The Ball’s In Your Court: What The World Of Sport Can Teach Us About Happiness and Success At Work

A spot in the netball B team at secondary school was as far as my sporting ability has ever taken me. My PE teacher famously failed to manage to teach me how to serve in badminton (‘I don’t know how else I can help you?!’). In fact my lack of hand/eye co-ordination is a running joke in my family. However my lack of sporting prowess has not deterred me from being an avid spectator. If anything I am even more in awe of the ability of professional athletes because their skills are so far outside my own wheelhouse! 

Some of you may have seen my recent LinkedIn post about my attendance at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The Games were fantastic. A real showcase of sporting prowess. A real showcase of Birmingham and the West Midlands. And a real showcase of the uniting nature of sport. 

In the post I reflected on some of the values embodied by sport which, in my view, are also vital in a happy, successful workplace. I focused on three values in particular in my post: teamwork, trust and inclusion. However, these were just three from a long list of shared values. Here I want to delve a little deeper into the world of sport and what it has in common with workplace happiness.

During the Games the importance of mindset was beautifully demonstrated by track cycling royalty and five-time Olympic champion Dame Laura Kenny. Kenny only managed a 13th place finish in the points race at the Commonwealth Games. The following day she was due to compete in the 10km scratch race. Kenny described how, after a challenging few months, she felt she had lost her ‘spark’. On top of this she said she had had a ‘confidence crisis’ after seeing fellow cyclist Matt Walls hospitalised after a serious crash in the session before her race. However, rather than crumbling under the pressure Dame Laura managed to turn her mindset around and came out the following day fired up and ready to win – which she did, claiming gold for England. She recalled how she kept repeating ‘I can do this’ to herself in the mirror in the toilets. Of course being able to ‘have a word’ with yourself isn’t all it takes to shift to a winning mindset. But it does show that when we are in tune with what is going on in our brain, we can recognise the negative thought patterns and hit the ‘reset’ button. Which is exactly what Dame Laura did. 

For years now psychologists have been a key part of high performance sports teams, with Professor Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox, amongst the most well-known. Teams realise that as well as ensuring their athletes are in top shape physically they also need to make sure they are mentally strong, able to overcome challenges of injury and defeat to focus on performing and delivering under pressure.   

Professional sports teams see the link between mindset and performance, and have a dedicated resource within their setup to support their people in cultivating the right mindset to win. Even outside of elite level sport there seems to be more awareness around how mindset can influence performance, yet in the business world the connection it is much less overt. 

What if businesses really leaned in to the power of mindset? What if they dedicated as much time to helping people cultivate a positive mindset as they did skilling them up in more technical aspects of their role? 

Some businesses might say this is a luxury they can’t afford. My reply? Sit back for a moment and consider the cost of an unhappy workforce. Happy workforces are 21% more productive, have a 37% increase in sales, and 44% higher retention rates. And actually, who doesn’t want a company full of happy people?

Investing in workplace happiness and helping your people develop more positive mindsets doesn’t have to involve employing a full time psychologist. The first important step a company can take is to do as the professional sports teams do and acknowledge the importance of a positive mindset. Raise the profile of workplace happiness, make it a core value, a KPI. Create an awareness and a buzz around wellbeing in the workplace. Ask how happy people are, and keep asking so you can tell if things are moving in the right direction. Explore small things you can do that make a difference to the day-to-day lives of your people. Empower them to bring about change themselves. Take a leaf out of former British Cycling performance director Sir Dave Brailsford’s book and focus on marginal gains. Small, incremental steps that when aggregated have a huge effect. I can’t promise you a haul of gold medals but I can promise you will reap the rewards of investing in workplace happiness in a whole host of ways, and your people will thank you for it too.

If you want to know more about how to increase workplace happiness and foster a more positive workplace culture The Happy Business School can help. Send me a message to arrange a no-obligation chat about how we could work together to make your workplace a happier one.       

#happiness #culture #leadership

5 myths about happiness at work

Wrong. The absence of disease isn’t health and the absence of misery isn’t happiness. Just because we might do enough as leaders to not have our people crying at their desks doesn’t mean we are invested in their happiness. Just because an employees comes in every day, does a good job and leaves without complaining about anything doesn’t mean they are happy.

Wrong. It’s right that some some people are more naturally optimistic but, with practice, you can become happier. There is a wealth of science that shows, when we know how, we can train our brains to be more positive. Asking someone to write down three good things that have happened in the last 24 hours may appear glib but this is about training the brain to spot positive things. When we learn to look for things we see them more easily.

Wrong. In fact blind optimism is a bad thing. Who wants to be in a plane where the pilot never believes anything bad can happen so doesn’t bother doing all the safety checks (not me for sure!). Just like in the world of work we don’t want to fail to look out for the risks and dangers, we just don’t want to be overwhelmed by the fear of them.

Wrong. The science tells us that being happier at work makes us more productive, more resilient, more creative, more accurate, more analytical, less likely to take time off sick, leave or burnout. Who doesn’t want those benefits? Yes, what a great wellbeing initiative to be able to say we are interested and investing in your happiness but it goes much further than that. There are real business benefits to helping people increase their happiness.

This one is only a half myth. Yes, people need to be invested in working on their own happiness but as a leader it is for us to help them with that, to show them we value their happiness, to allow them time to work on it, to give them the tools they need to become happier at work. Importantly we need to help them understand why being happy at work is important. As a leader if you can show you are invested in your own happiness it will show your people they should invest in theirs too.

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