SAP.info: Mr. Haas, you are a professor at the University of Applied Management, CEO of the Dreamteam Academy and author of the book “Corporate Happiness als Führungssystem” (Corporate Management as a Management System). Your main focus thereby is a person’s happiness. Isn’t it our society’s egocentric quest to constantly want to be happier?
Oliver Haas: As long as it’s not at the expense of others, not at all. After all, being happy is a win-win situation for ourselves and our environment. When people are happy, they also bring happiness to other people. And in a corporate setting, happy people are happy to perform more.
SAP.info: So when is a person truly happy?
Haas: During moments of happiness, we are at one with ourselves and our surroundings; we are fully balanced and content. It is the ability to focus on the moment, what we feel when we read an inspiring book, when things at work simply seem to flow with ease, or the “runner’s high” of an exhausted athlete.
SAP.info: We are living in prosperous times. Isn’t that reason enough to be completely happy?
Haas: That would be the obvious assumption. “Reality,” however, paints a frighteningly different picture: Today’s depression rates are ten times higher than they were in the 1960s. Surveys have revealed that many people do not like going to work, they suffer burnouts much more frequently, and, at an increasing rate, they feel lost and unable to cope.
Continue reading: Positive psychology triggers a wave of enthusiasm
SAP.info: Is that the reason behind the incredible success of the “Happiness Market” with all of its self-help books and motivational trainers?
Haas: Yes, it is. This flourishing industry certainly confirms the importance of the issue. At the Dreamteam Academy with our “Corporate Happiness” approach we disassociate ourselves from happiness tactics that promise more than they can keep.
When talking about happiness, we are particularly interested in the scientific approach through positive psychology and brain research. A lot has happened here research – particularly in the US – has made some astonishing developments in the past years. However, only very few people and companies are even aware of these research results.
SAP.info: How did you become aware of this issue?
Haas: I have dedicated a great portion of my time over the past six years to Mind Management and to addressing the question as to where human potentials lie. In this vein, I have attended several courses in the US, such as “Positive Leadership” at Harvard University and “Positive Psychology” at Pennsylvania University.
Prominent psychologists such as the Harvard lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar or Martin Seligman, President of the American Psychological Association (APA), have specialized in scientifically analyzing and describing the factors that determine happiness.
Positive psychology – combined with the latest findings in brain research and quantum physics – has triggered a true wave of enthusiasm throughout the United States.
Continue reading: What does Corporate Happiness mean?
SAP.info: A wave that you want to ride across the Atlantic all the way to Germany?
Haas: This is exactly what I want to do. After all, our German researchers are years behind their American contemporaries when it comes to happiness research, which is why the Dreamteam Academy wants to promote positive psychology in Germany.
However, our approach takes this a step further and transfers the subject matter to the business world – with Corporate Happiness. Our consistent focus on the happiness of the stakeholders is an entirely new concept for many businesses.
SAP.info: So what is the happiness principle that you describe in your book “Corporate Happiness as a Management System” actually about?
Haas: Corporate Happiness offers decision makers a holistic management system. A corporate culture characterized by happiness has positive effects on everyone involved – from managers and employees to customers and suppliers. Corporate Happiness ultimately results in the increase of corporate value.
Companies with a poor working atmosphere are also characterized by a high degree of employee fluctuation. This is expensive, as the best ones are the first to go. Headhunters have to go about acquiring new staff, which is then selected on the basis of time-consuming interviews. It also takes about six months to completely train new employees.
The contentment of employees is extremely important especially in the service sector industry. Here, employees directly and immediately pass on their emotions to the customer. Analyses in the hotel industry have shown that guests do not necessarily place a great deal of value on a perfect accommodation.
Rather, they seem to feel that friendly service is a factor that makes their stay a particularly pleasant one. In addition, the customers’ minds more strongly recalls the last encountered emotion associated with the stay, which is therefore overrepresented. Therefore, hotel managers should pay special attention to the significance of the check-out process.
Unhappy employees are more frequently ill and their performance is down by up to thirty percent – day in and day out. A survey conducted by the Gallup Institute in 2009 revealed the following for German companies: On average, 66 percent of all staff “work by the book” and another 23 percent have already resigned internally.
For a 100-employee strong business, this figure amounts to monthly invested personnel costs of some 80,000 euros without any counter value!
Continue reading: What do e-mails and marihuana have in common?
SAP.info: Performance-based pay, yoga classes during lunch break – many companies try to cater to the needs of their employees.
Haas: Offering measures such as shirt ironing services, gym memberships and team-building exercises on high-rope courses, companies merely polish the surface of their staff’s dissatisfaction. The anticipated return on investment usually fails to set in.
Such activities can be compared to a beautifully equipped aquarium in which the fish lead a comfortable life. Restricted by the glass walls of the aquarium, they stare out in envy at their colleagues swimming in the vast ocean, in their true element.
Studies have also shown that a higher salary only influences short-term satisfaction; it does not, however, have any positive long-term effects.
SAP.info: So what really makes employees happy?
Haas: First it is important to realize the fact that mankind has acquired certain survival strategies during the course of evolution. Corporate cultures however are superficial man-made structures that, in some cases, entirely disregard our instincts.
Multitasking, for example, is a requirement that fully overburdens humans. Experiments conducted on test subjects have shown that individuals who had the opportunity to work at their computer without being interrupted were much more concentrated and efficient that those who were constantly confronted with e-mail notifications popping up on a little screen.
