**This is my second post in a series on practices that you can use in your workplace to increase happiness. I encourage you to go to my first post, Increasing Happiness in the Workplace. In it I introduce Shawn Achor’s research on happiness and share the inspiration for this series. 

This second post shares with you how to deepen social connection through altruism. The next posts will share practical ideas for:

  • raising your level of optimism; and
  • reducing stress by seeing problems as challenges not threats. 

Deepen Social Connection through Altruism

Shawn Achor’s research found that social connection is one of the greatest predictors of happiness. This is particularly the case when you or your business is struggling.

Resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, focus and collaboration in times of change are fed by a deep connection to the purpose of your organisation, clarity about the values that drive decisions and define your culture and altruistic behaviour towards each other and the community of stakeholders.

If you have read John Mackey and Raj Sisodia’s book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, you will know the story of Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market very nearly went out of business due to a flood, but rose like a phoenix thanks to the love for the brand and a strong, altruistic social connection between its employees, suppliers, and customers.

Tough times in business are stressful, and in times of stress, it can be tempting to retreat and close down social connections. Achor’s research suggests we should do the opposite:

The people who survive stress the best are the ones who actually increase their social investments in the middle of stress.”

Like Whole Foods Market, businesses that have strong social purpose missions and respectful workplace cultures are the greatest beneficiaries of altruistic social connections. Why is this? Because they receive greater engagement, firmer loyalty and motivation, and more willing levels of collaboration.

This is true for whole businesses, and it’s also true for businesses that encourage and support individual staff to strengthen altruism and social connection with each other. Achor again in his interview with Eric:

“Work altruists were 10 times more likely to be engaged than the bottom quartile of that list and the top quartile was significantly happier and 40% more likely to receive a promotion over the next 2-year period.

Strengthening social engagement and positive culture are on the wish-list of many businesses. However, you can’t manufacture connection and engagement. Engagement resulting from unshakable social connections must be built with care, attention – and practise.

It’s worth the effort. Social connection and cohesion are essential ingredients for improving the likelihood for collaboration, critical to moving businesses forward through innovation and creativity. Without social connection, team members across an organisation are unlikely to really persist through the hard-yards of working with each other.

Without further ado, to help you on this journey, I have brought together 7 practices of altruism, some are from other practitioners, and some are from my work. They work to cultivate altruism, deepen social connection, and create happier workplaces.

The practice of gratitude: Send a “Thank You” Email Every Morning for 21 days

Achor suggests sending a 2-minute thank you email or text every day, thanking one person you know and thanking a different person each day for 21 days in a row. It is part of his 21 day challenge. In the beginning you may want to set a calendar reminder for the morning. Shawn did this with folks at Facebook, US Foods, and Microsoft.

Why does this simple act of gratitude increase happiness? Achor found that gratitude dramatically increases social connection or social cohesion. Of all the predictors of happiness in organisations, this is the strongest.

Project Happiness, with 768K followers on Facebook, also talks about the power of acknowledgement and gratitude. It is a two way exchange, where both the giver and receiver benefit. Your own level of happiness and gratitude increases as you strengthen the happiness of someone else.

Spend some time in your workplace coming up with practises of gratitude that mean something to you – and let me know how you get on!

The practice of solidarity: Giving mutual support

Another method of strengthening social bonds is by practising solidarity. Solidarity involves giving mutual support, creating a team spirit, and cooperating with one another with a singleness of purpose.

A client of mine shared with me a story from earlier in her career, about staying late at work to finish off a task. She was the only one on her floor when a senior executive walked past and stopped to ask what she was doing at work so late. To her surprise, the executive then pulled up a chair, sat down and said let’s get this done so we can both go home.

This is a simple act that sends a clear message: We are in this together, we are all for one and one for all and we have each other’s back. Staying late is unavoidable at times, and working long hours undermines happiness. But being supported for giving that extra to the business through an act of solidarity is rewarding in two ways: it recognises loyalty to the organisation, but also to one another.

Agile workplaces build solidarity into business practice, as daily objectives and resourcing are assessed and support is given as part of the process. 

Can you set up a buddy system in your virtual work environment to build solidarity? As buddies you can review and create daily work plans and give as needed support to one another, focusing on the purpose and tasks.

Take a moment to find a way of building solidarity into your workplace, and practice it for a week or two – and share your experiences here.

The practice of vulnerability: Ask for support when you need it

Sometimes it is difficult to accept help from people or indeed to ask for it. Many of us are fiercely independent and see receiving support as a form of weakness. But if we do ask and show our vulnerability, we create an opportunity for greater social connections with our colleagues. That contributes to our happiness, but also to theirs. 

A culture of trust and safety is needed for people to ask for support. It is also part of a learning culture necessary for improving performance in the business.

How can you create a culture of trust and safety so you can encourage team members to ask for help if they need it? How will you reward that culture? I’d love to hear your ideas.

