Change with a smile

Why must change in organizations be so hard?

No company can thrive and survive if it can’t adapt and innovate and yet there’s an almost universal cry going up today that “change is tough and takes too much time and energy!”

You’ll have upper management on one side pushing for innovation, employees on the other side clinging to the old ways and middle managers caught (where else?) in the middle trying to actually get stuff done. Sound familiar?

My work with organizations all over the world has shown me that there is one vital factor that is being overlooked practically everywhere. One factor that can not only help companies change more rapidly and effectively but which contributes massively to the bottom line. That factor is happiness at work.

Here are the top three reasons why happy companies change more effectively and painlessly.

1: Happy people get more ideas
In times of change, companies cannot rely on the old ways of doing business and thus need new ideas. Preferably lots of them. And a fascinating study by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School shows that creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety. In other words, happy employees generate more ideas.

2: Happy people buy into new ideas.
It’s not enough to generate lots of ideas, you also need people to believe enough in them to actually want to implement them. Many managers work from a belief that change comes from dissatisfaction, pain and unhappiness, but psychological research proves them wrong. It turns out that what a business needs is optimists. Optimistic employees believe that change projects will pay off and are thus much more likely to commit. Unhappy, pessimistic employees only see all the ways a project can fail and often only go along on the surface – offering compliance rather than commitment.

3: Happy people implement new ideas.
And finally, once you have the ideas and people buy into them, you need to have the motivation to actually do something about it. And once again research shows that happy, satisfied employees are much more motivated. In fact, while managers must constantly work help dissatisfied employees find their motivation, happy employees motivate themselves. If you like the company you work for, you want the company to succeed – if you hate your workplace, you don’t give a damn.

In short, happy companies change willingly and effectively, while their unhappy competitors cling to business as usual and throw up massive resistance to all things new and uncertain.

And it doesn’t stop there. Additional research shows that happy workplaces are more productive, have happier customers and (most importantly) make more money! Unhappy workplaces on the other hand waste huge sums on high absenteeism and employee turnover rates. One Danish company reduced their absenteeism from around 20% to less than 1% and their annual employee turnover from 25% to almost nothing – simply by becoming a happy workplace. It’s incredibly easy (but potentially depressing) to calculate how much money similar improvements could save your company every single month.

In fact, studies indicate that happiness at work is the most important success factor for businesses today. Don’t just take my word for it. Richard Branson of Virgin says that “More than anything, fun is the secret behind Virgin’s success” and Apple CEO Steve Jobs says that “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Many other hugely successful companies like Google, Disney Southwest Airlines and SAS Institute also focus relentlessly on employee happiness – because it helps them change and grow and make more money.

And the good news is that happiness at work ain’t rocket science. Any company, big or small, public or private, can do it, provided it is willing to engage both managers and employees in efforts to create a happy workplace, where people actually enjoy themselves and look forward to coming, rather than one where they show up reluctantly to do as little as they can get away with.

This piece was originally written for the South African management magazine Strictly Business.

15 thoughts on “Change with a smile”

  1. a consultant guy in my old place of work, came in to help initiate a lot of IT changes. One of the things he taught me was that , for people to buy into change and want to make it happen and work towards the change, they have to see the benefit to themselves. Since then, I have thought about this often and try to emphasise the benefits in my current team.
    It seems a bit simplistic, but it seems to ring true in my experience!

  2. As a kid in the fifties, I knew this – my dad jumped out of bed everyday just to get to work (he was a teacher – certainly wasn’t the pay!). When I entered the workforce, I was surprised at all of the unhappy people. We in HR, too many times, hire on qualifications, not whether the person is happy or not. Give me a happy, trainable person anytime over a skilled sourpuss!

  3. Great blog which has given me the opportunity to introduce you to the danish change management network, Hope I have convinced some of them to benefit from your thoughts, like I have for a long time.

    Best regards, S

  4. So true. I can never understand why it is that the majority of the places I’ve worked don’t take that into more consideration.

  5. There is nothing worse than having unhappy employees. Just the amount of resources dedicated to resolving conflicts within the organization should be obvious to anyone. Gen Y’ers, especially are not going to be in a company or position where they are unhappy.

  6. There is another pundit in your field (Happiness at work / Employee attitude and behaviour) Karl Schoemer who talks specifically about change and how employees react to change.

    I’ve attended his New Reality presentation, and the key thing I pulled out of it is that, like any unexpected change in your life, there is a natural course that your feelings will follow (Betrayal -> Identity Crisis -> Denial -> Search for Solutions). This can apply equally to changes in the workplace. Obviously there is a different scale for smaller changes compared to larger changes, such as a company restructuring.

    The best way to manage the change is to understand where your feelings are at, and move towards the search for solutions as soon as you can… (before the next change comes)

    This really ties in with your post in as far as happy employees are going to feel less betrayal/crisis/denial than an employee that was already unhappy before the change arrived. A happy employee will move quicker to the search for solutions and get a good foothold on the change, and perhaps even stay a few steps ahead of the pace of change.

    As an employee: if you can master being happy at work, then you can also master the change process so that change is that bit less painful.

    As a company: if you grow and nurture a happy work environment, then you will be more competitive as you will adapt to change faster.

  7. Absolutely! When your happy, Inspiration flows!!!!!!!!!!!! Ever notice so many ideas come when your in the shower! Cause your relaxed and happy with the hot water going all over you:)

  8. I think you’re too one sided, Kjerulf……

    Happy people do not make a complete team. You need the sceptics as well in order to make it work.

    I think a workplace full of only people like you would not be a very productive or inventive workplace. Sure, there’d be lots of ideas, but you wouldn’t know which of the ideas that would hold water. In order to separate the good ideas from the happy and wild ideas, you need the sceptic….

    I don’t think you appreciate this fact enough in your reasoning.

  9. Yeah, it is in the air, but most of us are not breathing that special kind of air. Why is that?
    Maybe the lack of motivation or simply becasue we are not living our passion, we haven’t unlock our potential yet, we haven’t train our talents to start living a fullfiling and a purposeful life.

    If you are living your passion there is a change that you will breath that special kind of air. Then you will have great, new and innovative ideas and a more profitable business.
    Happiness engender success and successful people are always happy!

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