JustGOODnews.BIZ, September 2015
Broadcasting Happiness at Work in News, in Life. Q&A with Author Michelle Gielan
Can work be a happy place? Can employers make changes in the workplace to foster positive thinking and happiness and still accomplish their goals? Can work be fun? Author and journalist Michelle Gielan said all of these things are possible, and she has the research to back it up.
Gielan talked with JustGOODnews.BIZ from Dallas about her path from a network anchor chair at CBS in New York, to her current role as a writer and researcher. She is the author of the bestselling book, “Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change”, and the founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research.
As a news reporter and news anchor, Gielan became disenchanted with the news cycle that focused on negative news — known informally as “if it bleeds, it leads.” After looking for the good news in the midst of an avalanche of negative news — especially after the downturn in the economy in 2008 — she proposed a special focus on CBS called “Happy Week” in 2009. Her editor gave her the green light, and Gielan focused on stories of a positive nature and those about hope in face of job losses and economic decline.
She then turned to academia to find how she could take the concept of happiness and positive thinking and apply it to the workplace to benefit companies and workers. Armed only with her journalistic curiosity, and her newly-minted master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, she set out to change the way people approach their jobs and their lives.
Her work has shown outstanding results at major corporations and in the lives of people across the country.
In addition to writing, speaking and consulting, she is executive producer of The Happiness Advantage, on PBS, and has been a featured professor in Oprah Winfrey’s Happiness course.
JGN: What led you to leave a high-profile job as a CBS news anchor and focus your work on fostering happiness?
MG: I got tired of telling negative news stories. More importantly, I wanted to know how to share negative news in a way that empowered people and helped move them in a positive direction. While researching positive psychology at UPenn, I had this epiphany that we’re all broadcasters. As parents, colleagues, managers and friends, we constantly broadcast information to other people. The messages we choose to broadcast can empower people to take positive action. By changing our personal broadcast to be more positive and solution focused, new research shows we can increase productivity by 31%, sales by 37%, and chances of promotion by 40%, as well as lower the negative effects of stress by 23%.
JGN: What is transformative journalism?
MG: The same way I am advocating for news organizations to change the way they cover news applies to us in our own lives. Change your story; change your power to spark positive change. Transformative journalism is an activating, empowering and solution focused approach to news coverage. It activates the belief that behavior matters, empowers people through calls to action, and focuses on solutions we can all take to overcome challenges. If we talk less about the problem and more about what can be done about it, the people around us quickly see how they can get involved in solving the issues facing our companies and communities.
JGN: What was your process in deciding to write a book, and then putting pen to paper?
MG: Writing a book is a huge challenge, but I decided to undertake it because I saw the convincing body of research showing us that true change comes when we cultivate an empowered mindset in our families, business teams and communities. As a broadcaster, I looked at this book as one long newscast and built it story by story. My book is filled with fascinating research and inspiring stories of regular people creating incredible change, and easy ways the rest of us can apply positive psychology research in our lives to be happier and more successful.
JGN: What are a few simple things that a company can do to increase happiness among its workers, but with an eye on the bottom line?
MG: Too often the narrative at work is “if you’re having fun, you’re not working hard enough. When you hit your goals, then we’ll all be happy.” We worked with Nationwide Brokerage Services which aimed to rewrite that line of thinking because the company’s president saw research does not support it. Studies show that if you invest in the well-being of your employees, success skyrockets. The same held true for Nationwide, which made small yet pervasive changes to company culture which in turn triggered an increase in gross revenues from about $350 million to more than a billion dollars in just a few years. The company president said “it was because we believe in happiness research, and we applied it to all aspects of our business.”
Business leaders can foster conversations that focus on recent wins, current resources, and how to best support colleagues through business challenges. Managers can use performance reviews to identify employee strengths and how those show up at work. Colleagues can praise one another more often and invest in social time to deepen bonds. It’s simple changes like those that produce measurable results.
JGN: What is your advice for a company that needs an injection of happiness?
MG: Start every communication with what I call the “Power Lead.” The power lead is a positive, meaningful start to any interaction you have with another person or group of people. Start conversations, meetings, emails, and phone calls with a piece of positive information. A manager who started meetings by praising one employee each day raised the entire team’s productivity by 31% in three weeks. If you’re calling up a client, tell them about positive product developments or something good from your own life to deepen the relationship. Those behavioral changes pay dividends.
JGN: How do you personally respond to negative situations to hopefully produce a positive outcome? A tangible way to shift from negative to positive communication.
MG: When you know the research, you very quickly know when you’re not following the research. Now I know that in order to fuel success, it’s more important to focus on potential solutions and less on the problems. When faced with a challenge I try to quickly and consciously move from being stressed about the problem to investigating the potential solution and understanding what is under my control. My brain sees there is a path forward, and I feel empowered because I know there is something I can do about it.