person interactions has proven to also raise oxytocin levels. And you don’t have to be BFF’s and LOL all day on Facebook. Even connecting on LinkedIn has a positive impact.

Sure, greed worked for Gordon Gekko, but you sir, are no Gordon Gekko. And unless you forgot the punchline of that movie (and it’s sequel) -he went to jail. Just like Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and a host of others who put money before people. Money is good, yes. Success is admirable, to be certain. And yeah, it may not be your style to show people you care in the ways I listed above but if you are the leader of the company, the only thing that will bring you success OR money is your people. Knowing your particular style is not an excuse to continue being stoic. If your people are happy, your shareholders will be too. Focus on happiness and success will come. Focus on success and you may end up with turnover that leaves you chasing your tail.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s