Social connection in the workplace can enhance individual and organizational health.
American workplaces are suffering from the effects of LSD—loneliness, stress and depression—and the best antidote is a culture of positivity.
That’s according to motivational speaker MJ Shaar, co-author of Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, who led a discussion on workplace culture Thursday at Health & Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.
The stats Shaar shared on the pervasiveness of LSD were anything but positive: About 40% of American workers report feelings of loneliness (including half of CEOs); 80% say they’re stressed, especially younger workers; and 10% report depression, with older adults being at an enhanced risk. And those are only the employees who self-report these feelings—meaning the stats are likely even more grim, Shaar said.
“LSD highjacks our brains in a way that makes us less likely to perform well at work,” she said, noting these conditions stymie productivity, company profitability and job growth.
“We lose so many work days in the U.S. each year because of LSD, it would be the same as if the whole workforce of South Carolina decided, ‘Nope, I’m not going to work this year,’ “ she noted, adding LSD accounts for $1 trillion in losses every year.
Shaar brought those numbers to life with an on-site experiment at HBLC. After sharing the dismal statistics about LSD, she projected a series of faces accompanied by mournful background music and asked audience members to count how many of those individuals they’d want to be friends with. Then, she posed a simple mathematical equation on the screen, a word scramble and a photo-matching challenge and asked participants to solve them as quickly as possible—with few in the room able to accomplish the task.
A few minutes later, she had audience members at each table create a simple drumbeat together, then projected the same faces with an upbeat song—followed by another three-part challenge. At the end of this activty, however, more than half the room was able to solve the problems—and reported a much higher percentage of the projected individuals with whom they would want to be friends.
“When we are in a positive mind frame, we are more accepting of others and we are more likely to see them as part of a group,” Shaar said. “Imagine if we did that on the organizational level: What would happen to our relationships, to LSD, to productivity?”
Workers who are positive are better liked, better ambassadors for the company and better organizational citizens, she said. They are also better decision-makers, more creative, perceived as more competent, sell more, are higher performers and less likely to burnout.
The more positivity that spreads across an organization then, Shaar said, colleagues feel safer to share ideas outside of the box—leading to innovation—the organization is more adaptable to change, and talent retention, service equality and employee engagement flourish. On an individual level, organizations with a positive culture, in which workers feel connected to one another, report a wealth of positive health benefits for employees—less inflammation, less risk for cancer and Alzheimer’s, regulated blood pressures and reduced risk for cardiovascular events.
So how can organizations inject more positivity into their cultures? Shaar offered five actionable steps:
- Positivity questions: Studies have shown that asking employees to write down three things they’re grateful for every day can be transformative, Shaar said. However, that exercise may feel forced after time, so she suggested expanding the activity to include other questions: When were you most engaged today? With whom did you connect today? What brought meaning to your day? By whom do you feel supported? These can also be added to job interviews and performance reviews to help candidates and employees connect to the culture, she noted. “When [positivity] becomes part of our lingo, people are going to start to pay attention and feel like they have the permission to be human at work,” Shaar said.
- Reality check: Managers can create a chart with positivity-inducing behaviors along a vertical column (such as “ask how they’re doing,” “smile/bond” and “show gratitude) and each of their reports along the horizontal axis. Each week, place a check in each column when you complete a particular behavior for each employee; the exercise can highlight where gaps may exist.
- Active-constructive responding: Invest five minutes at the beginning of each meeting to ask employees to share good news, and ensure team members respond constructively—not passively or destructively.
- Value affirmation: Periodically, give employees a list of values and ask them to highlight the ones they feel are most important. Then ask them to brainstorm actions they can take each day live out those values—treat people equally, offer gratitude, forgive more easily, for instance.
- Do I know you?: We don’t know our co-workers well, Shaar said. She suggested circulating charts that allow employees to learn personal information about their colleagues: names of kids and pets, dates of birthdays and anniversaries. When co-workers meet at the water cooler, she said, having that knowledge enables them to delve deeper than weather or traffic. “The quality of conversation starts to change as we start doing these things,” she said. “And people realize, ‘I don’t just have peers at work, I have friends at work.’ And that changes everything.”