Is it selfish to want to be happy at work – and should we feel guilty about prioritising it? The good news is, research tells us being happy isn’t just a “bonus” that makes our days more enjoyable – it can actually improve our performance, both individually and as teams Be happy at work and we might actually become more productive, efficient and innovative.
Joining us to talk about finding happiness in your workplace is Sarah Metcalfe. The founder of Happiness Coffee Consulting, she shares the importance of being happy at work to reduce workplace stress and perform better. She gives her top tips on simple things you can do to pursue happiness and share it with others. In a high-stress job like medicine, choose happiness and spread it.
If you want to learn more about how and why we should be happy at work, tune in to this episode.
[29:41] Reflecting Happiness
- As a team, you reflect each other’s emotions, especially those of your leader.
- Take care of yourself and your happiness first. Your drivers of happiness contribute to feelings of achievement and having good relationships.
- Build relationships with your team members and get to know them personally.
- People are reluctant to spend time on things not directly related to work, like happiness practices.
[35:43] Leading With Happiness
- There is no such thing as too much feedback.
- Provide sincere feedback for something you want to encourage employees to keep doing.
- You can give positive feedback to your colleagues.
[35:43] ‘Never, ever, ever have I ever heard of an employee having received too much positive feedback. So, and I’m not talking about fake — it has to be real, it has to be specific.’ – Click Here to Tweet This
[42:58] Choosing to Be Happy
- Listen to the full episode to use Sarah’s cheat sheet to be happy at work!
- Anyone can be happy at work by connecting with what you’re doing.
- No matter your job, you can choose to focus on happiness at work.
- Choosing to pursue your happiness is not self-indulgent. It can reflect positively on those around you.
[43:18] ‘And as a leader, it’s really important for you to be more vulnerable than anyone else.’ – Click Here to Tweet This
[49:53] Toxic Bosses
- Most people who leave their jobs do so because of their boss.
- Talking to your boss might not always work. What others do is out of your control.
- You can focus on your drivers of happiness to buffer your toxic environment.
[51:58] Sarah’s Top Three Tips for Happiness in the Workplace
- Take five minutes with someone else to build relationships
- Reflect on your week and identify what brought you joy and how it made you feel.
- Lastly, catch someone doing something good and recognize them for it.
Sarah Metcalfe is the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Coffee Consulting. She founded her company after nine years of experience in customer service and customer experience. Her decade of research and expertise in Happiness at Work, Company Culture, Management and Leadership enables her to help create happy working environments.
She co-founded the Global Summit for Happiness in 2019 and became co-leader of the Woohoo Partnership Network in 2020. There, she works with a group of happiness at work experts to train people all over the work to encourage a happier workplace. Sarah continues to spread happiness as a keynote speaker and trainer with multiple companies and organizations.
Want to learn more about Sarah? You can check out the Happy Coffee Consulting website or visit her LinkedIn.
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If you are unhappy at work, and if work burns you out, then you have nothing left to give to yourself, to give to those around you to give to your colleagues to go home and give to your family if you’re leaving work drained every single day, how can you possibly make good choices? Because we know we all have this executive function, which is a depletable resource, right? So if you leave without any of that, at the end of your day, every single day, then how can you possibly make the changes in the world that you know you need to that you want to, and we spend more than a third of our life at work? So if we’re miserable and unhappy for a third of our life, what are we doing with our lives?
Rachel Morris: Do you enjoy your job? Are you happy at work? Do you wish you could love going to work like you used to, but I feel that it’s a bit selfish to expect to be happy at work. And so many people are doing jobs which they hate, but have no choice about. This week, Sarah Metcalfe, Chief happiness officer at Happy Coffee Consulting, joins us to talk about happiness at work, why it should be the metric that we worry about and measure, and why it’s better for the planet to have a happy workforce.
If you’re anything like me, at one time or another, you’ve probably felt very guilty about wanting to enjoy your work. As it’s been drilled into me from a very early age that to be successful and useful to the world. I have to work as hard as I possibly can. The great news is that all the recent research on happiness points to the fact that it’s not working harder that’s going to make us more effective and productive, but it’s working happier. Sarah and I discuss why this is, and some simple things that everyone can do in their workplace to make their team that little bit happier, and get better outcomes for their patients and customers.
So listen to this episode, to find out why taking the time to focus on working happier, will make you more rather than less productive. The things that really contribute to happiness at work — spoiler alert! — it’s really got very little to do with how much you’re paid, and some quick and easy to implement tips and actions, which will make work happier.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, a podcast for doctors and busy professionals in healthcare and other high-stress jobs—if you want to beat burnout, and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris, a former GP, now working as a coach, speaker, and specialist in resilience at work. Like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, many of us have found that exhaustion and stress are slowly becoming the norm. But you are not a frog. You don’t have to choose between burning out or getting out.
In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts—all who have an interesting take on this and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you will live and work. In healthcare at the moment, people are struggling with overwhelming demand, increasing patient expectations, and spiralling workloads. Until we develop the ability to time travel or add in a couple of extra hours to the day, we’re going to have to face reality and admit that we really can’t do everything. This means accepting our limits, setting boundaries, and sometimes saying no in order to continue to be able to do our best at work.
Throughout May and June, we’re releasing a brand new mini video series all about how healthcare teams can prioritise powerfully, say no with confidence, and fall back in love with their work. You can get this free mini series by clicking on the link in the show notes. If it’s helpful, please do share it with your colleagues.