During such moments, the concentration level of our test subjects could be compared to that of an individual having partied the night before. With a performance level even lower than that of a person who had just smoked marihuana.
One study involved a group of software developers, in which the employees spent no longer than three minutes on one activity. The brain’s “ramp-up time” and the loss of manpower are immense – not to mention the sense of well-being for the employees.
Continue reading: What managers could do better
SAP.info: Are there other factors that have a negative impact on performance?
Haas: The noise level in open-plan offices is plain poison for efficiency. Likewise stress – we think we are stressed because we are pressed for time. Fact of the matter is that the opposite is actually the case. The sense of being pressed for time is actually a consequence of stress, because pressure induces the inborn instinct to flee and we fade out everything around us.
Although this may be very beneficial if you are trying to escape the claws of a lion, it certainly is not when we are sitting at our desks faced with an insurmountable mountain of work and need a clear head. And if the boss then turns up the pressure, the performance drops to zero.
False praise also does more damage than it does any good. Experiments were conducted with children, in which they were praised for their intelligence upon successfully solving a problem. This directly resulted in a lack of self-confidence. They were intimidated because they had no influence on their intelligence. Children, however, who were praised for their industriousness were more self-confident and displayed a higher willingness to perform.
SAP.info: What can managers do better in their companies?
Haas: Aside from what I have just said, managers should dedicate more of their time to talking to their employees and collectively developing objectives agreements. For employees it is important that they are able to take more initiative and be appreciated for their contributions.
The Hotel Group Upstalsboom, one of our clients from the hotel industry, gave their employees a day off to dedicate this time to a social project of their choice. Their chef, for example, organized a party for children living in a problem area. At the end of the event, one of the children told him that this had been the best day of his life.
The employee literally almost cried for joy and embroidered this child’s words onto his toque. You can only imagine how proud he must have been of his employer who made this possible for him. Upstalsboom is now even planning to grant their employees one day a month for social projects.
It also very important to be able to talk openly about one’s mistakes. Experiments with work groups revealed that the test subjects that reported the most mistakes were ultimately the most efficient group – in contrast to other groups that hid their mistakes.
Basically, individuals should be understood as complex beings with a consciousness as well beings constantly influenced by their subconsciousness. Only some 0.0004 percent of external influences actually make it into our consciousness. The power lies in the subconscious mind.
This does not mean that we start therapy with each and every employee; managers however do have to be aware of the mechanisms of the subconscious. Positive psychology shows ways to influence this, for example by communicating clear values such as appreciation and generosity.
Continue reading: Why we are happy
SAP.info: In your book you use the term “My Happiness”, i.e. the sense of happiness perceived by each individual, to illustrate the power of the subconscious mind.
Haas: My aim is to communicate to the reader the current status of scientific research based on interesting results from experiments.
The book also offers targeted exercises that anyone can integrate into their daily routine, and which help us become a little happier every day. To do so we must understand that our own world of emotions and values are not real. Our brain creates its own subjective world that we call reality.
SAP.info: Does that mean our entire life is just a figment of our imagination?
Haas: Experiments have shown that the perception of the same “reality” among test subjects has triggered different emotions. This depends on the structure of our brain.
Our good and bad emotions are located predominantly in the frontal lobe. Feelings of happiness are triggered in the left half; depressions and distrust however are triggered in the right half.
During an experiment, test subjects were shown fragments of movies. Test subjects whose left half of the frontal lobe dominated, tended to laugh more during comical scenes and perceived cruel scenes as far less tragic.
Those watching these scenes whose right half of the frontal lobe was larger than the left, perceived tragedy and cruelty much more intensively and were less inclined to the good feelings.
Our life runs a subconscious course and it is our subconsciousness that generates the positive and negative emotions. The same applies to our self image. For instance, a woman who subconsciously finds herself unattractive cannot be convinced of the contrary from the outside. When she looks in the mirror her problem zones are blown fully out of proportion and she interprets sincere compliments as pity.
Continue reading: How to train happiness
SAP.info: So are we damned to happiness or unhappiness based on the size of our frontal lobes?
Haas: Brain research does have some good news to offer: Our brain can be trained and consequentially so can our happiness. We do have control of essential changes in our brain. We are therefore far less abandoned to our fate than had previously been assumed.
This became particularly clear in a study of monks who had been able to massively change the structure of the brains through meditation. In up to more than 10,000 hours they had been able to focus on the here and now and fully fade out any negative emotions. The result was bewildering even to the scientists: Never before has such a huge dominance of the left frontal lobe been measured in humans.
But even rituals and the daily habits are great opportunities to form the brain. According to researchers, we need about thirty days to train a new, better habit. And once acquired, habits are hard to break.
SAP.info: Let’s talk about your personal happiness – what are your aims with the Dreamteam Academy?
Haas: Together with my colleague Professor Norbert J. Heigl and his TCD Institute, my main area of responsibility lies in the research and development of positive psychology in a corporate setting. We work with cooperation partners such as the University of Applied Management in Erding and the University of Health and Sport.
You could say we are constantly feeding the Dreamteam Academy with new insight. Coaches, trainers and business consultants can be trained to become “Corporate Happiness Experts.”
To do so, we make use of new media, combining multimedia e-learning platforms with real workshops. This way, everyone can work on their own happiness whenever and wherever they want. Personal and professional change processes can only be implemented with persistence – quick decisions hardly have any chance of success.
However, my approach is not to convert people to my cause. I share my knowledge with people who are open to it. I also do not aim at introducing one project after the other – that would be at the expense of my own personal happiness.