By Eva Reiterer

Happiness at work doesn’t mean you have to love every single thing about work. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything, or that you don’t look forward to the weekends. It does, however, mean that you find a sense of fulfillment at work, that you generally enjoy what you do, and that on Sunday evenings, you might even find a smile on your face when thinking about going back to work the next day. If you already find this to be the case, congratulations! You’re among the lucky few. If, on Sunday evenings, however, you find yourself wishing to hide from the world or to trade everything for just a few more hours of freedom, and you wish to change that, this article is for you. It is also for you if you belong to the lucky few and simply want more of it.

“Happiness at work is not about eliminating all the bad stuff from your job. It’s about being happy at work even though all of these things are present.” – Alexander Kjerulf


Happiness at work: must-have or nice-to-have?

There’s a reason why happiness at work is a hot topic today. Research with hundreds of companies revealed that happy people are better workers. For example, the happiest employees only take one-tenth of the sick leave of their least happy colleagues. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, even makes the case for the single greatest advantage of the modern economy being a happy and engaged workforce. In over a decade of research, he found that happiness at work raises sales by 37 percent, productivity by 31 percent, and accuracy on tasks by 19 percent. One study even discovered that positive work climates are linked with lower blood pressure and heart rates as well as stronger immune systems.

On the other hand, the Gallup Organization found disengaged workers to have 37 percent higher rates of absence and 49 percent more accidents, and to cause 60 percent more errors and defects. So, in the end, if you want your company or team to succeed, happiness is not just a nice-to-have, but a clear must-have. There are many ways to increase your team’s happiness, but first, let’s see how you can capture the status quo so that you can measure the impact of your actions.

How to measure happiness

How do you go about measuring such an abstract concept as happiness? Well, there are plenty of ready-made happiness surveys you can use; a quick Google search will help you here. If you don’t have the time, authority, or desire to do a full survey, there are also less complicated methods.

The informal way: listen to what people say

A very easy, yet effective way to measure the happiness at your workplace is to listen to what people say in the course of normal peer-to-peer conversations. Obviously, if they complain a lot, something is very wrong. Pay particular attention to how they anticipate going on a holiday or into a long weekend. Is that the only thing that keeps them going? Or are they simply looking forward to some fun time? How do they take on new tasks: with an eager smile or a grim expression? How do they react to company news: interested and curious or with cynicism? Take it on yourself to write a diary with your observations and, after a few weeks, you’ll be amazed how much can change.

A more formal way: the Happiness Index

The Happiness Index is a more structured concept, which originated in the Agile Management movement and is based on asking these four questions:

    How happy are you? (on a scale from 1 “very unhappy” to 5 “very happy”)
    What makes you feel best right now?
    What makes you feel worst right now?
     What would increase your happiness?

You don’t need to use all the questions, and you can also adapt them to your team’s needs. For example, you might want to include names, or only measure the scale from very unhappy to very happy.

If you work with a large team or company, you can use Google Docs or Survey Monkey to capture the Happiness Index. For small teams, it’s always a great idea to get some face-to-face time and have it in a physical office, for example with Post-Its, to provoke interesting conversations. See the link at the end of this article for more detailed information.

How to create happiness at work

As a leader, you have great influence on the people you lead, not only because you are in a position of authority, but also because you are a role model. You might have already noticed yourself that employees tend to copy their leaders’ behavior to some extent. This means that everything you do, and how you do it, will not only be observed by your employees but, very often, also imitated. This gives you a lot of power to influence your work atmosphere in whatever way you want. As it is well known that people join an organization and leave a boss, you need to be careful of how you act and what you do.

1. Money isn’t everything

Conventional management seeks to motivate employees through monetary rewards and, accordingly, a large majority still believes that more money will make employees happier. Interestingly enough, this is only true to a very small extent. There has to be sufficient money for the employee not to have to worry about it. However, several studies have found that beyond that, monetary rewards actually lead to poorer performance and decreased motivation.

“One of the most thoroughly replicated findings in the field of social psychology states, the more you reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.” – Alfie Kohn

Well, at least you won’t have to argue with HR about raises. But what is it then that YOU can do to foster happiness at work?