It’s wonderful to welcome onto the podcast today Sarah Metcalfe. Now Sarah is the founder and chief happiness officer at Happy Coffee Consulting. She’s an international keynote speaker on customer experience, employee experience, and happiness at work and all-around good person.
Sarah Metcalfe: Thank you so much for having me.
Rachel: So it’s wonderful to chat to you. Finally, I’ve been wanting to get you on the podcast for ages. And we’ve not been able to make it work. But it’s really important, I think, for us to hear about happiness right now, particularly in healthcare where I think a lot of people are feeling pretty hacked off and pretty miserable right now. In fact, I was talking to a friend the other day that was saying that people used to be quite angry about what was going on and all the waiting lists and not and now they’re just sort of resigned to what’s happening. And I know that you focus on leadership and happiness as well, which I think is a really interesting thing.
I’d love to start with just some of the evidence around happiness at work, because I know that in the talks that I do, I often, you know, cite this Shawn Achor’s stuff that we want to be working happier not working harder, because actually, it’s happiness that leads to success rather than working harder. I think a lot of people in health care, you know, we’re just programmed to work harder and harder and harder.
Sarah: Yeah and that makes so much sense because you guys have, I guess, you have so much purpose built into everything that you do, right? Which is wonderful and amazing, and obviously can be really fulfilling. But there’s tons of evidence that the most engaged employees and the most engaged people are at the highest risk of burnout. And I can imagine from everything that I know that health care professionals and those around them are definitely at the highest risk of burnout right now. When we are hyper-engaged, we do more, and then there’s more capacity, so we get given more, and then we do more, and then we get given more, and we do more. Even though we are super productive, we do have to be extra careful when you are, I guess driven by purpose, or passion or connected in that way. If you love what you do, then we have to be a little bit more mindful and a little bit more intentional about how and when we say yes to things.
Rachel: Thank you for saying that. Because I have long thought that that actually purpose is a bit of a double-edged sword because we know that purpose is one thing that can really helped with burnout and prevent burnout. But actually, if you have all this, this higher purpose in your job, and you know, let’s face it, healing people, helping people, working with people on the edge of their lives, is a real privilege and an amazing thing to be able to do. But then you feel so responsible and you feel if you feel this sort of real calling into it, that that’s a huge responsibility. And I guess it can weigh pretty heavily on people, can’t it?
Sarah: I have been lucky enough to love some of my jobs and definitely have been on that high kind of hyper engagement burnout path. And if you’re interested in that, you can just Google it. And Professor Jochen Menges, who is Cambridge Judge Business School, and University of Zurich has done a lot of work on that. And he does a TEDx a bit about that. And of course I can appreciate that you’re not in a company where you can just close your laptop, and walk away. Because once you get to that point where you’re just almost running on autopilot. You’re probably not connecting with that purpose as deeply or as regularly. So you’re not getting the benefit, you’re probably just telling yourself, “I do purposeful work, I do purposeful work” without really pausing and just connecting with what you’re doing.
Rachel: Yeah and I think you sort of hit the nail on the head, it’s doing this purposeful work, but without the happiness that goes with it. Now, I’m gonna get the elephant in the room out straight away, which is I think a lot of my listeners and maybe thinking actually, is it just a bit of self-indulgent to talk about happiness at work? Is that just a nice to have actually, no one can really expect to be happy at work doesn’t make huge amounts of difference. And is that the wrong thing to be pursuing? It doesn’t feel very worthy somehow.
Sarah: Thank you so much for asking me that question. Great to get it out on the table. I would say it’s almost the most important thing. I think we know that the world of work is broken, especially for doctors right now and the health care professionals, I think. But for everyone, you know, levels of burnout, I think that the World Health Organisation, stated that mental health caused the global economy a trillion dollars last year. The reason I’m really, really passionate about happiness at work is that if you are unhappy at work, and if work burns you out, then you have nothing left to give to yourself, to give to those around you, to give to your colleagues to go home and give your family.
But also, for me, it links it to climate change, to the global changes that we need to make. If you’re leaving work drained every single day, how can you possibly make good choices? Because we know we all have this executive function, which is a depletable resource, right? So if you leave without any of that, at the end of your day, every single day, then how can you possibly make the changes in the world that you know you need to that you want to that’s why I’m so passionate about it. And the world of work is doing that so much to health care professionals but across the board. And so people are not able to take care of themselves. They’re not able to take care of their work. They’re doing huge amounts of lost productivity. You’re doing work that’s not actually doing anything. And the ripple effect of that is really bad.
And we spend more than a third of our life at work. So if we’re miserable and unhappy for a third of our life what are we doing with our lives? What are we telling our family? For me, I’m a mum, what am I telling my children if I’m miserable at work every day, and I leave my children. And then I go to work, and they see me doing that every single day. What is the lesson that I’m teaching people about valuing themselves? What’s good for me? Why would I leave my children, the mom guilt, all of those things if I was miserable at work every day. So that’s kind of I guess that’s my, that’s my passion piece. But in terms of science, the science is backing it up. So basically, in terms of every business metric, you would care to measure improved productivity, lower accidents, better results, it’s better for you, as a person, as an individual, you’re a better leader, you’re more creative, you’re more innovative. So all the things that we need in this new world to be able to deal with crazy pandemics or potential war, we need to be able to have access to this problem solving that incorporates new ways of thinking.
