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12 steps to a happier workplace

A lot of things account for employees’ happiness

  • Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Getty Images
  • Farah Dahabi Image Credit: Supplied
  • Smita NairImage Credit: Supplied
  • Rahil KhanImage Credit: Supplied
  • Dr John MathewImage Credit: Gulf News Archives
  • Louise LambertImage Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Dubai: Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, was once quoted as saying: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Some organisations would go to any lengths to improve profits, but many studies confirm that a happier workforce means more business for the company. Additionally, it reduces the cost of healthcare.

The American Psychological Association estimates that more than 80 per cent of doctor visits are due to stress and 550 million work days are lost each year for the same reason. A Harvard Business Review study shows that companies with unhappy employees experience 16 per cent lower profitability and 65 per cent lower share price over time in comparison to companies with happier workers.

A lot of things account for employees’ happiness, including their work, relationship with their colleagues and the environment. It’s the small things that build up and make us unhappy and in order to be able to love our job, some changes around the office and etiquette can go a long way.

1. Hygiene

Telling a person they have bad breath or body odour is difficult to do. But, poor employee hygiene can affect the productivity of the entire workforce. A study conducted by Australia-based Initial Hygiene states that one in six office workers fall ill from poor office hygiene.

Dr John Mathew, an occupational psychologist based in Dubai, painted a scenario of being at an office with “cubicles full of sprawling papers, files, spilled food, stench and dust everywhere”. A company with 200 employees will have 200 different definitions of hygiene.

Mathew said: “Hygiene can have a personal impact as well as an impact on business. Trying to set standards, empathy for colleagues, awareness and impact is something the organisation should aim for.”

2. Dress code

Companies seem to disagree over how workplace attire affects productivity. Several studies have been conducted on the same, with one US-based study stating that “dress codes may or may not be necessary for professional performance”.

However, in Meena Shivnani’s opinion, bright colours can act as a ‘pick me up’. The reader, who works as a compliance officer in Dubai, is put off by formal attire, just because of the “dull colours” that people choose, which make an environment too serious. “A more casual attire has a positive impact as you feel lighter,” she said.

But, this doesn’t take away from the fact that appropriate clothing is a must.

3. Smiling or polite co-workers

Happiness is contagious. A study by UK-based Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit (CNRU) showed that our emotions can influence other people’s observed expressions. So, the phrase, ‘if you smile, the world will smile back with you’, holds more truth than you thought.

Louise Lambert, a psychologist based in Dubai, agrees that making eye contact, smiling and recognising people around the office are crucial to one’s happiness.

She said: “We sometimes look through pepole. You may be busy, but it takes a second to smile or say ‘hello’. This one second can contribute to daily perks in our mood.”

4. Nosey or overly inquisitive colleagues

Office workers lose an average of 86 minutes per day due to distractions associated with open-plan offices, as found after extensive research conducted by France-based research specialists Ipsos. When asked about such a format at work, Lambert concluded that it reduces productivity and encourages overly inquisitive colleagues.

She said: “When you are trying to work, someone is ordering something on the phone while someone else will be talking to their two-year-old. Such settings are noisy and you can’t concentrate. A common room for meetings is good, but you need quiet to be able to think and process information.”

5. Good food/beverages at work

The relationship between food and mood in individuals is complex, as stated by a study published by US-based Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. And so, it may seem like an unimportant feature, but it is essential for organisations to provide good food to their employees.

Putting it into perspective, Lambert said: “I got tired of eating the same salads every day and so decided to skip the meal and opt for chocolates instead. By 4pm, I’m hungry and cranky. People can’t eat the same thing every day at home, yet we do it at work.”

6. Leisurely activities

Break rooms are often an overlooked feature at the workplace, but a study done by US-based University of Illinois showed that taking regular breaks from mental tasks “improves productivity and creativity” and skipping such breaks leads to exhaustion and stress.

Rahil Khan, a human resources manager in Sharjah, believes that short breaks and social interactions allow people to release tension and also improves the work environment.

“With long working hours in a stressful environment, employees need to switch off for some time and feel the lighter side of life, which is necessary for survival,” he said.

7. Supportive colleagues

Businesses are only as good as their teams. If the team suffers, every aspect of the organisation can be impacted, states Farah Dahabi, a clinical social worker in Dubai.

“Working in a toxic environment has tremendous negative effects on productivity, concentration, staff retention and mental and physical well-being,” she said.

On the other hand, being in a supportive workplace lays the foundation for individuals to not just do well but to thrive “and when individuals thrive, businesses thrive”.

8. Having a mentor

Having a mentor improves an employee’s self-image and psychological well-being, as stated in a study by US National Library of Medicines. Dahabi explained that this result appears due to the fact that an employee is able to “quickly learn informal organisational norms and build leadership and interpersonal skills”, thus improving their levels of happiness.

9. Constructive feedback

In Dahabi’s opinion, mentoring alone isn’t enough. Constructive feedback is an essential part of a healthy workplace, “as it fosters healthy channels of communication, which promotes personal and professional growth”.

Rehan Khaled, an events manager in Dubai, is in favour of feedback that allows one to learn and grow in his or her field. In his opinion, it allows people to nurture their talents and gather more experience. “Feedback from people who have been in the field longer than you helps a lot. It is the way forward for a person,” he said.

10. Natural light in office spaces

It’s important to let the light shine in, says Dahabi, because “natural light in office spaces promotes workplace performance, vitality and healthy sleep patterns”. If there is a lack of enough natural light in any office space, Dahabi says it can “throw off our circadian rhythm, which is the built in biological clock that dictates our sleep-wake cycles”.

11. Comfortable chair

You might think, how much of a difference can a chair make? The US National Library of Medicine states that prolonged sitting has been associated with ‘musculoskeletal dysfunction’, which leads to back pain and discomfort. The total number of lost work days and the cost of each back injury are increasing, especially for those with a sedentary job. “Having an office chair with proper lumbar promotes back health and healthy digestion,” Dahabi said.

12. Flexible schedule/hours

Last, but not the least, flexible hours have said to be beneficial for both the employee and employer, as stated in a study published by US-based Harvard University.

Smita Nair, a human resources professional in Dubai, believes it to be “one of the most important factors” in keeping an employee happy. “Especially when it comes to working mothers, it is a blessing,” she said.

She went on to state that it ensures a work-life balance, “which employees tend to forget these days”.

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