Why boosting positivity ultimately equals productivity

If you’re a manager, you’re probably familiar with the established ways to increase skills and productivity in your team. Training, mentoring and company-sponsored tuition reimbursement are all traditional avenues to a higher-performing team, at least according to corporate wisdom. But despite your best intentions, the traditional route may not result in a corresponding increase in team productivity – at least not immediately.

Whether you decide to embrace those methods or not, there’s another effective way to help your team boost their productivity – and it doesn’t cost a cent. I’m talking about embracing positivity.

A recent study shows happy people are more productive

Not only do positive people influence the environment around them, which helps elevate happiness in the workplace, but they’re also more productive according to several studies.

A University of Warwick study found that companies who invest in employee satisfaction will see a more productive workforce; one professor said: “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%, they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”

The study showed that because happier staff use their time more effectively, workplaces that make a deliberate effort to be emotionally healthy will see business gains that range from employee retention to profitability.

Of course, it’s not as simple as snapping your fingers and telling your team to think positive. The natural team process – forming, storming, norming, performing – will snag different employees in different places. After coming together (forming), the team adjusts to each other’s personalities and work styles and negotiates responsibilities (storming). This is where cynical or unhappy team members can slide into negative thinking and assume the storming portion of the collaborative process will last forever – and that they’ll suffer as a result.

Those negative expectations can lead to a failure in building relationships, a stagnation in assignment completion, and ultimately a dismal impact on results. This can stop the natural segue to balance (norming) and finally working on collective goals together (performing). On the other hand, if the team begins the process with positive expectations, and set the standards for positive thinking and behaving, they’ll be more focused on achieving goals, working through conflicts and reaching the norming and performing stages.

So just how do you as a manager take your team to a positive place?

Establish a culture of optimism

Look in the mirror. One of the best ways to encourage a culture of positivity is to embrace an optimistic attitude yourself. Maybe it’s not in your nature; maybe you’ve got personal problems at home that have you a little preoccupied these days. Regardless, your performance as a manager will depend on how well you condition yourself to think positively and adopt an attitude of gratitude. Your staff will mirror your attitude toward the company and toward your specific department workload, so be sure to set the right example. When a pessimistic thought enters your mind, try to transition to a more positive mindset. Over time, it’ll become a more natural part of your character and your staff may be inspired to do the same.

Set healthy expectations. Even though you can’t mandate that your team be happy, you can help them by consistently focusing on the positive. For instance, start or end staff meetings with each team member sharing at least one “win” or new development for which they are thankful. Some managers even show a short film clip by a comedian, motivational speaker, or play music to kick off meetings. If the road to a certain outcome might get a little rough, prepare your team in advance so they don’t become discouraged by obstacles.

Be transparent. You can foster trust in your employees by being as transparent as possible about what’s going on in the organization. This includes giving your direct reports notice about upcoming large or high profile projects, being honest about any roadblocks and discussing any negative media reports or rumors. Also, being honest about your own vulnerability or saying you don’t know what the future holds can build a lot of trust with your team.Your team wants a leader they can turn to with their hopes and their fears – being open with them will help establish that rapport.

Appreciate your people. Lastly, remember to give positive feedback when it’s deserved. Call out good results and good deeds in a genuine way. Disingenuous compliments fall flat; your staff may question your motives and the purpose of the compliment is lost. Conversely, if you see that a team member is down, ask if there’s anything you can do to help. A caring manager who demonstrates concern for a staff member’s well being can make the difference between an employee who leaves the company and an employee who works through an issue and stays to become a top performer.

We’re Not in High School Anymore: Moving From the “In Crowd” to Inclusive

Inclusive

The workplace can feel exactly like high school. You have the class brain that has the right answer in every meeting. The bored employee who likes to sit in the back, play with their phone and hope they don’t get called on. The social butterflies who are on every committee, organizing baby showers and charity events.  And of course, you also have the jocks.

Ah yes, the jocks. Let’s think about their role in high school. Usually they’re the most visible of all the students, eclipsing even the valedictorian and the troublemakers. They attract a lot of attention from fellow students, teachers and even people around town who come to their games. As such, they usually have the confidence to express themselves openly and they tend to launch trends or set cultural norms, like how to dress, act, or even how to greet each other. (e.g. “Hey man, how’d it go last night?”) While some students resent the jock’s popularity, others admire and emulate their behavior.

And of course, many jocks – accidentally or on purpose — intimidate or exclude those who don’t conform. The outsiders who don’t comply with the code of popularity often feel marginalized or even bullied.

That about sums up the jock archetype, right? I think we can admit that we’ve all seen these dynamics play out in the workplace as well.

Here’s the thing, though. In some ways, those high school jocks are as invisible as the class wallflowers. No, really. The jock archetype is so defined and well known, the spotlight so intense, that all the other traits are often lost in the shadows. This doesn’t always become visible until after graduation. I realized this when I thought about the athletes I knew in school; one went on to be a famous animation designer, while another followed a spiritual calling and became a pastor. And another jock started a hair salon.

These classmates went off the prescribed jock trajectory  – and it makes me wonder if they too felt limited or silenced in high school by the one-dimensional stereotypes assigned to them. It’s quite possible they didn’t feel able to express their true interests. Which makes me wonder if the workplace is just as limiting. Would our “jock-like” colleagues (or any colleagues for that matter) appreciate the ability to expand and exhibit other qualities? Are we too quick to assign roles to our coworkers and exclude or interpret accordingly?

For instance, if we view our project manager as the humorless “class brain” who never stops working, we may exclude that person from team-building happy hours. Or if we think of the sales team as a bunch of gregarious socializers, we might dismiss a complex product idea that comes out of that corner. It’s all too easy to quickly label an employee’s strengths and cast them into an eternal role, instead of encouraging growth and allowing for multi-dimensional interests. Let’s take the case for gender in the workplace, women may not always fit into the male-dominated jock culture (even if they were jocks themselves) and that can foster misperception, create a culture that makes women feel excluded, and ultimately lead to a lack of diverse leadership within an organization.

And it doesn’t only apply to gender. When one strong culture prevails in a workplace, everyone may feel obligated to play the same role, instead of exhibiting his or her own unique gifts and contributions. This article by Jim Dougherty explores how one office came to be dominated by “jock culture” and performed poorly. It wasn’t because workplace jocks are inherently bad; it was because the one-note focus on a certain interest (in this case, sports) created a damaging insularity that drove outsiders to disengage or leave the company. Eventually, the team performance withered without diverse points of view.

Groupthink is the opposite of innovation. Don’t get me wrong, cliques spring up in every big workplace. But when a good portion of your team feels disregarded because they don’t fit in with the prevailing vibe – or when they feel they must stifle parts of themselves to be accepted — productivity suffers. That wonderful synergy that comes from professionals of different backgrounds and interests blending their efforts never gets the chance to happen.

Take a look at your workplace and the roles your colleagues are playing. Maybe some of them would like to expand those roles, make surprising contributions or explore new development areas. So often when we think about talent, we think about finding the right people – but all too often there’s an untapped goldmine waiting right in our own office.