Most people want to be happy at work. What are you doing to make your team’s happiness a priority?

Recent Gallup data says that unhappiness is definitely on the rise. In fact, negative emotions — the aggregate of the stress, sadness, anger, worry and physical pain that people feel every day — reached a new record in the history of Gallup’s tracking.

Stress Is a Factor in Unhappiness

Happiness researcher, Annie McKee offers, “What we know is that stress kills health, well-being and happiness at work. And when we are unhappy at work, we often become disengaged cynical and toxic to others. When a person is unhappy enough to quit their job, they often attribute negative interactions with their manager as the reason the decided to go.

The American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is lost because of workplace stress. We also know that 550 million work days are lost each year due to stress on the job, and 60% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress.

Stress impacts loyalty and has real costs. Research shows that workplace stress leads to an increase of almost 50% in voluntary turnover. People go looking for another job, turn down promotions (because they don’t want more stress) or they resign. And we know how expensive turnover is: The costs of recruiting, training, lowered productivity and lost expertise are significant. The Center for American Progress estimates that replacing a single employee costs approximately 20% of that employee’s salary.

Disengagement Means That People are Unhappy

Consider the recent data on employee disengagement. Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron write in Harvard Business Review, “disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.”

If a product defect was affecting your profitability and share price, you wouldn’t just stand by and eat those costs. You’d do something about it. Well, unhappy team members cost the business real money: It’s time for leaders to take action.

Where to Start to Lead a Happy Team

If you’re not sure where to start, see if you can come up with ways to “measure” happiness or unhappiness at work. Most team metrics have to do with work product(s), productivity or financial measures. Most of the time, team happiness is simply not measured and, therefore, can become a blind spot.

Second, consider that you may be part of the problem.

For example, recently, I had a coaching conversation with a team leader who was frustrated and impatient with his team. He told me he had charged them with solving a particular issue four months earlier. But when he sat in on a meeting last week, it seemed they hadn’t made much progress at all. Frustrated, he stood up and loudly asked what they had been working on and then promptly walked out.

This type of reaction is an indicator of what Daniel Goleman calls low emotional self-regulation. Put simply, the leader in this story lost his cool. And he left a lot of unhappy people in his wake. He probably was not too connected to the ripple of fear that stemmed from his reaction to his team’s lack of progress. But the trust and safety that were damaged on his team could take months or even years to rebuild. Productivity (and morale) likely suffered as employees talked about this leader’s lack of emotional self-regulation. Clearly, there are better ways for leaders to handle their frustration in a way that fuels performance, not hinders it.

So, hit the “reset” button, and look to see how you may be part of the problem. Resetting means interrupting some of the unproductive ways you interact with people at work. Resetting may mean paying attention to the impact you have on your team members. We think of this as the “wake” you create.

It’s not that you shouldn’t get frustrated or mad. You are human — it happens. But what you do with that anger is what matters most. Can you calm yourself down and think of several ways to say what you need to say without creating collateral damage?

Here are three things you can do right away to deescalate negative emotions and support your team’s happiness and well-being:

  1. Figure out how to “measure” how your people are feeling. Start paying attention to behavioral indicators to learn what’s really going on. Find out how happy or unhappy your team members are right now. Then, measure their happiness levels again in six months to see if the changes you are making are working.
  2. Catch yourself engaging with your team in an unproductive way and stop, resetting as quickly as possible to avoid any fallout.
  3. Focus on improving team relationships. This might involve taking steps to build trust and respect. It could require that you clear up confusion about roles and responsibilities so that every member of your team knows what they are expected to do and by when. Improving relationships means that you have the hard conversations without creating collateral damage. And it means being open to feedback and acting on what you’ve heard.

Leading a happy team starts with engaging the one thing you can control: Your own behavior. Being aware of your own shortcomings, and bridging them with development opportunities, will ultimately boost both your team members’ happiness and the bottom line.

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