And when you are in a happy frame of mind, you’re able to access those things. Actually, happiness can be a matter of life and death. For a couple of reasons, I think in the US, they were linking workplace stress as the number two cause of death because it causes heart disease, increased type two diabetes, and some forms of cancer are increased by workplace stress, and they’re starting to be able to link this to actually being caused by workplace stress. But if you are happy at work, or you’re in a happy workplace, you have all these positive outcomes for yourself. But one that I hope speaks to your listeners is Kingston Hospital NHS Trust did a study. And when they had high staff engagement, so they did a program on joy at work, and then they had better patient outcomes. And actually, they had a lower death rate in the hospital. When you focused on the happiness of the doctors, the nurses and the health care staff, you actually had better health outcomes to the point of it reduced death in that hospital. And so I think it’s really, really critical on so many levels. And the practices of happiness at work are the things that also can help protect you from burnout from this mental health crisis.
Rachel: Oh my gosh, it’s there—there’s just so much in that I’ve been scribbling notes furiously in writing, you’re writing all of these questions. First of all, I’ve never really quite understood why happiness increases productivity, but having just listened to you there, I completely get it now. Because a happy frame of mind means that you’re not backed into the corner with the phrase I use to describe your amygdala response. When you’re in your stress zone where you don’t make good decisions, everything becomes black and white. And there is that lovely broaden and build theory. I think Barbara Fredrickson, which is if you’re experiencing positive emotions, you’re much more creative, you can solve problems, all those sorts of things. And so if you’re working out of that sound, predominantly, you just going to be much, much more productive.
Sarah: Yeah, and small possibilities, as you say, like the amygdala that back into a corner, when you are able to activate that positive thinking, then you start to be able to see your way out of the corner, there’s not just one exit, you’re not frozen, and you’re not fighting, you’re not running, you see all the different options. And that is how you’re more productive. Because when we get into that zone, we don’t do the right things, and you’ll know it, I’ve done it. “I just must get this done. I must get this done.” You might come back the next day and go, “That was terrible,” and you have to do it all over again.
Rachel: Yes, like I certainly experienced that. But I just like to ask actually, because obviously, I did a lot of wellbeing training, resilience training and stuff like that. What is the difference between trying to increase the wellbeing of your staff and trying to increase the happiness of your staff?
Sarah: I think wellbeing can cover a kind of a whole area. You might be looking at it in terms of their physical health, as well as maybe their mental health and things like that. And I guess if I were to try to distinguish it, I would say happiness is more on the mental health side of things. I guess I would use them almost interchangeably. The reason I like the word happiness and the reason I use it is because Nic Marks who’s the founder of the UN Happy Planet Index and someone who I work with, he just describes it sums it up really easily. It’s a really clear good, bad signal. How are you today? If you say I’m happy, I know what that means. If you say you’re unhappy, I know what that means.
Happiness is kind of an umbrella term. So we can call it—we can call things well-being programs, we can call them happiness programs. There’s a little bit of a linguistic argument going on, which for me detracts from what are you trying to achieve? If I asked you what do you want for your loved ones in your life?
Rachel: I want them all to be happy.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s what we want is what we want for everyone we love. And then somehow when we get to work, it doesn’t matter. We’re not, we just throw that out the window. But that doesn’t make any sense. But also, we want ourselves to be happy. And we consistently do things, both in a work context in a well-being program context and in a personal context, like you say, the Shawn Achor happiness versus success scenario. But we constantly do things that don’t make us happy. We’re really, really bad at understanding what makes us happy. But if you think about it, happiness is an umbrella term for positive emotions, it’s not just happy happy, you know. It’s joy, its contentment, its well being, it’s all these things. And yeah, we all know what it means.
Rachel: Yeah, I think there is a danger though, that some people do just equate happiness with the happy-clappy, blah, blah, blah. Whereas actually, yeah, if you’re using it in the proper definition, that which gives you meaning and purpose and satisfaction and contentment, I think contentment is a really important thing, isn’t it?
Sarah: There’s that high energy happiness, but you also have low energy happiness. And those are different and we should be looking at not just one type of it.
Rachel: So there’s a few things I want to ask you about, I really want to delve into actually, how can you lead with happiness? But first of all, how do you get people to be happier at work? And at the beginning, we were talking about the mental health thing and the fact that lots of people are languishing, can you just explain that a bit.
Sarah: Mental health is like physical health, you can have poor mental health, but you can also have good mental health. And we spend a lot of time talking about poor mental health. And we should absolutely be supporting those people and give them programs and EAP, and all that kind of stuff. But as we were talking about so many people aren’t quite in that poor mental health, but they’re just okay. And actually, most of the organisational support for mental health takes you from struggling into. If you imagine this diamond you’ve got, the middle is okay or as Adam Grant referred to languishing, right, or you’re just a bit bluh. And the problem with that is, that’s one of those pieces of resilience, which is if bad stuff happens, and you’re just okay well, anything can knock you into having poor mental health again, which is completely normal.
But if you start practising the practices of happiness at work, and the things that support good mental health, which is where we’re trying to kind of push the happiness at work agenda, because it helps people build up those practices, so that they’re thriving. They’re in that they have good and positive mental health. And then when bad things happen, you might fall down, but you don’t go into that poor mental health. So that for me is the real kind of key link between those practices. And then you’re saying, well, what are those practices would be my guess.
Rachel: Yeah, that is definitely my next question is what on Earth we’re all- everyone is pointing at right, what we’re going to do for best practices. They need to take less than five minutes, I am joking, but we, I can imagine that’s what a lot of employers, HR departments are thinking, right? What the quick fix is here, because actually, doing a whole culture change program is difficult and hard. Anyway, yes, I’m being cynical and sarcastic.
