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Leadership / Company Culture

5 Ways Leaders Can Make Their Teams Happier and Healthier Without Spending Much

Employees who enjoy coming to work are naturally much more invested in the wellbeing of the company than employees who don't.
5 Ways Leaders Can Make Their Teams Happier and Healthier Without Spending Much
Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images
- Guest Writer
Career and Life Coach
6 min read

A Note From The Editor

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As a company leader or manager, have you ever found yourself in one of these situations?

  • Your top employee blindsides you with a sudden resignation.
  • A key customer that represents most of your revenue is no longer interested.
  • A new company enters your market and is light years ahead.
  • Your next round of funding just fell through.
  • You have a sudden health issue.
  • Your to-do list is so long, you don’t know where to start.
  • You haven’t laughed in, well, you can’t remember how long.

Any of these scenarios (and many more) can make you feel stressed out, anxious or even depressed. Over time, the stress and strain can make you less productive, less effective and more reactive, which can lead to more stress on and off the job. And if you as a manager or leader are stressed out, that stress is likely to infect your whole team.

Related: Is Stress Crushing Your Career?

A study by Susan T. Charles, Jennifer R. Piazza, Jacqueline Mogle, Martin J. Sliwinski and David M. Almedia, published in the Journal of Psychological Science and entitled The Wear and Tear of Daily Stressors on Mental Health, examines daily levels of negative affect and reactivity to stressors. Their findings suggest that “the average levels of negative affect that people experience and how they respond in their daily lives have long-term implications for their mental health.” Other health psychologists have shown that long-term exposure to both frequent negative affect and the emotional consequences of stress may lead to decreased emotional wellbeing.

Venture capitalist Brad Feld puts it this way in the foreword of From Drift to Shift: How Change Can Bring True Meaning and Happiness to Your Work and Life.

“We go into turbo work mode to keep ourselves extra busy thinking we will find success. We follow the perfect plan someone else has laid out for us. But then it doesn’t work out. When that happens, we must make a shift to move forward. While we occasionally know what shift to make, more often it confronts us and smacks us in the forehead.”

The good news is there are many ways to help soften the impact of stress in your workplace. Here are some specific practices that will help both you and your team to be happier, more relaxed and productive.

1. Give praise.

A Maritz Institute white paper, The Human Science of Giving Recognition, explains that “successful firms understand that recognition is a powerful way to develop and retain their employees, enhance performance and build a vibrant, values-based culture. ...When status is reinforced or elevated, dopamine and serotonin levels go up, linked to feeling happier, and cortisol levels go down, a marker of lower stress.” When your employees feel that they are acknowledged for their contribution at the office, they will be relieved, feel more relaxed and confident. Confidence reduces stress. When we know that we matter, we tend to enjoy our work more and feel energized as opposed to stressed. We feel happier at work.

2. Communicate clear expectations. 

When your team is shown a clear path to advancement and aren’t left to guess, they settle into a more productive mindset. Clarity reduces stress and increases well-being at the office. According to The International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being study, Well-being in the workplace through interaction between individual characteristics and organizational context, “a clear definition and acceptance of the rules constitutes a fundamental basis of well-being in the workplace.” Furthermore, “wellbeing is to be clear about one's role in the organization.”

Related: 5 Ways to Reduce Work-Related Stress

3. Invest in a happiness work culture. 

A Harvard Business Review analysis of research related to a positive work culture, surmises “a positive workplace is more successful over time because it increases positive emotions and wellbeing. This, in turn, improves people’s relationships with each other and amplifies their abilities and their creativity.” A 2016 Gallup Poll Meta-Analysis Report concluded “employee engagement consistently affects key performance outcomes, regardless of the organization's industry or company.” When companies provide a positive, connective environment where employees want to work, employees are more apt to tow the company line, deliver the company message and fulfill tasks with enthusiasm and dedication. They will be happier and will appreciate you more. Ways to improve the cultural environment include:

  • Allowing your employees to bring their pet, child, grandma or game console to work on a designated day once a quarter.
  • Providing work stations based on employee need -- a standing desk, a balance board or a slow-moving treadmill. A leading San Francisco based law firm incorporates these ideas and more.
  • Paying for educational advancement. Companies like Apple have embraced this perk, and employees love it.

4. Inject fun at work. 

A study by BrightHR and psychologist Sir Cary Cooper reveals that young employees who have more fun at work take less sick days, work harder and are more productive. The "It Pays to Play" study, commissioned by BrightHR, revealed some 79 percent of school leavers and graduates alike believe fun at work is important, with 44 percent of this group believing it encourages harder work ethic. “Fun doesn’t have to cost a lot," said Paul Tooth of BrightHR. "It could simply be laughing with colleagues, celebrating office birthdays or enjoying work related tasks.”

Another article by April Everett, Benefits and Challenges of Fun in the Workplace, published in Library and Leadership Management, concludes "organic fun, or that which is descendent of a positive organizational culture, may serve as a welcomed release for undervalued and overworked employees.” When work is injected with a bit of fun and team spirit -- from the top down -- the stress meter falls and the happiness meter rises. You don’t have to have carnivals in the hallway, but something as simple as free snacks, a ping-pong table in the break room, or a posting board for anonymous suggestions that you implement, can do wonders.

Related: How This Army Lieutenant Colonel Turned Her Personal Battle With Stress Into a Business That Helps Others

5. Give them a break.

A Harvard Business School case study of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey showed that after Mackey took a five-month sabbatical to hike the Appalachian Trail, sales-per-square foot at Whole Foods rose by $690. He returned focused on creating a company manifesting love, joy, and happiness. Why not let your team come in late on Fridays during the summer or work from home one day every week or every other? Consider month-long sabbaticals upon promoting so that workers come back energized for their new title and responsibilities.

If stress is creating a dark cloud over you and your workplace, give some of these ideas a try. You may be surprised at the difference it can make in your outlook, and the happiness and productivity of your team.

New Challenges are the Perk Your Best Employees Want Most