My Leadership Fails: A Happy vs Healthy Workforce

Performance Curve Favicon“Vision without action is just a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world” Joel Barker

“What gets measured gets managed” Peter Drucker

By far the most exhausting and expensive mistake I have made in my career has been trying to make people happy at work in order to improve business performance. I have confused the concepts of a happy vs healthy workforce and in doing so lost many opportunities for business growth and innovation.

Happy Workforces: The Honeymoon Never Lasts…

As a psychologist, I know through the ground-breaking work of the Viennese Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, that genuine lasting happiness is elusive – the more we strive after it, the harder it is to achieve. That is, of course, because long-term happiness is a byproduct of being busy and engaged with things that are worthwhile and meaningful as opposed to experiencing some temporary mystic blissful state whilst either reacting to a novel change or sitting idle and disengaged (even in a luxury holiday resort!).

Happiness and the Hawthorne Effects

One of the most important things we know about the impact of happiness on productivity came from research in the 1920s and 1930s at the Hawthorne Electric Utility near Chicago, USA. A series of experiments on workplace productivity were conducted by introducing novel changes to the level of lighting in the environment. In each case of change (either higher or lower levels of light), there was a temporary positive change in employee behaviour and productivity BUT it was only short lived with productivity dropping again once people had got used to the change. This temporary change in workplace behaviour was described as the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ by Henry Landsberger in the 1950s and is akin to the ‘Honeymoon Effect’ in relationships where we feel extra affection for our partner as a result of a positive change (a wedding and relaxing holiday together) which wears off as we adjust to our new lives.

So what has all this got to do with confusing a happy vs healthy workforce?

Long-term happiness is a byproduct of being busy doing meaningful and worthwhile tasks. Yet, when people are unhappy at work, they usually complain about being ‘too busy’ and insist that more downtime is needed to relax and have fun. This complaining and demand for time to relax is a trap for both themselves and their managers who ‘give in’ and engage in some ‘happiness’ focused fun and relaxing activities. As a leader, have you ever felt disappointed about the results from these common workplace happiness strategies: Company Retreats & Team Building Sessions, Social Clubs, Dinners & Drinks?

Don’t get me wrong, these are great strategies to kick start change, on board new team members, debrief after major challenges and provide perks to compete with other companies hiring similar staff. However, none of these strategies will stand alone and deliver improved business performance. In each case the initial positive benefits of this will give you a ‘honeymoon’ or ‘Hawthorne’ effect, which will wear off quickly if the underlying workforce culture is unhealthy.

Healthy Workforces – Trading Happiness For Clarity

In the midst of my people pleasing crises at work a wise mentor once told me:

“Pete, your number one job as a leader is not to make people happy about their job but rather to make them clear about their job. If they are clear about their role, their key performance indicators (KPIs), the company mission and values, their team’s dynamics and level of flexibility available to balance work life needs, then they can responsibly choose to embrace their job and thus be happy or take steps to move into a different job and/or company”.

This was some life changing advice for me and transformed my approach to leadership. Since that fateful leadership crisis I have devoted much of my leadership energy to increasing clarity in the workplace (as distinct from increasing happiness) – be it clarity of mission and values; clarity of role, clarity of KPIs; clarity about individual differences and team dynamics; and clarity about available support for work/life needs.

Signs of a Healthy Workforce: Creating Sustainable High Performance

After many years studying workforce culture, morale and performance I have come to the conclusion that all sustainably high performing teams and workforces have two critical success factors: 1. High levels of Achievement AND 2. High levels of Engagement.

Where only one of these success factors are evident, team performance is not sustainable. In the case of only high Achievement – the failure to also maintain high engagement results in unhealthy competition, isolation, marginalisation, bullying, stress and unwanted turnover. In the case of only high Engagement – the enjoyment of a highly supportive and cohesive team is short lived when failure to achieve destroys the underlying organisation that enabled the team to exist in the first place.

Healthy Workforces – 4 Success KPIs

Within the two success factors of Achievement and Engagement that are found in healthy and high performing workforces there are 4 simple KPI measures to assess.

In the Achievement factor there are two KPIs:

KPI 1 – A Common Vision, Strategy & Clear Actions. A Healthy Workforce has common vision and is clear on the strategies and actions they need to perform. How do you know your team is aligned around vision and action? Are the vision, strategy, goals and accountable actions regularly discussed and endorsed by the team? Would we find success indicators such as a 1-5 year strategy map, 30,60,90 day action plans, quarterly vision & strategy meetings and team checkins in your organisation?

KPI 2 – Accountability & Performance Reporting Systems: A Healthy Workforce has clear roles, accountabilities and performance reporting systems that provide transparent real-time data to keep people focused and accountable. Does your team regularly measure and report their important performance metrics within the team and to key stakeholders? Would we find success indicators such as effective team meeting cycles to update & report on action plans team self governance system, and use of regular pulse metrics on organisational health & customer satisfaction in your organisation?

In the Engagement factor the remaining two factors can be seen;

KPI 3 – Leverage Diversity & Lead By Example: A healthy workforce values individual differences and diversity, always leads by example and never mirrors the bad behaviour of others. Is the diversity of personalities, roles, gender, culture and skills an advantage or curse? Does your team lead by example to set high standards or simply mirror the behaviour of others? Would we find success indicators such as regular team profiling & above and below the behaviour charts, team charters & peer mentoring systems in your organisation?

KPI 4 – Supporting Team Member’s Work/Life Goals: A healthy workforce is supportive of each team members individual work/life goals and needs and creates flexibility and support for long-term careers within the organisation. Does your team understand and support each other’s work/life goals? Are there regular time-limited opportunities to get to know the wider needs and interests of staff? would we find success indicators such as use of life line presentations, work/life strategy plans, peer support systems, work/life updates and communication starters/ ice breakers in every meeting?

Your Approach To Leading Teams – A Healthy or Happy Focus?

As leaders, we are focused on maximising business performance. However, many of us fall into the trap of confusing workforce happiness with workforce health and end up wasting time and resources in unproductive strategies which do not create any long term benefit for either staff wellbeing or business profitability. To avoid the happiness vs healthy trap remember the two factors of high performing workforces (both achievement and engagement) and the 4 KPI’s needed for success.

Self-assess your own approach to leadership and whether you are caught in the unhealthy trap of workforce happiness or measuring and promoting workforce health through the 4 Success KPI’s of High Performing Teams.

Ride The Waves of Life!

Dr Pete

The Stress Surfer

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