Making Work Your Happy Place

Are you skeptical about “happiness” and “work” being in the same sentence? If so, give this article a chance to change your mind. If you already experience happiness at work, or at least believe in the possibility or value of it, keep reading too.

Happiness at work has gained a lot of attention in the past few years and there has been a surge of it recently. This may be due in part to the very popular book, written by Zappos former CEO Tony Hsieh, “Delivering Happiness” that chronicles how and why the company has made employee happiness the pillar of its business strategy. Hsieh presents a compelling argument for why happiness at work matters.

What is the case for happiness at work? Numerous studies have shown that when employees experience happiness (and feelings associated with happiness) they are more focused, more creative, and more innovative. Absenteeism goes down as do stress-related health problems.  All of these results translate to a more productive environment and ultimately a more successful (in whatever way your organization measures success) outcome. And, from a values perspective, if you are not striving to create a work environment conducive to happiness, what are you striving to create?

There is also the management and Human Resources case for endeavoring to foster happiness at work. Here are just a few of the potential outcomes from a happier workplace culture:

  • ​​Lower turnover
  • Fewer interpersonal conflicts
  • Increased efficiency with work and organizational mission/purpose alignment
  • Decreased time and money spent on recruitment due to high number of employee referrals for open positions

But what does happiness at work mean? Happiness at work is serious business. We are not talking balloon animals and jokes. We are talking about meaningful stuff…like employees feeling connected to the mission of the organization; making opportunities to get to know each other; inspiring employees to do and be their best; providing employees with challenges and nurturing their potential; and, among other things, making sure that policies and procedures are consistently implemented. Happiness at work is not about pasting on a smile, in fact, it is about the exact opposite because it is about authentic and genuine practices.

How do we foster happiness at work? First, while everyone is responsible for their own happiness there are certainly things that can be done to nurture this experience. Second, creating a culture that values happiness is the responsibility of everyone. Small gestures can create big changes. That being said, a guiding framework can help your organization begin to make changes and/or evaluate if decisions and practices are aligned with happiness. Happiness Works offers five characteristics of a happy workplace culture: Connect, Be Fair, Empower, Challenge, Inspire. Of course these overlap and interact with each other but let’s look at how we can bring some of these characteristic to life. I happen to like groups of three so here are the areas I suggest your organization focus on:

Connect: find and create opportunities for employees to build relationships with each other, demonstrate care and respect for the employees you supervise, foster team work and encouragement of each other.

  • Make the break room, kitchen, etc. inviting so employees want to congregate there on their breaks or lunch time
  • Start staff meetings with brief, fun, low-risk getting to know each other activities
  • Ask open-ended questions and LISTEN during supervision
  • Set a tone of respect and concern for everyone
  • Celebrate the hire of new employee and employee milestones, don’t wait for the good-bye party and annual employee recognition event

Challenge: trust that employees are capable and do not need a supervisor hovering over them (literally or figuratively), make sure employees have the tools and resources they need to be successful, solicit their input and really listen to them when they give it.

  • Share leadership of staff/department meetings
  • Let departments/teams solve problems using managers or department heads as consultants to the team not as the primary decision-makers
  • Ask teams/departments if they have the resources they need (time, materials, staffing, knowledge) to accomplish projects and tasks, strategize with them if they do not
  • Ask employees to set their own professional goals, check in with them periodically about progress, find out if they have the resources they need
  • Ask employees to sit on ad hoc committees or groups for things like policy review, wellbeing activity planning, and strategic planning

Inspire: make work interesting and engaging, connect employee’s individual roles and contributions to the greater mission/purpose of the organization, expect the best from every employee not just the ones considered the “rock stars” of the organization.

  • Develop a clear and purposeful mission statement for the organization and read it frequently
  • Ask employees why they chose your organization and what they want to gain from working there
  • Feature an employee in the organization’s internal and external publications and/or website
  • Provide paid time for employees to volunteer in the community and/or adopt a non-profit organization for the year
  • Create fun challenges to increase employee wellbeing

These suggestions just scratch the surface. Get creative. What ideas fit your organization? How might you begin, or further, nurturing happiness at work in your organization?