Sarah: But the best bit about that is thank you, I love it. Because most of the things don’t cost you anything, right? So I’ll explain what happiness at work and what helps us be happier at work, what organisations often provide, when you ask them also, what are you doing, it may be in your well being program, you might, you might find that people are doing this too. And there’s a whole list of things you’ve got. From free food and free coffee and lunches, or even salary and perks and benefits. So all these like crazy benefits that you have to have for people. Lots of the programs that are on offer, yoga, gym memberships, everything to smoothies.
And everything in between. And I’ve worked with some of the top global brands in the world. These organisations have everything on the list and more and some of those people are still not happy. And usually what I do with my clients is I ask them to think about a time when they were happy at work. Do you have a time when you were happy at work that you want to share, Rachel?
Rachel: Let me think I’m really happy at work right now. I really love what I’m doing right now. Which is wonderful.
Sarah: How lucky is that? So specifically, that’s you and me creating something together right? Yeah, yeah.
Rachel: I love it when finding out new things and creating stuff. I’m helping stuff getting stuff out there. Love that.
Sarah: Amazing. So what you’ve just described is what we find. So when I tell it, when I ask people that story, it’s almost never a time that you checked that you’ve been paid. And it’s often not a time when you were particularly well paid. I’m guessing in the health care professionals, it’s never a time when you are particularly well paid. But by and large, what we hear is that people’s happiest work is when they are doing great work together with great people, And we kind of sum that up in meaningful results, and meaningful relationships. I work with a framework, which is results, relationships, purpose and play, right? So we have some meaning in there, we have results, which is that feeling of achieving something, making progress, having autonomy, having resources, having tools being recognised for the work that you do, having people see you, and having a great relationship with your immediate manager is incredibly important.
The second bit is relationships, who is the team that you work with most closely? And how is your relationship with your leaders, most importantly, your direct manager, and the things that companies invest in which cost all the money, all those fruit bowls and stuff? Nobody’s ever gone to work and said, “I got two apples from the fruit bowl today and I had the best day.” That’s not what does it. I mean, maybe there’s the odd person, but.
Rachel: You say that I did a face to face talk this week for Mental Health Week. And it was wonderful. And the client had they had a marquee in the garden and in a break, I went and helped myself to an ice cold can of Diet Coke, which you just don’t get that often. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing.” So I think I think that I’ve set quite a low bar for my happiness.
Sarah: I mean, that’s like, that’s an individual moment of happiness and savouring something. So you go for it. That’s amazing.
Rachel: I think just quite easily pleased.
Sarah: Well, that’s the other. That’s the other obvious thing too for happiness like the lower your bar, then the happier you are.
Rachel: Yeah, totally. But what you’re saying about fruit bowls, and bicycles absolutely rings true. And I’ve definitely talked about the fruit and bicycles approach. And I’m actually in the NHS, it gets really annoying for people, they get bicycle to work schemes, but they might not get free food, but they might get “Hey, but we’ve got a free yoga class”, and then I’d be a bit we can’t go to that yoga class, because like, we’re literally I’m gonna shift what do you expect us to do? And that almost, that’s more annoying than if they’re not put it in the first place.
Sarah: Exactly. That’s exactly right. And this is part of, again, that gets results. It’s like, you don’t see the work that I’m doing. You’re so far removed from me, you’re trying to give me self care when you haven’t—there’s not enough resource. Right. And I know that in the NHS, this is more complicated than an organisation’s; however, the arguments and the reasoning is still the same. To go back to what makes people happy. So organisations, and they’re desperately trying to do the right things. I think it’s like a one and a half billion dollar a year kind of business, to help people have— employee schemes and benefits and things like that. But employees are as disengaged as they’ve ever been. And that’s because we shouldn’t be chasing engagement, we should be chasing happiness. Engagement is an outcome of happiness at work.
Well-being to an extent is an outcome of being happy at work, because you’re because you have the things that lead to that. And this is kind of based on Daniel Kahneman. It’s his description of it is, experienced well being, what we think. The other thing is this whole success versus thing. So when you sit down and you think about oh, that I have a good job, and I get paid well, and I have benefits, and they offer me yoga, and they this and they that. When we think objectively backwards about our work, we think those are the things that make us happy. But it has a very small effect on our happiness at work. It has a big effect on whether we choose to go and work somewhere, but it doesn’t have a big effect on our happiness. Those things are when you do great work together with great people, and you’ll know yourself if you’ve ever worked somewhere where you loved working there, and you had great colleagues and you may have been offered a job that paid you more and you weren’t interested.
And the thing is, those feelings that create happiness at work that creates, experienced well being so I’d call it head and heart. Those feelings of happiness at work. And those are the things that give us all the positive benefits that I talked about before. So many times you’re talking to organisations or HR or any of these things, and they’re going but we’re doing all of this and they’re not taking advantage of any of it. Now, some of that is capacity and all those things we just kind of nodded to but a lot of it is that is then becomes your normal. You don’t even think about it’s a hygiene factor. Happiness at work is the thing that gives you the productivity, the innovation, the creativity, the better leadership, the better sales, the lower death rates, the and I think it’s happy doctors, but does it make faster, more accurate diagnoses if they’re primed for happiness? There’s just all of these things, but it’s not because they’re given a pay rise.
