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Home / Commentary / A goal for all to aspire to: Living your happiest life at work

A goal for all to aspire to: Living your happiest life at work

“What would you do to live a happier life — if you could live all over again?”

Intriguing question, huh? And Warren Buffet’s answer in a recent Business Insider story is equally intriguing: “The way to do it is to play out the game and do something you enjoy all your life and be associated with people you like. I work only with people I like.”

Buffet illustrates his thinking with a provocative anecdote: “If I could make $100 million with a guy who causes my stomach to churn, I would say no because in a way that is very much like marrying for money — which is probably not a very good idea in any circumstances, but if you are already rich, it’s crazy.”

I can relate to Buffet’s response as a business owner and as a working woman, even though the 2019 article quotes something Buffet said in 1998. Because now more than ever, job satisfaction, innovation and business success are in large part based on relationships. Not just any workplace relationships, but genuine, compassionate, caring connections.

In fact, a Harvard Business Review study of workers in seven different industries shows that those who say they work in loving, caring environments report greater engagement, collaboration, commitment, accountability and performance than those who don’t. In the health care facility in the study, a loving, caring workplace was directly related to better patient outcomes.

I’ve been fortunate and am grateful to have spent my career working with people I genuinely enjoy. I can count on one hand the number of people I didn’t particularly like, and I consider that amazing good fortune. But of course, it’s more than luck. It’s through deliberate actions and intentional practices that we create workplaces where our team members care about each other and like working with each other. Here are some tips:

Normalize showing emotion

When we talk about being a Great Place to Work, we often focus on topics like values, respect, fairness and trust, which is great. And we should also talk about emotions, like emotional safety and emotional intelligence, for example.

Granted, at Dixon Schwabl, we work in an industry where we create emotional stories as part of our business, so it isn’t a big leap for us to be comfortable with open expression and sharing of emotions. But it might not be so easy or natural in other work environments. In that case, leaders can and should set the example.

Start by modeling and encouraging appropriate expression of emotions like excitement about a new project, pride in an outcome and celebration of a big win. Heartfelt shows of gratitude and thanks when someone goes the extra mile to help you out. Deep support, care and compassion for a team member going through a hard time. And yes, even frustration and disappointment when things don’t turn out the way we want, despite our best efforts.

We also need to pay attention to, recognize and accept when team members show sadness or grief about things that happen in their personal lives, rather than expect them to suppress their feelings all day long. I don’t think we do anyone a favor when we encourage people to always “put on a happy face.”

After all, we’re all human, and despite our best efforts, feelings from our personal lives can seep into our work days. So it’s critical that your team members feel safe sharing their feelings and can be trusted to protect each other’s emotions. This will allow them to bring their best selves to work, authentically, even during difficult times at home.

So make a practice and even a process for showing you care. It can be as simple as sending flowers and cards for birthdays and family milestones, or meals and visits when team members are experiencing challenges or losses at home. Small gestures go a long way.

Consider ‘The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace’

In the popular 1995 book “The 5 Love Languages,” Gary Chapman writes that each of us expresses and receives love in different ways, and to feel satisfied and loved, we need to receive love in the way that works for us.

Now, some of us might cringe a little at the notion of “love” in the workplace — and apparently Chapman cringed a little, too. Because after the success of his first book, he teamed up with Dr. Paul White to take his premise to the workplace with the 2012 release of “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” OK, that’s a little more comfortable right?

Appreciation means “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.” And that sure feels like an appropriate and essential part of workplace relationships, happiness and being a Great Place to Work. So at a high level, your leaders, supervisors and managers should try to learn, understand and accommodate the “appreciation language” that resonates most with each person who reports to them. Here then are the five languages of appreciation in the workplace and how we might express them:

Words of affirmation. That’s an easy language of appreciation and one most of us are pretty good at. Giving sincere thanks, verbal and written. Private and public shout-outs, compliments and kudos. Positive comments and encouragement. Even a quick email or text means a lot and a surprise Post-it Note on a desk goes a long way.

Acts of service. Along with all the challenging and rewarding work we do each day, there inevitably are aspects of our jobs that are less enjoyable. For team members whose appreciation language is “acts of service,” consider doing one of their more tedious tasks, whether it’s administrative, like sending out invoices, or physical, like cleaning out the coffee pots or replacing the printer toner.

Receiving gifts. This is another easy one, and it doesn’t need to cost a lot to hit the “receiving gifts” language of appreciation spot. To make it especially meaningful, it helps when you personalize gifts to what you know about the person you’re giving them to: show tickets for a theater lover, workout gear for a gym rat, specialty coffee for a java junkie, or even simply picking up their favorite pastry on the way into work.

Quality time. From axe-throwing and escape and “destruction rooms” to empanada making classes and wine tastings, we love spending quality time with our team members as a way of showing how much we value them. Individual time is also important, whether through regular workday one-on-ones and lunches or during off-hours bike rides, concerts and dog walks. The important thing is to individualize the “quality time” language of appreciation for each person’s preferences.

Physical touch. OK. We can cringe and shy away from this language of appreciation, with good reason. I leave it to your judgment and HR team’s discretion whether a hug is OK or if you should stick to nothing more than a handshake. Enough said!

Create a foundation for lifelong happiness

The point of showing emotion, compassion and appreciation is to build and reinforce your culture of caring. Which strengthens relationships. And circles back to where we started, laddering up to the idea that caring relationships are foundational to business success — and lifelong happiness.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

About Lauren Dixon