Are you happy in your job?

An email popped into my inbox this morning that identified nine UK based companies where the employees say they are particularly happy. Glassdoor 9 companies with happy employees.

Having spent the last six months studying happiness and it association with career success as part of a Psychology Master’s Degree at the London School of Economics, I was fascinated to find out which companies distinguish themselves in this way and why.  The companies were all selected on the basis of good work/life balance scores. Staff use words like inclusive culture, supportive management, admirable values, and trust to explain their good reviews. “I’m trusted to work when and where suits me best, trusted to wear what I like and trusted to get the job done” said one current employee. The majority are in digital companies working on software development or Fintech, (apart from a notable exception, an award-winning firm providing carers for the elderly in Yorkshire) and tend to be private businesses, with under 200 employees. 

What does this tell us? 

In recent decades, interest in happiness has increased sharply and there now is wide acceptance in society of what happiness is and means to individuals. Contemporary happiness research is focused on both the outcomes and causes of happiness.  Happiness in the workplace has become a significant area of research because higher subjective well-being leads to increased productivity, job satisfaction, engagement, optimal performance and affective organisational commitment. 

How well you fit the job and how the job suits your needs matters. This notion of person-environment fit in organisations has been discussed and debated for many years. This is the idea that individuals want to find organisations that best make use of their skills and meet their specific needs; and organisations want to recruit those who will best meet the demands of the job, adapt to training and changes in job demands, as well as remaining loyal and committed to the organisation.  In my view this still premise still holds. You will be happiest in a job where your skills are well-utilised and you feel valued. 

It is, however, more complex than this. Your genes affect your well-being and a variety of environmental influences affect happiness, including relationships, community, personal freedom as well as work and income. Commuting behaviour for example, affects happiness and there’s some evidence that long commutes affect women more than men (possibly because women with children don’t want to waste time getting home). 

It is widely known that those who have friends and relationships are happier than those without, and interestingly religion (of any type) brings happiness, though it is possible that this is because of the social contact gained by being part of a like-minded group. 

I found in my research (replicating other similar findings) that happiness precedes career success, meaning that the happier you are to begin with, the more likely you are to be successful in your chosen career (having found the right job to suit your skills and needs).  So if you are unhappy at work and want to change jobs, look at the factors or influences on your well-being outside the workplace too.   

The Female Economic Growth Factor

Conference at Asia House 2 March 2017

I was asked to chair a session about women's participation in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  The issue is particularly pronounced in Asia where only three out of 18 countries have an equal or above proportion of females in the STEM workforce.  In Asia-Pacific there is a talent shortage of 45%, most of which is in STEM related occupations.                                              

Two speakers, both ambassadors for WINDS (Women's Initiative in Developing STEM Careers) - an initiative launched at the G7 in Japan last year - spoke to a packed audience about their experiences and recommendations for change. 

Professor Reiko Kuroda, Professor at Tokyo University of Science briefed the conference on the situation in Japan where encouraging women into the workforce is a fundamental part of the economic strategy of Prime Minister Abe to drive growth and overcome the challenges of an ageing and shrinking workforce.

Professor Averil MacDonald is Emeritus Professor of Science Engagement at the University of Reading.  She has published extensive research about the challenges of getting women into STEM careers in the UK, looking at the factors that influence career choice in young women, why STEM careers are rejected and the strategies that affect change, and those that don't.   It was a surprise to some of the audience that mothers and family attitude affects choice of careers such as engineering. 

The Q&A session after both speeches was lively.  Many spoke about their own experiences of working in Asia and others wanted to know more about the People Like Me initiative Professor MacDonald discussed, See  the ground-breaking resource for teachers, STEM ambassadors, careers advisors and others working with young people to show girls that people just like them are happy and successful working in science, technology or engineering.



Building confidence through changing limiting behaviours

A few months ago I attended the opening night of the Asia House Literature Festival in London featuring Great British Bake Off winner 2015 Nadiya Hussain in conversation with renowned journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. 

Fans of the BBC TV hit programme may have seen the emotional final scenes of the show when Nadiya’s win was announced. 

“I am never going to say I can’t do it”, she said, and then: “I am never going to say maybe. I am never going to say I don’t think I can.  I can and I will.”   

In the conversation session Nadiya elaborated further.  She told the audience how an acute lack of confidence had limited things she did and that entering the TV baking show was a first small step towards changing her life.  Nadiya explained circumstances that many mothers with young children experience – that her world had become very small in recent years and how she rarely went out anywhere unless accompanied by her family.  Managing the demands of young children can be limiting for some, especially for stay at home mums, and it can be hard to build confidence again. 

I have witnessed many women in their middle age with similar feelings of diminishing confidence. Children growing up and leaving home, lack of or a stagnant career, feeling that the passing of years is accelerating alongside the effects of ageing can all have a negative effect on women, their confidence and their well-being. 