Rachel: No, totally. And yeah, presumably, you’re referring to Hertzberg, motivation hygiene theory with the sort of stuff that gives you job satisfaction is not the stuff that gives you this satisfaction. And yeah, I think that’s such a helpful thing. And, yeah, happy doctors make better decisions. And we know that doctors nearing burnout have a 63% greater risk of medical errors as well. So it sort of works in both directions that
Sarah: Absolutely, yeah, it’s, it’s not just that they’re not doing the extra, they’re making mistakes. And then that’s just not, doctors, it’s not just you. There’s way higher mistakes in production workers or anybody actually, who is not happy at work when you’re unhappy, or when you’re close to burnout. The other great thing is that high relationship we talked about results and relationships, high relationships are also a protector of high workload. When we talked about hyper engagement burnout, if you have great relationships, so this is again, when you hear those stories from around the world, it’s quite often people were working really hard on a really big project, and everyone pulled together.
This whole idea of community resilience, and everyone getting together, achieving something. And the reason I have play in there, because then you’ve got that little bit of like, “Yeah, you do have that happy-clappy”, but that’s like 5% of the happy at work, right? The tiniest bit. So you need to be looking at how you can create better relationships at work, and that often doesn’t cost anything or you’re more able to see the results that you’re making in your work. So can you see progress in meaningful work? And that doesn’t mean I finished something, I’m done. But do you know that you have achieved the things that you set out to do right, so and Is it visible to you? Do you get praised for it? Does your manager know?
Rachel: Now that is really interesting, because I think that is one of the things that is really, really difficult in healthcare at the moment, it’s very difficult to see meaningful progress when there is a massive backlog, when patients are waiting, you can’t get them seen. secondary care hasn’t gone up capacity, everyone is off sick. And so you’re working as hard as you can just to stay still or even sometimes go backwards because of the lack of appointments. You get the lack of meaningful work. And then because of the overwhelming, and because of the post-COVID hybrid working stuff, and people are still stuck in rooms on the phone a lot, you’ve actually not got the relationships either. So this is a perfect storm of lack of meaningful progress and crappy relationships because you’re just not seeing anybody.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. And this is this perfect storm that we are in right now. And I can only imagine that for healthcare professionals. That is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to organise an all-hands meeting or everyone off that, you know, but one of the easiest things that lots of my clients like to do is like a “Tada list”. So what did you do today, and I can, I can only imagine, as a healthcare professional, you’re very busy. But if you just took a moment, at the end of your day, or maybe when you’re driving home, or when you get home, or if you have the opportunity, perhaps in your office or just at your desk, to just write down, who did you help today and just connect for just a moment, you will get the positive benefit of that.
It’s not going to negate the fact that you are working in a very toxic environment, where and not that your work colleagues are toxic, but having low resources, these are the things that they do absolutely cause you to not be happy at work. I’m not going to sugarcoat it because happiness at work is about being able to show up with all your emotions at work. It’s not about pretending you’re great every day. It’s about going, “I am having a really bad day. This is a terrible day terrible things happened. And not being okay.” Not being negative. And there’s only so much that you can do but again, there are small things that you are in charge of.
We were talking about leading with happiness. emotions are contagious, right? We know about mirror neurons and emotions are contagious. Negative emotions are the most contagious. And a leader’s emotions are the most contagious of all. So if you yourself are the leader or you have a team or you’re the head of a practice or even if you’re in a position of power, so I do a lot of work with customer experience. So even as a receptionist tech to patients, you’re in a position of power, because they’re slightly more vulnerable than you are. Your emotions are the most contagious. So we need to be thinking about how we show up. So if we don’t take care of our own happiness first, and find out what—check-in with yourself, how you feel, thinking about knowing your own kind of preferences are the things that make you happy.
One of my colleagues calls like the drivers of happiness, which is kind of the parts that make up results in relationships, you know, so thinking about what adds to your feeling of achieving results or success, what adds to your feeling of having a good relationship, and that’s different for everyone, right, we’re all different. And some people will have more of a preference towards purpose, towards results towards relationships, I don’t meet many people who have a total preference towards play, but some people might. So checking in with yourself and then making sure where you can, that you’re doing more of the things that make you happy.
And you might not even have to do more of them. But you just need to be intentionally connecting with them and having that moment to recognise them. And just, you know, it’s almost like a mini mindful moment, right? Just, “Oh, yes, I did this thing.” It can be as small as that. “Rachel, you just helped me?” “Yes, I did.” Think about it, connect to it. And then you can go to your next patient, but that will help you. And these are these tiny little things that we can do. To create that. Actually, you can make these two emails, maybe you need to do this, take five minutes. Go and speak to someone, especially as a leader, go and speak to the members of your team. Because again, that helps with productivity. So these relationships and all these things, it’s they have good business sense. So if you’re feeling—when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you think you have to work harder, we know that working more than about 40 hours a week actually leads to a decrease in productivity. So if what you’re feeling is like you really need to be working more and more and more. That’s just not true.
We know that actually even though it feels like the right thing to do. And I can relate, I know, we were not getting more done when we do that. So stop, five minutes, have a chat with one of your employees connect with them on a personal level. The Gallup study that just came out, said, I think somewhere about 85, or 87% of people are disengaged at work because they don’t believe that their workplace cares for them as a human being and that’s a pretty horrible thing to feel. But if nobody ever speaks to you, if it’s all work, work, work. And all you have to do is just ask them a question, connect on a personal level. And then tomorrow, do it with the next person and the next person. Just actually take that time.
