by Kevin Brownsey | Feb 18, 2021


Apparently in the 21st century we are supposed to be happy at work. It certainly doesn’t harm us if we are, but is happiness based on celebrating the win, or an everyday state that organisations are supposed to help create for employees? Our happiness is a complex issue and for many, in the same way that no person is responsible for our happiness, nor is our employer.

This is, of course linked to culture…
In some business cultures being happy is seen as a critical everyday ingredient. In others, happiness is seen as a bonus, not critical but desirable and certainly not as important as delivering results. Would I prefer to be bored at work and earning lots of money or happy working for a company that is missing targets and not paying bonuses? Not an easy choice is it? But, of course it is an easy choice, and our cultural values will take us in one direction or another.

Is being happy at work a pre-condition of being successful
Is being successful at work a pre-condition of being happy

For some, happiness is an output of being successful; doing a good job, earning good money, boosting our CV or raising our status. If we are not successful then we are unlikely to be happy.

For others, the success of the company is less important than a good atmosphere at work and the pleasure derived from performing my tasks with colleagues. Deep down I don’t really care if we are 3% up this year or 3% down so long as I have a job and enjoy working with my colleagues and ‘friends’.

At redpill, we often work with clients that want to change their culture from complacent, risk-averse and relatively under-performing to dynamic, competent and results focused. The consequence of this is usually a culture where faster decision-making and increased empowerment is required, bringing with it pressure and accountability. It is highly likely that the culture change will be uncomfortable for some and they will resist and be visibly less happy. For others the objective focus on performance will result in the meritocracy they’ve always wanted, bringing rewards and promotion when success is delivered.

Understanding the culture required to deliver your strategy is critical, but don’t be surprised when some employees of your business are less happy when change comes. This is an inevitable consequence but it is certainly not a good reason to stop the change process.

So, how can we provide the safety to transition from one set of cultural norms to another without losing good people and without compromising on our requirements? The skill here is to create a safe environment for change where leaders show empathy, support and tolerance as people take a leap of faith with new behaviours. This doesn’t mean over-indulgence or acceptance of cynicism, but it does mean leaders being self-aware regarding their own impact; the pace they want to see change; the impatience they show and the early judgments they make. They must invest time in coaching others and being coached, not necessarily in an expensive external consultant way, but in an internal ‘trusted confidant’ way. Team up with someone who will call out your unhelpful behaviour and reinforce the good stuff. A colleague is much more likely to see this and address this in the moment than a ‘coach’.

Change culture for a purpose that can be explained (usually to deliver strategy), allow a transition period of experimentation and failure without consequence to allow people to take the safe leap of faith. Understand your own impact on others from those that know you best. But more than anything else make sure you understand the under-lying beliefs that make your culture what it is and what it needs to be. To change your culture, you have to change beliefs not just behaviours.

As leaders, it’s our job to do what is right for the business not to make sure everyone is happy…unless, of course, you believe that comes first.

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