Interview with Entrepreneur and Workplace Happiness Guru Jennifer Moss
Author Jennifer MossJennifer Moss is a writer, entrepreneur, and the co-founder of technology startup Plasticity Labs, a software designed to help leaders and managers  measure their existing organizational culture and improve employee happiness at work.

She is also a Harvard Business Review and Huffington Post contributor and delivers talks across the world on the subject of happiness and gratitude at work (her most recent appearances include SXSW, TEDXWomen and the Chatelaine’s W100). Jennifer was also named Female Entrepreneur of the Year in the 11th annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business. Jennifer's book, Unlocking Happiness at Work: How a Data-driven Happiness Strategy Fuels Purpose, Passion and Performance, is released tomorrow, and Jen is joining us for a short interview to celebrate the launch.

Hi Jen, thanks so much for stopping by Activia's Expert Insights corner - could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for hosting me. My name is Jennifer Moss and I’m the co-founder and Chief Communications Officer for Plasticity Labs, a technology company that is on a mission to give 1 billion people the tools to live a happier, higher performing life at work and at home. I’m also an author and speaker on the science of happiness and its relationship to personal and group performance.

What made you become so focused on psychology and happiness in the workplace?

It started out with a traumatic event that occurred roughly six years ago. It was a time when my husband, Jim, fell extremely ill. As a pro athlete, this was challenging because we were told he may not walk again. However, he proved them wrong by adopting a positive approach to his healing and walking out of the rehab hospital after only six weeks.

What I learned from going through this challenging time in my life was this: if we build the psychological fitness to handle trauma, we will more likely experience post-traumatic growth, than post-traumatic stress. Since roughly 70% of us will deal with a traumatic event in our life, it is crucial for us to build up emotional intelligence and practice these skills every day to be able to handle stress and / or trauma as it comes up.

Decades of scientific research continues to reinforce the above, but what my husband Jim (also my co-founder) and I discovered is that not enough people are putting this psychological training into daily practice. Instead, what we tend to do is just react. For some we bounce back easily, but for others it’s much harder.

That took us on a path towards building a tech platform that facilitates this daily happiness habit building. We named the company Plasticity, which is rooted in our brains’ ability to hardwire for happiness. The technology offers daily individual and group happiness activities, a social collaboration tool to celebrate our peers and create ecosystems of happy communities. Most meaningfully, it organizes data insights to teach us how to further accomplish our goals and make us more self-aware.

In the workplace, we provide aggregate data (all anonymous) back to leaders so they can authentically develop a happier and higher performing workplace for their people. We do this so that everyone is involved in their happiness and it isn’t just leaders and managers who have to be mind-readers, therapists or both! It also helps to prove the bottom line benefits of compassionate capitalism, something that we believe will be transformative to the workplace of the future.

Your new book, Unlocking Happiness at Work: How a Data-driven Happiness Strategy Fuels Purpose, Passion and Performance, is coming out in September – could you tell us about it?

Unlocking Happiness at Work by Jennifer MossUnlocking Happiness at Work takes you on a journey into why and how leaders should become compassionate capitalists and ensure that their teams thrive. This book debunks the myth that happiness at work is a waste of time and demonstrates how it can deliver a more productive and engaged workforce, which can have a real impact on the bottom line. Based on two decades of scientific research, real-time data, interviews and case studies, this book proves that happiness fuels higher performance, provides a greater sense of purpose and spreads passion throughout organizations.

The book is geared to leaders of any organizations or industries who are interested in learning more about the science of happiness and its benefits. It may be particularly helpful to leaders who are already leaned-in to happiness strategies and want to stay up-to-date on the most current research in positive psychology and neuropsychology so they can provide hard evidence to back up their strategic plans.

I also like to take on the naysayers who have a false impression of the happiness discussion. The book also speaks directly to that group. It debunks many of the happiness myths through real-world case studies that use business outcomes and evidence-based research to prove the ROI of a workplace happiness strategy.

What is the most important thing you have learnt while writing this book?

Wow. I’ve learned so many incredible insights. One of my favorite lessons came out of my research on habit building. Everyone thinks that habits take 21 days to make – and that is a total myth. The book shares how long it actually takes to build a habit and how it varies due to the complexity of that particular habit. That research I found fascinating.

Are there any other new projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

We’ve become the exclusive tech sponsors for the World Happiness Summit in Miami in March 2017. We’re going to be delivering our tech to 10,000 attendees and our first foray into the consumer market. Only pass holders at the Summit will get access to it!

Do you believe that happiness is the key to a productive team?

Absolutely yes, but with one caveat – individual happiness can’t be forced. If a team is authentically happy, and feels psychologically safe, authentic and real enjoyment for their work then yes, they will be more productive. Researchers like Shawn Achor, Dr. Robert Emmons and others have mapped increased productivity to happiness and gratitude with decades of rigorous research. Shawn Achor works on happiness strategies with organizations like NASA and advises the White House on policy shaping because of these findings. It is definitely science worth learning if you want to maintain industry relevance.

What are some common workplace issues that affect the emotional wellbeing of employees?

  • The sense of becoming obsolete due to advancements and integration of new technology
  • Loss of personal control and autonomy to make decisions
  • Feeling like they don’t have the ability to move forward or innovate in their roles
  • A lack of psychological safety (the ability to count on their peers for support)
  • Boredom – repetition of highly administrative tasks

Jen Moss
What are a few simple things that leaders can do to ensure their team is happy?

Firstly, create more opportunities for dialogue. We ask employees to provide meaningful feedback to their leaders every day because it allows for a much faster communication loop. The reason why data is so helpful in dealing with issues that come up at work is that it helps us to wrap our brains around the choices that others make for us. If we feel a level of psychological safety and trust in the leaders who are enacting the changes, this can be a deciding factor on how we perceive our workplace culture. However, if employees don’t use their voice, decisions about their happiness are made without their input – which leads to unhappiness and workplace malaise.

Second, be grateful. By helping employees to focus on what is going well, versus what is going wrong at work, and expressing daily rituals of gratitude, research proves that engagement increases by over 30%. And, the contagion effect of happier, more grateful individuals and teams has huge value in other areas of the business – plus it’s just a good thing to do.

And finally, build friendships. By increasing community and psychological safety amongst co-workers you can increase retention and improve overall healthiness.

Jen's book, Unlocking Happiness at Work, is out tomorrow, and is now available to pre-order on Amazon, as well as other online retailers. If you'd like to say hello to Jen or read more of her work, make sure to connect with her on Twitter at @JenLeighMoss.