Rachel: So I’m listening to these things there and thinking, is there some like hidden difficulty here? Because they all seem really simple, like, work out? What makes you happy do more of them? Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Just take a moment to savour that. Yeah, to just help that person there. At the end of the day, just write down the good stuff that’s happened, that’s a Tada list, you called it? Love it, just what have I achieved today? And then taking five minutes as a leader to check in with a member of your team and see them as a human being now? That, yeah, well, that’s pretty doable I’m thinking,
Sarah: I would agree, but we’re not doing it. We are, it’s kind of like exercising or losing weight, we all know that we should exercise more and eat less, right? So we all know the right things to do. The hard part is doing it. And because of the way our brains are hardwired, right? We do kind of reward ourselves or mentally we reward ourselves with like, “Oh, I’ve achieved this, oh, I’ve got an email. Oh, I’ve done this, right.” So we’re getting that dopamine hit for the wrong things essentially. That’s where we’ve got ourselves to, or we’re so stuck in that corner you talked about that we can’t see. When you just hit that panic, you think I have to do more, I have to do more. But actually, to do more, you have to do less. We are just—and the burnout race, like it’s like running into a brick wall and then going, “Oh, I just need to do that a few more times.” It’s not worth it.
Rachel: We’ll see if that will work out for you I suppose.
Sarah: And there’s lots of other things you can do but there’s- it’s so simple and sometimes I do like feeling like a bit of a fraud going, this is my business. And these are all things people instinctively know they should do. But it’s also things people instinctively are not doing because it takes time. And actually, time not money is our most precious resource.
Rachel: Oh, yeah, totally. Because there’s all the wellbeing stuff out there that if people could just have the time to access.
Sarah: And we’d all been, we’d all be doing yoga together, sipping smoothies.
Rachel: Absolutely. Just curious, as a leader, those are really nice, simple things. Is there anything else that you’d be advising people to be able to lead with happiness?
Sarah: Never, ever, ever have I ever heard of an employee having received too much positive feedback. So, and I’m not talking about fake, it has to be real, it has to be specific. Ideally, it’s in the moment, you’ve caught someone doing something that you want them to continue doing, you’ve noticed something. But positive feedback, again, clicks people’s brain and actually people who are in a positive mindset are so much better at problem-solving. I might get the, I might get the statistics wrong on this. I apologise if someone looks it up, and the numbers are wrong. But this blew my mind because I was sitting there going, if we know—we all know this, right?
This is I’m nothing I’m saying is, is like, “Oh my God, I’ve never heard that before.” But when I keep wondering, why is negative leadership still the kind of default? Why does this happen? And there is a study about kind of putting people in a positive or a negative or a neutral frame of mind, and then asking them to solve a problem and it’s like some tax and a candle. If you were just neutral, neutral frame of mind, you maybe solved the puzzle, say 10% of the time, like I said, I can’t remember the exact ones. But if you were primed negatively, so you were made to feel stressed, you did better than the people who were neutral. That was somewhere like, I want to say like 17%. It was not massively higher, but it was higher, right. So people who have negative, I guess, the leadership, or are scared or fight or flight in that makes sense,the way the brain works. But the people who were positively primed, it was something like 72% of them solved the problem.
Yes, you could, you could be in a negative mindset, but that positive. And it had, like I said, it needs to be real. You can’t just say nice things. It needs to be something I saw you. I see you as a human, I saw what you did, I recognised it. But that has a huge, huge impact on people’s happiness at work. And as a leader, that’s something that is pretty simple to do. Just again, just notice pay attention. Take a moment, write someone a note, say thank you, again, very simple stuff, but we do not do more of it.
Rachel: No, it’s interesting, as you were saying that I was thinking, the problem was I see with a lot of clinical leaders in healthcare is that you’ve been promoted to a leadership level, you have your team, but also you have your day job. And you’re doing the same day job as a lot of your team, which is seeing patients or delivering a particular service. And so you’re stressed and overwhelmed and overworked yourself and so being a leader is not at the forefront of your thinking. You’re not walking around thinking, I’m managing these teams, how should I be with them, whereas I’m thinking maybe some other organisations, there are people who are being the manager and the leader of a team that is sort of their main job.
But in healthcare it is often just sort of what you’re doing as well as the other stuff. And, and then it also you get the very flat departments where you have partners, for example, in a dental practice, or a general practice who are equal, so no one’s leading each of those partners, or I’m thinking about are consultants. And so what happens is you don’t get that intentionality of what am I doing as a leader today with my people, and you don’t think to yourself, wouldn’t it be good if I gave that positive feedback to my partner over there, because you don’t see yourself as a leader over them, but they don’t have a leader? Well, apart from the health secretary or whatever, Chief Executive, he’s not contacting them to say, ‘You were really kind of compassionate to that member of staff the other day.’
A lot of people don’t have leaders to actually give that feedback. So we need to do it for each other. We need to be thinking of doing that for each other. And then if you are leading a team in health care, the fact that you’re a leader probably needs to be a little bit further to the front of your preoccupation about what you’re doing so you can sit down because strikes me all these things that you’re talking about, they’re not difficult, but you have to be intentional about doing it.
Sarah: That’s it and until it becomes like a habit and if it’s not something that comes natural—and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, happiness at work, I believe very strongly as a practice, it’s like mindfulness, it’s like going to the gym. It’s not like—it’s not a thing that you achieve, it’s a practice. You just keep doing it and keep doing more of it. Keep doing things differently. And not everything works for everybody. But if you’re not good at that, or you know that you’re crazy busy. Schedule it in your diary, do the thing that helps you remember, whatever it is, and you can do things like what’s it called, where you’re stacking, like habit stacking. If there’s something that you already do regularly, attach the thing you want to do to a habit you’re already doing?