The practice of kindness: Anonymous and random acts

A profound and simple way of increasing a sense of social connection at work is to be kind. When someone is kind to you – speaks kindly, does something unexpectedly generous like sharing half a sandwich if you forgot your lunch, makes you a coffee when you’re on deadline and exhausted, approves extended carers support to look after a sick parent – it draws you closer together.

Kindness fosters compassion and turns workplaces into safe and trusting environments, where people love to be and are engaged. Without trust, it is difficult to create a learning environment where you can be creative, innovate, make mistakes, learn from them and improve. Any organisation that needs to innovate needs to encourage kindness!

Explore ways of encouraging open, random and even anonymous acts of kindness so that they become part of your business practice.

My husband had a yummy breakfast pack delivered to the door yesterday by his company. At the team meeting, everyone was touched, happy and expressing gratitude. 

The Wake Up Project, founded by Jono Fisher, began as a ‘kindness revolution’. There are ideas on their website and you can read kindness stories here. There are even more ideas to explore through the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

What makes sense in your workplace and team? What ways can you practice kindness?

The practice of celebration: Acknowledging strengths of character in your team

Did you ever experience the practice of sharing Warm and Fuzzies at school camp? At our school camp, everyone was given an envelope on arrival. Fellow campers were asked to put messages of praise about you and your qualities in your envelope for you to read and enjoy.

You can do this in the workplace too. I use Virtues Cards from the Virtues Project in my culture programs for improving team cohesion. One of the cards is pictured here. Each has a virtue affirmation, six ways to practice the virtue it describes, and a description of that virtue based on the world’s wisdom traditions.

In your workplace, an activity you could do is pick virtues cards for each other, openly in acknowledgement or as an anonymous sharing of positive feedback.

You can also use the cards to reflect on what you need to develop as individuals and as a team in order to achieve your goals and create the workplace you want. It might be greater cooperation, fairness, respect, care, or determination, to name a few.

Seedbox acknowledges employees across the company on a Wall of Honour. Another company, acknowledges how their colleagues are practicing the values of their company on their Slack channel, with #values. 

The practice of generosity: Paying it forward through selfless giving

Altruistic people act purely out of a genuine care for the welfare of others. They are selfless and self-sacrificing. It might sound saintly, but Berkley University researchers have found that altruistic people are happier than the rest of us. One way to become more altruistic is to practise generosity. And:

If you want to develop generosity, you start by being generous.

This is where the idea of Pay It Forward comes in, as a practice that increases social cohesion through altruism.

Many of us have seen the movie Pay it Forward, which tells the story of a social studies teacher who asks his junior high school class to think of an idea to change the world for the better, then put it into action. The book that inspired the movie also inspired the Pay It Forward Foundation, and even an international Pay It Forward Day. The most recent Day was 30 April 2015, with a goal of inspiring 3 million acts of kindness.

There are so many opportunities to practice selfless generosity, and giving to someone who has not given to you. Channelling our energy daily towards the good fortunes of others and the planet exercises our generousity ‘muscle’. It makes others feel cared for, and it increases our happiness. And our chances of success.

What could a pay it forward day – or week – look like in your workplace, and how might it improve the lives of your clients, customers and staff? The Pay it Forward Day team have posted ideas for businesses PayItForwardIdeasforBusiness.

The practice of hospitality: Cooking and eating together

My final practice for this post is the practice of hospitality. 

We are social creatures and it is no different at work. Cooking, eating AND cleaning up together with colleagues is a no-brainer way of increasing social connection and happiness in the workplace.

I had the pleasure of hearing an inspiring presentation by Helen Souness, Managing Director of Australia and Asia for Etsy. It was during a B Corporation event at the recent Vivid Festival of Ideas, Rockstars of the New Economy. Etsy is a B Corporation and “the handmade goods, vintage and craft supply online marketplace”. (If you’re interested in B Corporation, “using business as a force for good”, check them out here.)

Helen was talking about how she and her team create positive social impact by cultivating a deeply connected community internally and with their sellers and buyers in the marketplace. One thing they do is cook and eat together as a team and with invited sellers, “communing and enjoying food together…having meaningful conversations”. 

If you have a kitchen, why not get together once a month or weekly during work hours to cook and eat together, and talk about areas meaningful to your business and how next week can be better than this week. Food is a tremendously useful medium for forming culture. A shared meal is a perfect setting to discuss how your team wants to create a deeper connection with your community of customers, or form more mutually profitable partnerships with your suppliers.

If you don’t have a kitchen, borrow someone else’s in the spirit of the sharing economy and collaborative consumption.

How can you increase social connection in your workplace?

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about increasing social connection and happiness in your workplace with altruism.

How can I help you?

If you would like to chat about how I can help you and your workplace create a culture that is purpose and values driven, please get in touch. 

Make a time to chat about our ONLINE program to Define Your Guiding Compass.