The Future Of Empowering Communities

01 August 2018

What is happiness? A million people would give a million different answers to that question. While difficult to define, happiness is a universal feeling – one that plays a big role in individual and collective productivity and engagement. Research shows that there is a direct correlation between a healthy, productive workplace culture and an organization’s bottom line.

Harnessing the power of happiness is especially important for organizations with limited budgets and scarce resources, like many Canadian municipalities. The transformative power of positive thinking, the science of happiness and the value of resiliency in post-traumatic growth can help municipalities become more empathetic and proactive when engaging with their employees and their community.

Widespread happiness won’t be achieved overnight, but strategic planning and investment can help municipalities get there. While short-term solutions only add to the stress and anxiety of a community, long-term planning that considers the lasting impact of change on its citizens will set municipalities up for success. When a municipality engages with its community, encouraging happiness and togetherness, everyone benefits.

The Definition Of Happiness Is Constantly Changing

As the world evolves, so does the collective definition of happiness. Millennials, who were born within a different global context, now dominate many aspects of culture – including what it means to be happy. Millennials’ motivations and needs are different than those of past generations, as are the meaning and purpose behind their actions. They value comfort, work-life balance and easy access to everything.

By 2030 – the year millennials are expected to make up 75% of the workforce1 – this new definition of happiness will drastically change the workplace. Traditional ways of doing business will fall behind, as forward-thinking companies like Google and Amazon have already demonstrated. Implementing lifestyle options within a working environment – including nap rooms, prepared meals, exercise sessions, stress counselling and mindfulness training – will become the rule instead of the exception.

The Effects Of Unhappiness

Happiness is not defined by the absence of negative emotions, but negative emotions do affect health and productivity. Fear, for example, causes a 30% reduction in cognitive abilities.2 Given that the average person spends roughly 70% of their waking life at work, it would make sense for employers to invest time and resources to ensure their employees are happy and engaged.

Currently, however, this is not the case. According to Jennifer Moss, workplace happiness and post-traumatic growth expert, only 13% of the workforce is engaged – 50% of the working population is ‘just showing up,’ while 37% are actively disengaged.3 Organizations are likely losing productivity because their employees are not performing to their full potential. Municipalities, which often have limited budgets and resources, can be especially affected by such a trend.

To effectively manage the happiness level of their employees, municipalities can embrace what Moss calls the ‘HERO’ traits: hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism – along with empathy, gratitude and mindfulness. People are happier when surrounded by positivity; when good work is noticed, appreciated and encouraged, it is more likely to continue. According to Plasticity Labs, more than 80% of people who have adopted the HERO approach say they feel happier and more resilient to stress.4

The Impact Of PTSD On Municipalities Today And Tomorrow

Conversely, people who are unhappy will show less resilience. Stress – especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition triggered by a harrowing experience – can have devastating effects on an individual if left untreated.

“There is a massive ripple effect that takes place with first responders – especially when it comes to suicide or when they’re in states of extreme stress and depletion,” says Moss. “These are important jobs and the individuals in these roles should not live with the constant feeling that their lives are in jeopardy. From a cognitive neuro-sciences standpoint, our brains are unprepared and simply not comfortable seeing some of the tragedies these employees experience.”

Municipalities need to take preventative measures and create resiliency tools for first responders and other at-risk workers to provide them with the help they need to manage the effects of stress and PTSD. We have already seen this at the provincial level. In 2016, the Ontario government passed the First Responders Act, which assumes that any first responder diagnosed with PTSD developed the condition on the job, making it easier for them to access benefits. Previously, first responders in Ontario had to prove their PTSD was related to their work in order to claim benefits.5

Click here to continue reading Section 4 of the Post Summit Book.