Sarah: Yes. Yeah. Anchoring. That’s right. Yes. Habit stacking? Yeah.
Rachel: Like habit stacking, you’ve come up with a new concept that,
Sarah: Doing things like that. And then, sharing good stories? Did you hear a good story? Did you? Did you witness someone doing something? Like, how do you share that there was a really lovely story of a really toxic workplace in Denmark, and this group of nurses all so healthcare professionals, this group of nurses started. And because they started together, they formed a really strong bond and they noticed this kind of really toxic workplace. And they changed it in such a simple way. So they bought a little elephant with a pin in it. And it became so there was a pin in it and a book. And so you give it to a colleague for doing something special. But it’s a visible thing and it gets written down in the book.
So Rachel, I saw you with Elizabeth and the way that you just took that extra moment with her and gave her a hug when you could see she really needed it. And you know, that was really beautiful. And then you write that in the book and you give it to you and you get to wear that for a week and what happens is everyone sees that. And so they got what did you do? Why—and so you get to tell the story. And you’re not bragging, you’re telling that, “Oh, Sarah gave that to me, because this.” So that starts to create a whole kind of culture of sharing the good of recognising and seeing, so you’re now for the next week, you’re primed to be like, “Oh, who am I going to give this to what did I see?” So you’re looking out for those things. And they and it completely changed, just as that one act, completely changed the culture of that nursing department. Because you’re again, intentionally making it something that people can see that they can do easily. It doesn’t take time, you know, or any more time than scribbling a note and just less than five minutes.
Rachel: I love that concept that is totally brilliant, I can see that working really well. And you mentioned these crib sheets, the leaders, what’s on your crib sheet? I’m just dying to know,
Sarah: Most of the things that I’ve shared with you. So we have like a check-in and that’s daily, that’s for you, right? So that’s how do I feel today. So it’s really again, as a leader, and it’s not about pretending or faking, toxic positivity is not a good thing. And as a leader, it’s really important for you to be more vulnerable than anyone else. I’m sure you’ve probably talked to vulnerability all over the place. But that’s creating psychological safety and allowing people to show up as themselves. So how do you feel today? And just notice it. You don’t have to do anything with it, but just notice it? And then what makes me happy and how can I do more of that. When you’re that stressed, it’s hard to understand what you can do to make yourself unstressed.
So in a moment that you have some time, make yourself a list. So that at the time that you need that, you don’t have to activate that executive function. You just have these are all the things I know that make me happy, so I don’t have to think about them. Because in that moment, I’ll tell you what, you will not think about it. But if you go, “Oh, doing five jumping jacks makes me feel happy. Okay, go I can go and I can do that. Standing up makes me feel happy, having a drink of water, getting a cup, whatever it is talking to Rachel makes me feel happy.” What makes you unhappy and think about can you fix it? There are lots of little niggly things that we can actually fix and can stop doing. And then kind of like what was your contribution to happiness today? Did you do something else like, again reflecting on your Tada list.
And then kind of gratitude, progress, anything you wanted to change? I call it take five so that five minutes with your employee every day. Praise and positive feedback. And then the one that for me that is the bit about play. If you have the ability, random acts of workplace kindness is a really good place to go, doing something special and surprising for other people. And then sharing that good story. How are you communicating that if you are a practice, lead or a practice, manager or a lead consultant, any of those things, thinking about how are you going to share the stories you’ve heard? How do people know what good is in your, in your workplace, right? And then just tick it off, you don’t have to be perfect.
You might not get it every day. But sometimes some people are amazing. My husband is one of those people who just goes, I need to start doing X every day. And then he could just do it. I have no idea how he does it. But this is how his mind works. I cannot do it. I need like 17 alarms and a reminder. And then even then, I don’t get it right most of the time. But any of those little things that you can do being intentional, checking in. And yeah, it’s a practice, it’s like mindfulness, you’re not going to be able to meditate for an hour the first time you do it. And then what’s working what’s not. Some of those ideas might not work in your workplace, the elephant might make people feel uncomfortable and be weird and cringy. Does that mean? Is it the elephant? Or is it the exercise? So don’t do that. When scrap that one, try something new like just experiment? It’s not, you don’t have to do a culture change program, you can just write an email.
Rachel: Because all of those make total sense. We’re nearly out of time. But I’ve got two questions. And then I’m gonna ask you for three tips. So first one is I have a relative who doesn’t like me talking about thriving at work and being happy at work? I think because they’re stuck in a job they don’t like. And whenever I talk about actually no, do something that plays to your strengths that you enjoy that you thrive in. The comeback I get is “Not everyone can do that. Rachel, what about people stuck in really low paid jobs and in much poorer countries who don’t have any choice about what they do? Isn’t it really, really self-indulgent?” I think you probably know what your answer would be. But what should I say to this person? Because it really bugs me, and I’m getting really defensive, and then completely incoherent.
Sarah: So I guess one thing I would say to that is I know people like that I, I obviously encountered them all the time during the job that I do. Anyone can be happy at work. And actually, in a lot of poor countries, what you see is people really happy in their job. It’s about how are you connecting it to that and like you said, play to your strengths and all these things. But I learned about happiness at work. And I didn’t realise that that’s what it was, my mom was a janitor in a hospital, my whole life growing up. And my mom loved her work and she was really happy to go to work every day. Because she knew she was connected to what she was doing. She knew how what she did mattered. And that feeling of success, right?
