By Paula Haddock.
It’s International Happiness Day today and it just happens to coincide with my last day at INTRAC. A good opportunity therefore to reflect and think about what elements have led me to greatest happiness within the organisational context.
The UN General Assembly says that the pursuit of happiness and well-being are a fundamental human goal which needs to be pursued and promoted through a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth. Many wise people – from the Dalai Lama, to Martin Luther King- will tell us that happiness is all about balance. This sounds very much like my last six years at INTRAC; a constant challenge of striking a balance between financial sustainability for the organisation and a sense of contentment – we are doing the right things, with the right values, and to a good standard.
Happiness is an inherently personal pursuit; we get fired up, excited and motivated about different things, in different ways and at different times depending on our environment, our mood, our values. Yet it is possible to build a collective environment for happiness to flourish in the workplace. Here are my top elements that can lead to greater happiness:
Good management – By far the biggest impact on happiness for many people is management. Being managed well has to be one of the single biggest factors in learning, growing, and retaining staff. I have been fortunate enough to have a manager that has supported my development, coached me, encouraging me rather than directing me, listened when I just needed to vent. This cannot and should not be underestimated and is also key to the sustainability of any organisation.
Collaboration (even with competitors) – We live in a culture that encourages competition. Competition can be a good thing and lead us to greater creativity – but it can also easily set us against each other. Collaborating with other training providers towards common goals – beyond the usual concerns around competing for the same work – has strengthened my (our) collective knowledge and understanding and has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my role.
Enabling a space to learn from failure– We are generally not encouraged to talk about our failures for fear of not getting funding again, or not being seen as competent. But by only presenting a dichotomy of win or lose, we miss opportunities to grow and build intuition, courage, confidence. I have been fortunate enough to be in a space and environment that allowed me to do things wrong, learn – and then try again.
Keeping your values – So much of what we do in this sector is value driven and yet it sometimes seems that values are something written on a document never to be looked at again. But it is important to work in alignment with those values – which may mean saying no to clients where we don’t feel our values resonate, or a funding model that we don’t agree with. Believing in what your organisation does (and how it does it) is key to reinforce our feeling of integrity and belonging, and ultimately a feeling of happiness.
Being honest – We live in a fast paced, multi-faceted, complex culture of ‘action’, striving to do more. Reflection and learning are not at the heart of what we do. But having the honesty and courage to know our limits as individuals, as organisations; understanding our role and contribution (which may be positive and negative) to the overall system; will surely lead to a greater sense that we have done all we can.
Creating a culture of appreciation – There are numerous aspects of work or our relationships that too often go unappreciated. They may seem like small things but when we ask how someone is doing, check in, offer help, laugh, and celebrate – this reminds us that we are doing our best and that caring about each other is important. As part of an away day, our office did an appreciation exercise where we wrote things on coloured post it’s about what we appreciated about each person. Needless to say we started off reluctant, but we still have them stuck up on our desks to this day. We all bring different skills and talents to our work. We may not do everything well but diversity is often healthy and keeps the organisation dynamic. And it feels nice to be appreciated for what you bring!
Ultimately, happiness is a personal pursuit but it is rarely achieved without involving others. We are interdependent and can affect and be affected by the environment and those around us.
So what does happiness mean to me upon leaving INTRAC? Having had the opportunity to give everything I had to give and to have tried, with support from others, to make the best use of it in fulfilling our mission. And all in an environment that was filled with people who truly cared. I leave my job with a greater sense of what can be achieved by working with others, and what can be achieved by making a personal contribution to the collective.