Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Becoming a Happy Leader With Tia Graham
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 389 of Live Happy Now. Not everyone feels that work and happiness go hand in hand. But today’s guest believes that not only can you find happiness at work, but you must. I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week I’m sitting down with Tia Graham, a certified chief happiness officer, Founder of the company Arrive at Happy, and author of the new book, Be a Happy Leader.
Tia has multiple certifications in neuroscience, positive psychology, and leadership coaching, and she works with executives and teams to help create happier workplaces. Today, she’s here to teach us how we can find more happiness at work.
[00:00:45] PF: Tia, thank you so much for coming on Live Happy Now.
[00:00:48] TG: Thank you for having me.
[00:00:51] PF: Work has long been a challenge for people, and it’s so important because it’s something that we spend most of our time doing, and there’s a lot of unhappiness in the workplace. I wondered, in your studies, in your research, what made you decide to focus on leaders in the workplace?
[00:01:10] TG: Yes. So prior to starting my company, Arrive at Happy, I was a director of sales and marketing, a leader in the luxury hotel industry and different places in the United States and Europe. So I was a leader of teams for 14 years. Positive leadership was always very, very important to me. I took it as an honor, leading people.
In my 14 years of leadership in the hotel industry, I had some incredible inspirational happy leaders, and I also had the complete opposite. I had some toxic, very negative leaders. One of my big missions is to have more happy leaders in the world of work. Then when I started researching the levels of disengagement with leaders, that was another big motivation. Also, the science of happiness isn’t extremely well known within corporate America. So, yeah, lots of motivation to bring this into work.
[00:02:12] PF: What is the difference between unhappiness at the leadership level and unhappiness at the employee level? Have you seen any differentiation?
[00:02:21] TG: So it’s actually quite similar, and this is all of the Gallup research. There’s a little bit more disengagement at the employee level, but it’s pretty close. In terms of people who are actively disengaged in both groups, it’s around 13 to 15 percent, so really everyone’s interconnected.
[00:02:42] PF: Because you tend to think that leaders, at least from an employee standpoint, employees think, well, they should be happier. They’re making more money. They get to take some time off for golf. Whatever it is, it seems like leaders should have it a little bit easier when it comes to happiness. They’re in a little bit more comfortable position.
[00:03:00] TG: Yeah. There is some correlation, like how you reference being able to play golf. There is some correlation between how much money you make and how happy you are and having less stress and anxiety about money. Really, some leaders have more time affluence, right? They have more time for friends and family, for hobbies, etc. Also, though, with leadership comes more stress, more anxiety, more pressure. So there’s different challenges as well.
[00:03:31] PF: The leaders that you have worked with that you’ve seen, is that happiness kind of an innate thing, that they are naturally happy people, and they bring it to the workplace? Or is it something that they’ve had to work at?
[00:03:43] TG: So the research shows, and this aligns exactly with all of the companies that I’ve been working with over the past six years, is there’s a group of people who are more genetically predisposed to be happier, and life circumstances do play a part. But there are some leaders who actively make choices that increase their wellbeing and create sustainable wellbeing.
Then there are some leaders who do not, right? Who do not prioritize their own happiness and focus on whether it be their physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, mental health, psychological, investing in their relationships. As I said, little bit genetically predisposed. But then there are some people who truly make this a priority and focus on it and others who don’t.
[00:04:40] PF: What kind of outcomes do you see in the leaders, and what are the differences in the outcomes they see in their workplace?
[00:04:47] TG: So a leader who is happy at work is more productive. So they work faster and they work smarter. They are more creative and innovative, as their brain broadens and builds with more positive emotions. They have higher rates of employee, team member loyalty, less unwanted turnover. Motivation within the team is higher. Sales are higher. There’s a direct correlation between sales, and the customer service scores are higher as well. That all translates to the engagement scores, which most companies do engagement surveys once a year.
[00:05:27] PF: There’s actually a cost to the company of unhappiness and stress in the workplace.
[00:05:32] TG: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Whether it be the cost of recruiting, hiring, training, the cost of knowledge drain, when people leave, the cost of customer unhappiness or customers not being satisfied, and then putting that out on social media or choosing not to come back to that business as well. There’s this huge phenomenon happening called quiet quitting, where people are doing the bare minimum, right? You think about the cost of productivity there, which directly relates to engagement.
There is also the cost of potential revenue. The research shows that when sales or business development professionals are happy while they’re working, they’ll sell 37 to 45 percent more. So if you have a lot of your sales force that isn’t feeling that great, they’re not making as much money for the organization as well.
[00:06:36] PF: So interesting because I think if more people equated the financial outcomes with happiness, they might kind of change the approach. So how do people start changing that mindset? Because, obviously, this has to start at the top for you to change the organization. So how do they start changing that?
[00:06:57] TG: Yes. So the world of work is changing fast and for the better. I’m actually very optimistic about where it’s going and how it’s going to benefit humans globally. There are some organizations. Like Deloitte, for example, has achieved wellbeing officer at the very top, Jen Fisher. So leaders at the top, if you think about the CEO and the executive team, is first to understand about positive psychology, the science of happiness and the neuroscience behind happiness. Also understand and be motivated by the direct connection between happy employees and business outputs. To see the correlation, how it directly affects the bottom line, right, just what we were talking about earlier.