The experience of working with and coaching women in business environments has shown me that making small changes in behaviour can help to build confidence.  Anyone, in business or not, can benefit from an understanding of how our behaviour impacts on others.  And it’s equally important to appreciate how our behaviour affects the perception of our abilities.  Women in particular can be affected by limiting behaviours – attitudes and actions of our own making that hold us back. 

If this is a situation that sounds familiar, try some strategies and tips to change limiting behaviours to help boost your confidence at work and in social situations:

Think about language.  How many times do you apologise or justify yourself before you say something or email someone.  How many times do you use “just” or “sorry” without needing to…

“I just wanted to ask you….”

“Can I just have moment of your time? “

“Sorry, but I need to make an appointment to …”

Get out of the habit of asking for permission in this way.  Say or write without justification for your demands or actions.   This is not about ignoring common courtesies - which are always important - it’s ensuring that you position yourself in a confident manner.  People will respect you more and you will get better results at every turn.

Delaying personal investment   At the risk of quoting a well-known cosmetics company, it’s worrying to see women delay investment in themselves, in their well-being, in their personal development.  I see women feeling guilty, anxious and even shame about spending time, money and energy into their own needs, even though we all know you really are “worth it”.  We are very good at putting others first, perhaps as a result of a mothering instinct.  Successful people, both men and women, spend time, effort and money on their own progress and growth because they know without a doubt that it will pay off – for themselves and for others around them, whether it’s for the benefit of a family or for the wider team in a work situation. 

Negative thinking  We all know women whose default position is “I am not good enough” or “I couldn’t do that”.  Women can underestimate their abilities and are often risk adverse which prevents them from applying for jobs, standing up for themselves and even interjecting in meetings.  You can build confidence by positive thinking, by improving your communication skills and by understanding what’s holding you back.  The first step in changing behaviour by understanding what’s going on around you and the impact you have on others. 

This blogpost first appeared on in July 2016

Can we learn communications skills from improv (improvised comedy)?

September 2016

Last month, attending shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was particularly in awe of the many improv (short for improvised) shows there.  This is a form of live theatre where there is no script - the plot, characters and dialogue - are all made up on the spot. Suggestions for these are taken from the audience. This takes a particular skill.  “How do you prepare or rehearse?” I quizzed some of the players after one performance.  It seems that there are exercises and games they play to get in the right mood, but what’s obvious is an over-riding sense of self-belief alongside the ability to deliver funny witticisms.   The players I met also said that they have a strong group dynamic – they rely on each other on stage to work together to ensure the show is funny and often extremely clever.

Can leaders or emerging leaders learn how to communicate more effectively from the rules of improv? 

We live in very visual times.  Not since the 1920s when motion pictures were first produced with sound, stimulating the massive growth of the movie industry, has the moving image been so important.  Social and digital media has allowed everyone to become a journalist through the use of smart phones, or become a movie maker, or a commentator.  It means that everything is recorded on film and the players – ordinary people, in business, in leadership positions - are under scrutiny like never before. 

This puts pressure on leaders, and emerging leaders, who need to be more than polished performers, they need engage with conviction otherwise they risk being exposed by the ever present camera.  Engaging audiences, different stakeholder groups - both internally and externally – takes skill and self-belief.  It sounds simple but if it was that easy CEOs would all be actors.

Communication matters.  I have seen a CEO’s performance improve with the right coaching such that her first shareholder meeting post-training delivered positive headlines and an increase in the share price of the organisation she was leading. 

Two key lessons we can learn from improv: the ability to listen and to collaborate. Good improv is fundamentally these two things – really hearing what your fellow performer has just said on stage, thinking about it immediately, and acting upon it with trust. Almost all witty comedy comes from considering and then reacting to something that was just said – this is impossible without first listening carefully. Collaboration is similarly central to these performers. The group are trying as a collective to deliver a funny and engaging experience. It’s a team game, much like business.

It is widely accepted that good communication skills are the cornerstone of leadership effectiveness. A good communicator has the ability to perform but also to listen.    Many high-performing executives get themselves into trouble in their organisations, invariably stemming from egotism and underdeveloped emotional intelligence.  Modern leadership requires competence as well as the ability to empower others through effective communication. 

Many people assume that improving communication skills refers to media training or learning specific presentation skills.  I believe that emerging leaders, especially women who can be held back by a lack of confidence, need to think much wider and consider the context as well as the content of communications.   Examining the required language, attitudes, behaviours as well as delivery of communications helps women to succeed in complex organisations and corporate environments. 

Developing an understanding of how to frame your message, articulate well, manage an audience, when to use humour and the importance of non-verbal communications helps to build confidence.  These all form part of a skill-set, building blocks if you like, which when combined results in better performances.  Women particularly benefit from this approach.

A great leader makes communication look easy.  Speeches can be written by others, content rehearsed and rehearsed, jokes inserted to provide a variety of pace, but in the end to really land the message, to inspire and engage with others leaders need to be authentic and passionate.  Learning core skills such as how to interject and understanding the effects of your communication on others will help all emerging leaders to reach promotional goals.

This blogpost first appeared on LinkedIn in June 2016


Cambridge Impronauts

Cambridge Impronauts