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How to Create Competitive Organizations with Happy Teams

Honored as the Canadian Business Innovator of the Year, corporate culture keynote speaker, Jennifer Moss and her groundbreaking work on the power of happiness are transforming hundreds of global companies and organizations. Moss is the Cofounder of Plasticity Labs, a tech company that provides organizations with the tools to tap into employee sentiment and increase workplace happiness. She speaks frequently to general audiences about how happiness in the workplace gives companies a clear competitive advantage.

Over a 15-year period, conscious capitalist companies had investment returns of 1646%, whereas the S&P 500 companies did 157% over the same time frame. This finding would make the ears of any CEO perk up.

SPEAKING.COM: What is conscious capitalism and why is it important?

MOSS: Some may be familiar with the term, Corporate Social Responsibility, popularized in the 1960’s, which is a set of initiatives a company can implement alongside their existing business practices. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) engages in “actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law.” (McWilliams and Siegel, 2001). CSR strategies encourage the company to make a positive impact on the environment and stakeholders including consumers, employees, investors, communities, and others.

Conscious Capitalism is simply an advancement of Corporate Social Responsibility in that it’s a more holistic way of thinking about the term. While Corporate Social Responsibility would be one aspect of your organization, possibly siloed in its efforts and thought of as a cost center, Conscious Capitalism is tied to all areas of your business, reflected in who you are and how you behave across your entire organization. It doesn’t mean that output isn’t measured – it just mandates a holistic way of defining success and not all those metrics are financial.

Raj Sisodia, bestselling author of Firms of Endearment, found that over a 15-year period, conscious capitalist companies had investment returns of 1646%, whereas the S&P 500 companies did 157% over the same time frame (Sisodia, 2003. This finding would make the ears of any CEO perk up.

SPEAKING.COM: What are the most prevalent reasons that employees are unhappy?

MOSS:
• Highly repetitive tasks or boredom from not being challenged in their role
• Lack of attachment to, or awareness of, the greater goals of the organization
• Loss of hope or trust in leadership
• Absence of flexibility regarding work hours, time off, support for personal interests
• Poor compensation

SPEAKING.COM: The word “happy” can evoke a wide range of images. Could you describe what a happy work culture looks like and address some misconceptions people might have about that?

MOSS: Happiness at work has a bad brand. We tend to picture it disingenuously and with mistrust – like we should all be hugging it out around an excel spreadsheet similar to those horrible workplace stock photos that turn up when you google “happiness at work”.

In reality though, it isn’t like that. Happiness in the workplace should be inclusive of a wide variety of emotions. To be innovative, we need to have challenging conversations. To maintain healthy relationships with peers, we need to be able to handle conflict versus avoid it. To grow our companies rapidly, we need to deal with compression workloads and high stress environments. Therefore, happiness at work should be focused on building resiliency, emotional control, mindfulness, optimism and hope. This is when we’ll see a high-functioning and happy workplace culture.

The happiest companies embrace the whole being, which means they understand that work and life intersect. Both the good and bad at home come in to play at work – and vice-versa.

SPEAKING.COM: What are companies with happier work forces doing differently?

MOSS: The happiest companies embrace the whole being, which means they understand that work and life intersect. Both the good and bad at home come in to play at work – and vice-versa. If work is stressful, it can negatively impact home life, taking a toll on employees who downstream will come back to harm productivity and engagement at work. The companies that get this are the ones who support work/life integration as opposed to work/life balance.

The best companies to work for create environments where kindness, high emotional intelligence and a positive shared language live at the center of their business decisions. Fly with Westjet, a Canadian airline, and you’ll see the VP of Operations working side-by-side with the flight crew, cleaning up and running the service. Why? Because Westjet has made every employee a part-owner in the company. When you fly with their company, you’re not on a Westjet’s plane; rather, you’re on the employees’ plane – and that matters.

SPEAKING.COM: How does Plasticity Labs use technology to boost workplace morale?

MOSS: Plasticity replaces the annual engagement survey by measuring employee well being more frequently (in most cases, daily) and using that aggregate information to shape a better understanding of what is going on.

We take the whole being into account. For example, the most recent election threw people for a loop, whatever their politics. Happiness levels dipped considerably. Some felt isolated for their voting decisions while others were in shock. This feedback allowed us to inform employers about the mood of the organization and to expect a dip in productivity. Moreover it identified the need to help people talk about their stress if they needed to.