2. Create a sense of belonging

Positive and healthy relationships play a big role in everyone’s personal happiness, and the same is true for the workplace. Positive social connections have been found to make people happier and healthier. On the other hand, loneliness has been linked not only with an increased risk of burnout, but also with reducing longevity by 70 percent (in comparison, smoking reduces longevity by only 50 percent).

You can foster positive workplace relationships by showing an interest in your employees’ and co-workers’ personal lives, in their passions and sorrows. The next step is to allow them to do the same. Do not tell them off when you hear them talk about something personal at work, but instead encourage them and create opportunities for social outings. These relationships will create a sense of belonging, which in turn will reduce turnover rates and improve dedication and commitment at work. A very simple step to support workplace relationships is to talk about “us” instead of “you and me”.

3. Create meaning

One of the biggest contributing aspects to happiness at work is how meaningful your job is. The thing is that most jobs don’t include saving lives or reducing world hunger. The good news is that you don’t have to do such obviously meaningful things to find meaning at work.

For example, you can create meaning by simply providing a bigger picture. Say your subordinate has to create a very boring report. Telling them how this report will be used within the company, e.g. to improve customer service, creates meaning because they get to see that the report is a valuable contribution. Creating a strong vision will also help in finding meaning, as it gives employees something to relate to and strive for.

Another way to make the workplace more meaningful is to create an environment where people can grow, express themselves and find joy. A happy work environment also allows them to take this happiness home with them, where they can share it with their friends, families, partners, and most of all, their children. And who knows, maybe one of these happy children will someday end world hunger or something of the like, and you will have contributed to making the world a better place, simply by enabling happiness at your own workplace.

4. Allow for autonomy at work

If you feel like you have to control everything your employees do and, moreover, how they do it: STOP! NOW! Micromanagement not only decreases employees’ motivation, productivity and confidence, but also increases employee turnover. Autonomy, on the other hand, meaning providing guidance and direction while allowing for a certain amount of freedom and self-determination, brings about the opposite.

“If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done, and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchs and control mechanisms you need.” – Herb Kelleher, ex-CEO of Southwest Airlines


5. Create a culture of praise and appreciation

The simplest, cheapest, and yet probably the most effective way to increase happiness at work is to regularly say “good job” and “thank you”. It is as simple as it sounds: When somebody has done a good job, say it. When somebody has done a great job, shout it! Be sincerely appreciative of your employees’ efforts and contributions on a regular basis, and you will be rewarded.

6. Appreciate your boss

While we’re on the subject, have you ever thought about complimenting your boss? About congratulating them on doing a great job with a project? About going up to him or her and saying “You know what? You are doing an awesome job”? About thanking them for what they do for you?

Everybody craves appreciation, and while most employees expect this appreciation to come from the top, they tend to forget that bosses usually don’t get any appreciation. Neither from the top – especially when there is no one above them – nor from below. There’s a reason for the saying: “It’s lonely at the top”. Imagine, just for a second, how much happier your workplace would be if your boss was even just a little bit happier. Just try it out and thank them or compliment them, and see what happens next. 

7. Communicate, a lot

Not only does effective internal communication contribute to a happier workplace, it has also been found to increase customer satisfaction by 40 percent, profitability by 30 percent, and overall performance by 36 percent. By communicating openly with your team, you can avoid miscommunication based on Chinese whispers, destroy rumors instead of letting them destroy your team’s morale, and boost your team’s motivation by regarding team members as important contributors to the company and keeping them in the loop.

8. Take the bad with the good

Having bad days is only human, and allowing people to be human and to have a bad day every once in a while will in the end make them happier – the same way that being able to express our feelings instead of suppressing them contributes to a healthy mind.
Final thoughts

In the end, happiness is still something that comes from within, and you can’t force anyone to be happy. The more you try to pressure people to be happy at work, the less happy you will all be. All you can do, all anyone can do, is to create an environment that allows for happiness. In that sense, yes, you can create such a workplace, and by doing so, you will not only make your own life a lot easier, but also bring more happiness into the world.



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