Article by Sophina Rajah - Managing Director at 10Eighty
Training employees to be happy
The UAE government is funding a training programme for federal and local government managers that aims to create happy and positive work environments. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai has declared that all ministries need to be ministries of happiness when it comes to their policies, programmes, and services.
The programme has been designed by Ohood Bint Khalfan Al Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Happiness in conjunction with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, to train sixty Chief Happiness and Positivity Officers to understand the ‘science of happiness’ and implement it in the workplace. The Oxford Mindfulness Centre at Oxford University, will also train candidates in how to employ mindfulness principles to the workplace.
The programme, mixes cognitive and practical aspects to equip the participants with world-class knowledge and practical skills in the field of happiness, so they can implement practical strategies to promote happiness and positivity as a culture and an approach to government work.
This training programme is a global first and reflects the future-oriented thinking of the UAE Government, which believes that government workplaces will benefit from employing mindfulness principles to spread happiness and positivity.
It’s very encouraging to see this focus on positivity, wellbeing and mindfulness, which is backed by robust research from top scientific institutions and global organisations who undertake ground-breaking work in social and emotional wellbeing, helping people apply the research to their personal and professional lives to enhance employee motivation, engagement and wellbeing.
This is a significant step forward, going well beyond the purlieu of the engagement survey or staff intranet. There is no single formula for designing an engagement initiative but a programme such as this will help government workers to improve not just their happiness and positivity at work but will also help them build resilience to stress, optimism, self-compassion, empathy, gratitude and kindness.
Happiness Councils’ established by and within each ministry and government department will use their training to promote wellbeing which helps to generate a virtuous circle, whereby increases in wellbeing promote altruism that, in turn, increases wellbeing. The opportunity is that of creating ‘sustainable happiness’ with broader benefits for the workplace and society as a whole.
The Greater Good Science Center has been at the forefront of a scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behaviour - the science of a meaningful life. The research is clear in showing that such skills that can be taught and developed over time, and they create lasting improvements for individuals, families, and communities. Over time, they evolve into habits, and from habits become a new way of experiencing the world.
With training we can change the neural pathways of the brain and use positive psychology to develop a set of skills to improve wellbeing. Improving the motivation and positivity of employees has a real impact on effectiveness and productivity. This engagement is a concept of emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals. In 1990, William Kahn defined the concept of work engagement as “the harnessing of organisational members’ selves to their work roles”.
Effective employee engagement
Engaged employees are proud of their role with their organisation; this is facilitated because they have a line-of-sight to career success as well as the organisation’s values, mission and goals. They are energised and committed to using their talent, strengths and discretionary effort to make a difference to sustainable organisational success. A spirit of teamwork and cooperation makes employees feel pride in working for their employer; recognition and praise incentivise their effective contribution and effective engagement.
Improving employee engagement is a challenge for many organisations who recognise it as critical to their performance and reputation. A fundamental argument is that this can only be achieved and sustained when employee wellbeing, particularly psychological wellbeing, is positive. Engagement represents a harnessing of physical, emotional, and cognitive energies that individuals bring to their work role, (2012).
Good leadership build trust and credibility which ensure staff have opportunities to share organisational goals, to contribute to performance and to tackle challenges in a way that offers employees ‘voice’ so they can communicate and interact with management to share knowledge, creativity and innovation. This programme aimed at training government leaders will enable them to provide the appropriate direction essential for effective performance improvement; only skilled leaders inspire employees to achieve growth and solid performance.
The promotion of wellbeing
Based on the ground-breaking science of positive psychology, the GGSC research suggests that happiness is inextricably linked to maintaining strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself - the greater good. The governments Happiness and Positivity Officers will learn about this cross-disciplinary research spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.
Wellbeing in the workplace is best be achieved by providing information, tools, and skills to those who are directly responsible for shaping the wellbeing of others. In creating environments that foster cooperation and altruism, such programmes help nurture the positive side of human nature.
This scientifically based initiative will do more than help the trainees understand human behaviour and emotion in the abstract; it will help them in improving the personal and professional lives of government employees. Positive staff engagement delivers benefits for the organisation, the staff, those they serve and the community and it delivers improved organisational performance and productivity.