In other cases, our technology may help us learn how people are handling their grief after an employee dies, how empathy can improve customer service, when gratitude exercises increase the number of new friendships and when resiliency interventions build trust and, as a result, increase innovative discussions/ideation. By looking in grey areas we can come up with better solutions to problems and even predict problems before they arise.

Plasticity then takes that learning one step further and provides emotional intelligence training within the platform. If someone is low in hope, the technology will help to build it. If people are having issues with trust, the training will help to increase it. Our brains have the capacity to develop emotional intelligence (EI), the same way we can increase our lung capacity by training every day to eventually run a marathon. Just by working out the areas of our brain that can increase our EI – we can become more psychologically fit. Once the employee increases their hope, efficacy, resiliency, optimism, gratitude, etc. then the collective responds. The downstream impact is a happier, healthier, higher-performing individual, then team, and finally, the overall organization.

SPEAKING.COM: What are the H.E.R.O. tools and what is their scientific basis?

MOSS: H.E.R.O. stands for Hope, Efficacy, Resilience, Optimism. They are four of the seven traits – with the other three represented by gratitude, mindfulness and empathy – emblematic of the happiest, highest-performing and mentally healthy people.

… make sure you focus for a minute on the good in life. Why? Gratitude is the gateway drug to happiness.

SPEAKING.COM: Could you give a few examples of exercises that people can do to build up their psychological fitness?

MOSS: Practice mindfulness. Stop and take deep breaths at your desk, counting four seconds as you inhale and four seconds as you exhale. Repeat that three times. Take a moment to reflect on your surroundings, describe something positively, then go back to whatever you were doing.

Get up, try to stretch and move more. Sitting is the new smoking and it’s extremely hazardous to our mental and physical health. Take your next meeting or your next phone call while walking instead of at your desk.

Find a minute of levity when you can. You can finally tell your boss that watching YouTube is good for your health. Find a funny 60-to-90-second long video and give yourself a laugh. The endorphins you get from bursts of laughter will help you to feel energized, more productive and happier at work.

Finally, practice gratitude daily. Write down three things you are grateful for before bed at night or to start your day. Or go around the table at dinner time and share what made you happy that day with your family.

Whichever exercise(s) you choose, just make sure you focus for a minute on the good in life. Why? Gratitude is the gateway drug to happiness. If you look at any research by Dr. Emmons out of Berkeley, he’s made incredible strides towards scientifically demonstrating that by focusing on simple acts of gratitude we can improve everything from our heart health to quality of sleep. Dr. Emmons has found that acting with gratitude boosts immune systems, makes people feel less lonely, and is even tied to higher rates of exercise per week.

If you are a leader who prefers a closed-door office, or won’t update technology for fear of “distraction” then expect Millennials to flee in droves. The more communication, there is, the better.

SPEAKING.COM: According to James Canton’s book, Future Smart, 90% of Millennials say they would rather work at a start-up than a corporate giant. What might a larger multi-national business have to do differently from a small 35-person company to “unlock happiness at work”?

MOSS: Millennials make up 70% of the knowledge-based economy and are the biggest workforce in history. Getting them engaged at work will be a massive issue for multinationals and something they are desperately trying to figure out. My advice: Millennials want the same things that make up great cultures – so listen to them instead of pretending they’re too young, inexperienced and selfish to heard.

First, millennials want to feel that they are contributing. This is a good thing. If we learn about what drives our employees’ purpose, then we can engage them better. Again – the whole being comes to work, not a bifurcated person who can separate work and life.

Second, ensure friendships are encouraged at work. Millennials want to work at a place where they would socialize with their peers outside of work. Friendships – even one person at work with whom you have a bond will keep you there 50% longer. Also – having close relationships throughout life can increase your lifespan by almost a decade, so make community building at work an important part of your culture strategy.

Thirdly, create open communication channels. If you are a leader who prefers a closed-door office, or won’t update technology for fear of “distraction” then expect Millennials to flee in droves. The more communication, there is, the better. If you are worried about tech distracting your employees, you may be right. However, if you don’t engage with it or allow your employees to engage, expect to be obsolete in the next two years.

Jim had contracted Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system).
The physicians managed our expectations by informing us that he would possibly never walk again.

SPEAKING.COM: You and your husband have an amazing story about how he was able to go from being basically paralyzed by an autoimmune disease to walking again within six weeks after practicing gratitude. Could you share a bit of that story with us and explain through a scientific lens the connection between your husband’s attitude and his physical recovery?

