Shawn Murphy on the Beliefs at the Heart of Workplace Optimism

Murphy,ShawnIs your company suffering from chronic, pervasive negativity? Don’t lose hope! “However demotivating your climate, the good news is you can positively shift what your employees experience at work,” assures Shawn Murphy, business consultant and author of THE OPTIMISTIC WORKPLACE: Creating an Environment that Energizes Everyone (AMACOM October 2015). “You can position employees to believe that work is a bright spot in their life.” As he shares, creating a positive work climate takes embracing these essential beliefs:

  • The team is more important than any individual. It’s a fact of neuroscience: our brains are wired to think about the thoughts, feelings, and goals of other people. Working as a team to achieve desired outcomes makes people feel good about work. “For optimism to be strong, a cohesive team is vital,” Murphy declares. He urges business leaders to avoid relying on the usual suspects, the same few superstars, to handle high-profile projects.
  • There’s value to experiencing joy at work. Joy can open brains to better see connections and various options to solve work problems. In a joyful workplace, people are more likely to contribute their best. Known for its joy-making philosophy, Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has made Inc. magazine’s fastest growing U.S. companies list multiple times. “Expressing joy is simple,” Murphy states. “Give a proud smile when a team member does great work. Celebrate reaching key project milestones or momentous occasions in an employee’s life—buying a new house or having a baby, for example.”
  • Doing good is good for business. It’s not just about philanthropy. When leaders adopt business practices that contribute to improving employees’ lives, business prospers. For example, BambooHR, a software development company based in Utah, has an antiworkaholic policy. The small start-up has found that when its team members have time to pursue personal interests, they are more productive and satisfied at work. “Implement a policy banning team members from emailing other about business on weekends,” Murphy suggests.
  • Relationships with employees need to be richer. Relationships are central to cooperation, collaboration, and successful outcomes. Take, for instance, the remarkable 2014 events at Market Basket, a 73-store grocery chain based in Massachusetts. When the board of directors ousted the company’s CEO and steward, Arthur T. Demoulas, in favor of his bottom-line driven cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, employees responded by orchestrating a massive boycott. Strong relationships between employees, suppliers, and customers resulted in a collaborative effort that restored a beloved CEO and saved a company.
  • Work should align with purpose and meaning. Why does work matter to your team members? For workplace optimism to thrive, organizational leaders must strive to find the answer to that question and then continually invest in making sure that work remains meaningful. “A focus on financial motivators blinds leaders from helping employees do work that matters,” Murphy stresses.
  • Leaders need to actualize human potential. Luck Companies, an aggregate business headquartered just outside of Richmond, Virginia, believes, to quote CEO Charlie Luck, that “all human beings have extraordinary potential to make a positive difference in the world.” For Luck, this belief shapes how its leaders treat one another, develop their associates, and spread the message globally. “Actualizing human potential puts the spirit into workplace optimism,” Murphy asserts, inspiring business leaders to put this belief into action.

OptimisticWorkplaceAdapted from THE OPTIMISTIC WORKPLACE: Creating an Environment That Energizes Everyone by Shawn Murphy (AMACOM October 2015).

SHAWN MURPHY is a thought leader, inspirational speaker, and independent consultant recognized by Inc. magazine and The Huffington Post for his contributions to creating optimistic work climates and the type of leadership needed for them. He is the CEO and co-founder of Switch & Shift, an organization dedicated to developing and advancing human-centered organizational practices.

Shawn has 20 years’ of experience working to cultivate optimism in workplace climates, as both a Fortune 100 company insider and an advisor to forward-thinking government agencies. When not consulting, he can often be found in the classroom teaching, speaking to audiences, or interviewing top thought leaders on his Work That Matters podcast.


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