Is A Happy Workplace A Healthy Workplace?

Research Continues to Develop in Favor of Happier Work Environments

Hanna Kim - March 11, 2019

The Relationship Between Happiness and Health

Have you noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, you feel more tired and seem to be more prone to getting sick? It is well researched that negative mental states like stress and anxiety take up a lot of energy, reduce immune function and even increase the risk for illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disorders.

According to Eric Rimm, associate professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), the majority of heart attacks (70 to 80%) are not random or genetic but occur due to lifestyle choices like diet, smoking, exercise. He asks, “why are people choosing to do these things? Does mood come into play?” If researchers can scientifically prove a link between positivity and health, what can be done to facilitate more happiness?

Public health professionals are still debating whether happiness is merely the absence of negative emotions and the self-destructive habits that often tie in as coping mechanisms, or if positivity could potentially add a protective effect on health. Research by Laura Kubzansky at the Society and Health Psychophysiology Lab at HSPH has shown positive mental health may indeed have physical health benefits. In her 2007 study, Kubzansky found factors such as optimism, a sense of enthusiasm for life, and a supportive network of family and peers provide a measurable level of reduction in the risk of heart disease.

Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh partnered with researchers at the Queensland Institute on a study on personality and happiness. Their research showed certain genes bring about personality traits like extraversion, emotional stability, and agreeableness that help predispose some people to happiness. However, the other half of the happiness equation is reliant on external factors including relationships, health, and career. While a hereditary predilection for happiness is not guaranteed for every one of us, we have control over how we spend our time to increase positivity in our lives.

The Importance of Interpersonal Relationships at Work

As researchers have found, one factor we have control over for increased happiness is the work we do. The average person spends a total of 13 years at work in the span of a lifetime. The amount of time we spend at work is second only to the average time spent we spend in bed sleeping, which adds up to about 26 years (and next in line is 11 years and 4 months of screen time outside of work). Because we spend so much of our waking hours at work, it’s important our jobs engage us and our workplace is somewhere we want to be.

While choosing the right career path is dependent on the individual, companies must do their part in spending time and resources into providing a more positive work environment for happy staff. Employers who want to foster an office culture in which their people want to stay and grow long term should find ways to help employees create meaningful relationships with their coworkers.

A study by Officevibe found that 70% of employees say the most important part of a happy work environment is to have friends at work. People with more friends at work are more likely to stay with their company longer, and this rings true especially for younger employees. The majority of employees (60%) surveyed said having more friends at the workplace would make them more likely to stay on staff. The age breakdown is significant for companies moving forward: 74% of Generation Z and 69% of Millennials place high importance on workplace friendships compared to 59% of Gen X and 40% of Baby Boomers.

In-Person Connections are the Key to a Happier Workplace

One way employers can help their staff build interpersonal relationships is by coordinating ways for them to connect in-person. Future Workplace and Virgin Pulse surveyed over 2,000 managers and employees from 10 different countries for their study on “Global Work Connectivity.” A key finding was today’s workers spend almost half the day communicating digitally via emails and text messages. This lack of social connection leads to employees reporting higher levels of loneliness.

There’s no denying digital communication helps companies work more efficiently, but consider the fact that our increasing reliance on technology means we lose out on human connection. The significance of socializing at work isn’t as easily measurable or immediately tangible as profitability or marketing costs, meaning it’s something that many of us may have previously been unaware of. It seems more important now than ever that steps to increase in-person connections at work add to the kind of workplace culture employees want to be a part of.

What are some ways management can help their staff bond? Regularly scheduled team-building activities and social events are the perfect opportunities for employees to get to know each other. They also help individuals feel a stronger sense of community at work, and people feel more fulfilled, encouraged by the fact they are cooperating with others towards something bigger than themselves. Workplace friendships help people feel more comfortable at work and improve people’s moods at work. It’s important for companies to help build these social bonds that affect such a large part of their staff’s lives and well-being.
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