MOSS: When an offer to move to San Jose, California with Jim’s professional lacrosse team opened to us in 2003, we jumped at the chance to spend a few years in such a beautiful part of the US.

Eight years later we were still living in the Bay Area. Jim, a hall of fame athlete and winner of a Gold Medal in the World Cup of lacrosse, was in peak condition. He would train for the season by running up the Santa Cruz Mountains with a backpack full of rocks and then hike back down again. So, as you can imagine, it came as quite a surprise to hear that Jim was in the ER and had been diagnosed with West Nile and Swine Flu. What was even more worrisome was that due to his severely compromised immune system, Jim had contracted Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system).

The physicians managed our expectations by informing us that he would possibly never walk again. They followed up quickly with a slightly less than awful scenario for a pro athlete: “We are hopeful you’ll recover fully and be able to walk again, but we think it will take a year. You will most likely need some kind of assistance from either a wheelchair or a cane” – and the clincher – “you shouldn’t expect to play pro again.”

You may think that this is when my life tilted – and it most certainly was the start of something life changing. However, it took years before I fully understood and embraced the impact of the weeks that followed.

We’d learned through much of the literature, research and science that gratitude has a vast and complex set of benefits when we practice it. So, we did. Gratitude for the view from the hospital bed. Gratitude for the health insurance I was lucky enough to have in place. Gratitude for all the people rooting for us. And the list goes on.

My own personal development came in those moments like when I had to face the world especially my boss, who was obviously concerned, but still had expectations. It came from interacting with the stakeholders whom I had to serve at work and knew nothing about what I was going through. It came in my “on” moments when I had to wake up and play the role of mother, wife, friend, coach and of course, employee, peer, colleague, leader, follower.

Jim walked out of the hospital with a cane, only six weeks later – setting off a decade of research on the science of gratitude, post-traumatic growth, and positive affect. The experience changed our lives forever – and we didn’t change a thing.

SPEAKING.COM: Various studies have shown that Canadians are happier than Americans. As a Canadian who has lived and worked in the United States for several years, what differences do you see between the two cultures that would account for this difference?

MOSS: Yes. Canadians are far happier. There is a phenomenal amount of research on the GNH (Gross National Happiness) of countries. I recently spoke on a panel with Jan-Emmanuel de Neve, Oxford Professor, Economist and one of the scientists involved in measuring happiness and well-being across 68 countries in partnership with the UN. His work can be found in the World Happiness Report, which shares why some countries are happier than others. Canada fell to 7th on the list this year – last year they were 6th. The US tends to fall behind Mexico, hovering around 14th. Here are some of the reasons for those rankings:

In Chapter 7 of the report, Restoring American Happiness, the author, Jeffrey D. Sachs, uses happiness history over the past ten years to show how the Report’s emphasis on the social foundations of happiness plays out in the case of the United States. He states, that although income and healthy life expectancy increase people’s happiness, “…four social variables all deteriorated—the United States showed less social support, less sense of personal freedom, lower donations, and more perceived corruption of government and business.” Overall, the chapter concludes that falling American happiness is due primarily to social rather than to economic causes.

From a personal, anecdotal perspective, I felt something missing when I lived there that was connected to my core values. I committed to public service, but most people in my social circles did not. I’m referring to true volunteerism – not paying for a seat at a fundraiser.

Also, there were massive deltas between the people who had and those who didn’t. I wanted my children to understand and intersect with various socio-economic environments. This does occur in Canada – largely in part due to the expectation of how urban environments are designed. It is the law to include all types of housing within one geographic area. Gated communities are rare in Canada, as are private schools. The population is highly diverse and Canadians are comfortable in less homogenous environments.

There were many aspects of the US, however, particularly from living in San Jose, that I miss. I miss the pace of innovation, the brilliant thinkers, the risk-taking entrepreneurs and most of all, I miss the weather! Something must be said about the sweet, California sunshine. It was most certainly a contributor to my happiness. (Just ask me in February.)

To bring corporate culture speaker Jennifer Moss to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com

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Author

  • Jennifer Moss Jennifer Moss is the Cofounder of Plasticity Labs and author of Unlocking Happiness at Work. She is considered a a happiness expert and thought leader on the topic of emotional intelligence and organizational performance. Jennifer was most recently recognized with The International Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award and named a Canadian Innovator of the ... more


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