Then be committed to creating a positive work culture and focusing on supporting the whole being all different aspects of people’s lives. In addition to continuing to focus on productivity and output and driving results, focus equally as much on the relationships and how people feel, cultivating a sense of belonging, making sure that people have psychological safety, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and so on. Really investing in leadership training and development, as well as measurement to make sure that people are feeling happy, they’re feeling engaged, and that the executive team can see, can be proactive, if there’s an area of need, if there’s a leader that’s not creating this type of culture.
[00:08:41] PF: So what do people do in situations, where maybe you have an organization, and the top leader or the CEO, owner, whatever it is, is not happy, is not going to be happy, is not going to buy into this? How then does a team underneath that start making it happen? Because that’s something I have seen a lot of, where you have a leader who is a bully, really. It’s a situation where they want things done a certain way, and they don’t care about happiness. They don’t care about wellbeing. They just want it done. So how does the rest of the team then create an environment that can kind of override that?
[00:09:21] TG: Yes, such a great question. I was in that exact situation when I worked for five hotels in New York City, and the leader above me was just as you described, and then I had a team that worked for me that I truly wanted to create a bubble. So the first step is to know that even though everyone at the top might not be a happy positive leader, it doesn’t mean that you can’t create a positive culture within your team and to never underestimate the ripple effect that you have with your coworkers and with the people that you work with because emotions are contagious.
Mirror neurons in our brain have us feel the way that other people are feeling around us, whether it be virtual or in person. So just to remember that you truly can have a positive effect on people, and to look at strategies and tools for you to contribute to make the team happy, as well as make yourself happy. There’s a wonderful book by Dr. Annie McKee called How to Be Happy at Work. So for anyone listening, who’s not necessarily a leader but really wants to increase their happiness at work, there’s a lot of great actions in there, proven actions in there for how you can increase your wellbeing, even if maybe the CEO or executives aren’t that happy.
[00:10:49] PF: That’s great, and that’s great to know there’s a resource out there for that because that is becoming more and more important for people and especially with Gen Z entering the workforce. I think that’s really going to change the way that leaders have to create an environment because Gen Z places such an importance on mental health. You think that is going to help turn this tide too and help us realize like we really need to foster a culture of happiness and creativity?
[00:11:19] TG: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the levels of anxiety and chronic stress, overwhelm, burnout with different generations, even including teenagers, that it’s bringing to the forefront and need to focus on mental health. Of course, there’s been so much focus on physical health over the years, and yet mental health now is really, really coming into the foreground. Leaders and people need to go farther than maybe suggesting meditation or saying, “Okay, here’s a discount to a yoga class where you live,” or that sort of thing. But to really actually create safe spaces, where people can have vulnerable conversations.
I can’t help but think of the wonderful Brene Brown of talking about having hard conversations at work. Recently, I heard the CEO of Microsoft speak at this conference called The Future of Work, and he was talking about he shares with his team when he’s not doing well mentally. I’m like, “Okay, if the CEO of Microsoft can talk about this when he’s feeling extremely stressed or he’s feeling very anxious, everyone should be able to.”
So the old paradigm of it’s sort of like game face for work, do not show emotions, be strong, have your work face is not working for people right now, right? I don’t think that people need to be authentic. Of course, they’ll be professional, but to be authentic and to have vulnerable conversations about how people are really doing.
[00:12:58] PF: Yeah. That is a big shift to turn around, but it is slowly listing toward that side.
[00:13:04] TG: Yes. That will take time.
[00:13:06] PF: It will. What about people who are workers, but they’re working from home? So they have a different kind of struggle. How do they apply these things?
[00:13:20] TG: Yeah. So for people who are working at home, there’s benefits and, of course, there’s challenges, right? So a lot of people are loving that they have more time back, don’t necessarily have to commute. Maybe they can get a quick workout in at lunch. Maybe they can eat lunch outside, give their kid a kiss and a hug when they get home from school, etc. So first up I would say is savor and recognize and have gratitude for the blessings that are in your life with that working from home.
Also, recognize that the challenges include feeling more disconnected and some people even feeling isolated, so being intentional about creating human connection moments. So human connection is the number one driver of happiness, right? Spending time with people you care about who care about you. So whether that be video calls, walking meetings, sending little video chats, having that human connection piece is really, really important.
Another potential driver of unhappiness from working at home is sort of that work scope creep. It can creep into every part of your day. So having very clearly defined boundaries of when you’re work and when you’re not working and making sure that the habits that help us stay healthy like good sleep, good food, meditating, exercise, time for hobbies, time for learning, spending time with friends and family, loved ones, etc., that you honor those. I recommend scheduling them.