I would say like in a factory, you probably can, can quite easily like see your results more easily, perhaps than in some of us with no, you know, who are knowledge workers or, as you say, healthcare workers. If you’re treating sick people every day, and there’s always sick people, there always will be, you really have to think hard about obviously, you have made a difference. But it’s hard to see that when you’re constantly faced with it, but actually connecting, you know, who did my job help today? Or what did I do that made something better? Or what is the thing about your job, it can be so tiny and it is personal. And I guess I would just say, you know, anyone can be happy at work. And kind of leave it at that. Because it’s a choice, there is a point where it’s a choice, what are you focusing on?
And no, of course, if you’re in slavery, you’re not going to be happy at work. But that does not really work. And again, I think doctors and nurses and people who are in a work context where you have so much pressure on you, and you have no autonomy to be able to change the system. That definitely causes unhappiness at work, right. But there are things you can do to raise your own individual happiness and to choose to do. You can’t change those people. I tend to kind of let the cynics— I’ll have a conversation with them. But then after that, if they want to be miserable and unhappy, and, you know, stressed and less healthy and all those. Well, okay. Yeah. We don’t want that. And we really want to make changes.
Rachel: Yes. Like you, do you. I mean, there are lots of people in the world who don’t have a choice and who are in, you know, very, very difficult circumstances. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who do have a choice shouldn’t then try and actually, it’s like you said, if you are happy at work, you’re gonna be doing better in the world anyway, aren’t you? It’s gonna be good for the planet. So it’s good for everybody. So it’s, it’s not self indulgent.
Sarah: It’s better for everyone around you. So it’s yeah, it’s not selfish.
Rachel: Thank you. I’m glad we cleared at that point. Second point. Obviously meaningful relationships, really important and I’m just wondering if it works the other way around. If you can have everything there, you can have good work, meaningful work, getting results, you can have purpose you can play, but you’ve got a really bad relationship with your boss. Well, that just trumps everything in terms of happiness.
Sarah: Yeah, pretty much. Not always. So high social support is the kind of antidote to both like a high work or high workload, but also a really difficult situation. But yeah, 70% of people who leave their jobs leave them because of their boss. And so as a boss, again, we have this really huge responsibility that does come often when we’re overloaded. But, yeah, if you have a toxic boss, then you can try and work it out. A lot of the time, they don’t want to be. Most people I’m with Rutger Bregman on this one, most people are genuinely good. They might not know, they might think that people are motivated by negative, and they might be in that negative mindset.
You don’t know what stresses they’re going on or anything. I always like to get curious if at all possible, but I have had a toxic boss, and I quit. I was in a lucky scenario that I could. I appreciate not everyone can do that. But if you focus on results, relationships, purpose and play, you’ll be buffered. You will have a little bit more resilience, there’ll be a little bit closer to that thriving side of things, you’ll be in a better place than someone who didn’t have that. And you would still have the toxic boss.
Rachel: Yeah, I think that’s very helpful. And just remembering and I talked about the zone of power all the time, there are some things that you can control. There are some things that you can’t control. We can’t control other people. I mean, you can give feedback, you can make requests, you can express needs. At the end of the day, if they’re going to be like they are and things aren’t changing, then again, you have a choice about what you do and where you work. So that’s interesting right now, we really are out of time. So Sarah, okay, so three, three tips for anyone who’s thinking I’m not that happy at work. Now, what top three tips would you give them?
Sarah: I would say, first one for me would be relationships. So just go take five minutes with someone else. Two think about—just reflect on your week. Is there one tiny, tiny thing or maybe it’s a big thing that brought you a little bit of joy, a little bit of contentment, a little bit of any of those things? What was it? Try to identify not what you did, but what that feeling is because that’s a good feeling. And just again, it’s like gratitude, once you start practising it, you’ll see more of it, and you’ll be able to do more of it. And you’ll kind of get yourself out of that spiral. Three things you said, right? Catch someone doing something good and tell them.
Rachel: Wonderful. So that’s two things for you. And then one thing to make other people happy so I love that. Oh, gosh. So that’s just been really, really helpful, really helpful. And I’m sure lots of our listeners are thinking, those are easy things like that. They’re easy once you’ve made time for them and been intentional about it.
Sarah: Simple, not easy. So tell yourself that because, yeah, they are very simple. But the hard part is time and intention.
Rachel: Sarah that has just been fantastically helpful. Thank you so much. And there’s so much more to talk about. So it would be great if you could come back on on another time if that’s okay.
Sarah: I’d love to, I had such a good time. Thank you so much.
Rachel: Oh, you’re very welcome. Now, Sarah has very kindly agreed to share her crib sheet, her happiness at work or how to be happy at work crib sheet for leaders with us. There’ll be a link to her downloadable PDF in there just for us, just for listeners of You Are Not A Frog. Thank you so much. That’s very, very kind of you. So there’ll be a link to that in the show notes. And Sarah if people want to get in touch with you, get ahold of you, how could they find you or find out more about your work?
Sarah: Yep. I’m on LinkedIn, and kind of like the usual socials, but you can go to firstname.lastname@example.org or Happy Coffee Consulting, or you can just email me I’m email@example.com. And yeah, I’m always happy to talk happiness at work as you can hear.
Rachel: That’s so wonderful. Thank you so much, and have a good rest of the day. Have a happy evening.
Sarah: You too, and hope your listeners have get a little bit more happiness in their lives because they sure deserve it. Totally.
Rachel: Thank you. Bye, bye.
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