Features

Happiness: a work in progress

In honour of Mental Health May, Brig chatted to University of Stirling almnus Alena Rogozhkina about her endeavours as the founder of start-up company SONAS, and how her various approaches correlate to mental health and general wellbeing.

Translating to “happiness” in Gaelic, SONAS allows Rogozhkina to pursue her dream of designing and enabling happier workspaces for people around the world.

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 15.12.39

Credit: thehappinessatworkproject.com

“I believe that quality of life includes what we feel at the end of every single day,” Rogozhkina says, “and if we can improve that, an overall higher quality of life will follow.”

While having studied at three different universities throughout the years, Stirling being one of them, it was ultimately her time in the working world that inspired her to develop SONAS as a start-up company.

Taking a gap between her Masters, Rogozhkina worked as the head of the HR department for an industrial company in Moscow, Russia. Her position in the recruitment division involved a lot of interviews in order for her to find both the right candidates, and the right jobs to fit those candidates. But, with her added natural curiosity alongside all these interviews, she soon became all too aware that more than 80% of people were unhappy with their working lives.

At first, Rogozhkina thought this mindset perhaps only applied to Russia. But soon she discovered the same revelations at her job at a boutique resort in India, a place where people were already less stressed than those she had only spoken to in interviews.

That was when she knew she wanted to strive for change.

In her field of human resources, the ability to help was limited due to the simultaneous responsibility to protect the interests of the company. It was in her search for the right tools to help that she discovered the logistics of behavioural science.

Looking back on her thesis, written on ‘why most people don’t spend time on things that make them happy’, she noticed that most people mentioned money as an issue, but not an actual deal breaker.

Social norms were the heavy influencers. When people wanted to escape their routines and lives, it was their perception of external pressures that held them back.

During our interview, Rogozhkina reflected that in many workplaces symptoms pertaining to ‘lack of meaning’ are often what people attribute to more serious mental health problems.

“With dissatisfaction, a psychological form of discomfort, many people think it is okay to live life simply counting down the hours of the day. They have grown accustomed to Friday being the best day, and Monday being the most horrible, when actually there is another model.”

Rogozhkina is therefore creating a project that will equip both employers and employees with both the belief that change is possible, and the tools needed to a realistically implement it. She is taking her knowledge of the latest research in behavioural science, explaining how the brain works, and then converting it into something straightforward and understandable for the average individual.

Productivity is an increasingly important factor, as less hours spent on the same amount of work are already a huge step in a happier direction. The unfortunate truth is that the average person does not see their life as an equally balanced split between the things they have to do and those they want to do.

Rogozhkina elaborates on how hard it can be to keep every aspect of your life on track 24/7. With working life, personal life, and family life, it can seem impossible to be effective everywhere. But if positive changes can be made to one’s working life, just imagine the potential ripple effect it could contribute overall.

Rogozhkina’s toolkit works on the basis of CASPER, an innovative acronym for “Creativity, Appreciation, Signals, Productivity, Environment, and Retention”. Pronounced as factors crucial for establishing a better working life, Rogozhkina intends to pair each aspect of CASPER up against benchmark levels of satisfaction, hoping the breakdown of these specific diagnostics within individual companies will enable improvement on the framework of happiness as a whole.

In the rush of our everyday lives it can often be forgotten that not only do we have to take care of our bodies, but our minds too. Health equates to mental health, and with our work being something that takes up such a large chunk of our lives, it has no right to be making us miserable.

While Rogozhkina acknowledges she isn’t an occupational psychologist, she wants to stress the ‘S’ in CASPER doesn’t just apply to science, but the science of people. She wants her workshops to teach managers how to recognise the early signs of dissatisfaction and mental health issues in their employees.

“You can just ignore them,” she says, “or maybe think they are not important, but most of the time when people come to talk it is already too late. At that point they may have already decided to leave, and figure that their current job or profession may simply not be for them.

“But if you can go and prevent it — pick up on wavering optimism, restless behaviour, lack of concentration, aggression, irritation, and so forth — then so many other mental health services can be avoided because you addressed it at just the right time.

“Most of the time you miss it, maybe you’re too busy to pay attention or you think it’s not my business, but that can lead to so many bigger problems.

“The science of recognition is an important, useful, preventative approach which I intend to take advantage of.”

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