I joke of like I schedule everything. I schedule meditation. I schedule date nights with my husband. If not, it’s very easy to just keep working. So, yeah, and I would say at home, as much as you can also incorporate if you can get a standing desk, if you can have a little more movement and keep your body healthy at home, to do that as well. But really focus on the human connection piece.
[00:15:20] PF: Whether you’re working at home or in an office, how do you then reach out to someone who is working remotely or another coworker to help them have that same experience? How do you help them along in their happiness journey?
[00:15:33] TG: Yes. So I mean, one just resource that pops in my head is if you have someone on your team who or that you work with that you see is struggling or maybe could use some more happiness and wellbeing, I would highly recommend people take the free Yale Happiness Class by Dr. Laurie Santos. It’s a great resource of sort of this introduction to positive psychology or the science of happiness.
Another great resource is the book Happier by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, who I actually studied with for a year. He’s a fantastic teacher. I speak on this multiple times a month, and most people aren’t that familiar with the science of happiness, so really just starting to share those resources. A very simple question is when you’re connecting with people to say, “How are you doing really,” and truly being present for someone that you know is not doing so well, and they’re kind of like, “I’m fine,” is I would say open up and share maybe some challenges that you’re going through right now. By being vulnerable, they might feel safe to do the same. But I think just checking in with people is really, really important.
[00:16:47] PF: Yeah. It’s something we got away from during the pandemic, and it feels like a lot of people are having trouble going back to that, that check in. Would you say that’s what you’re seeing?
[00:17:00] TG: Yes, yes. I mean, during the height of the pandemic, when everyone was so isolated, right? It was like this constant, “Is everyone okay? Is everyone okay?” Even though life is more open now, there are a lot more experiences that we can do, there’s still a continuum of people feeling lonely and feeling isolated. So I would, yeah, say reach out as much as you can.
[00:17:28] PF: Obviously, technology has made all this possible, our ability to work remotely and connect remotely. But how does technology also negatively affect our happiness and our stress levels?
[00:17:41] TG: Yes. Thank you for bringing this up, such a great question. Yes. So the research shows that too much technology, and especially too much time on social media, increases human anxiety and increases levels of sadness and depression. So it’s about being very intentional and cognizant about how and when you’re using technology. So in my keynote talks, I talked about being very intentional about the content that you consume.
Obviously, this podcast is a fantastic piece of content. This is a great type of content for people to consume. But if you are watching and checking the news throughout the day on your smartphone, it’s going to make you less happy and more anxious. So maybe you have one or two times a day where you check. I tell people never watch the news on television because it makes you 31% more negative for the rest of the day. But stay informed. Read about the news. But it can consume you, and it can make you feel very negative and anxious.
Also, in terms of email, right? Having – Setting boundaries for yourself that – For example, my two young daughters go to sleep around 8:30 PM. I try to have connected time with my husband and not sit and do email from 8:30 to 10:00 at night. I really try and have that as focus on our relationship time. Again, it’s being very intentional and also noticing how you feel engaging with the different technology pieces. I tell people, if you get on Facebook and you’re full of anger, maybe you need to unfollow a lot of accounts. Or maybe you just need to not get to be on Facebook.
[00:19:39] PF: Go watch a cat video, right?
[00:19:40] TG: Exactly. So, yeah, I say nourish your brain the way you nourish your body.
[00:19:46] PF: It’s so important, especially the emails. I’m glad you brought that up because that gets overwhelming. Being able to put limits and boundaries on that in itself is just a huge thing to be able to do. As we let you go, where do people start? As they walk away from this, what is the one thing that they can do today to apply one of your principles in the workplace to start making it a happier place for them?
[00:20:11] TG: Yes. So one place to start is to increase the amount of specific appreciation that you give to others. People, adults are not acknowledged enough in life or in work. When you give specific appreciation for something that they did for you, a way that they took care of a customer, whatever it is, they are going to be filled with happiness, and you’re going to feel happier because you deliver that information, whether it be verbally or written, etc. I would say whatever team you’re a part of is increase that type of communication, where people are appreciating each other more, and everyone’s happiness will rise.
[00:21:07] PF: That’s terrific. Tia, your book gives us a lot to learn. I’m going to tell all our listeners how they can get it. We’ll have something on the website about it. But thank you so much for sitting down and talking with us today. You’re doing some really important work, and I’m glad you took 30 minutes out of your day to be able to spend this time with us.
[00:21:25] TG: Oh, thank you. You can’t see me right now, but I have a huge smile on my face. So thank you for having me.
[00:21:30] PF: Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:21:36] PF: That was Tia Graham, author of Be a Happy Leader. If you’d like to learn more about Tia, follow her on social media, access some her great tools online, or buy her book, visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
As we begin November and enter the season of giving, Live Happy has a whole new way to share your happiness with others. Brand new in Live Happy Store is our giving plate, which you can use to pay it forward to others. Just fill it with your favorite treats and share it with a neighbor, your kid’s teacher, a coworker, or anyone else in your life you’d like to show appreciation to. The poem on our Live Happy giving plate encourages them to spread joy by doing the same for someone else. You can find it right now in the Live Happy Store at store.livehappy.com.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.