Creating Meaningful Happiness at Work

Watch Out, Watch Out, there’s a New Happiness Initiative About

This one is for all the happiness sceptics out there, please read on. Are you an HR professional or Leader who has had yet another KPI added to your already huge list? Are you now responsible for increasing happiness at work?  Or perhaps you are just feeling a little sceptical about all the talk of happiness at work, wondering if it’s some clever way of trying to get even more work out of you than you already produce?

So why all the fuss about happiness at work?  We are all aware that the working world is becoming increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) and in that context, we are also seeing rising levels of depression across the globe. A study by Workplace Options a global provider of Employee Assistance programs revealed a huge rise in stress, anxiety and depression.  Is the happiness agenda therefore a genuine effort to combat an increasingly challenging working world at a time when we need all the help we can get and if so, is it working?

The Evidence for the Happiness Effect at Work

There is a lot of research out there and I love learning about it and experimenting with it myself.  In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Harvard professor, Shawn Achor describes research that demonstrates doctors who were given something to make them ‘happy’ before going out on their ward rounds, provided the correct diagnosis twice as fast as the doctors in the study’s control group. Most surprisingly, all they were given a lollipop and they didn’t even get to eat it.  Studies such as this are fascinating but it can also be dangerous to conclude that providing little boosts of happiness will necessarily lead to an increase in performance, and my worry is that often the results of the research are oversimplified and other contextual matters are not considered. For instance, if you have a boss that you really don’t get on with and they give you a lollipop before a difficult meeting, will it make any difference to you at all? Probably not.

Despite the difficulties in measuring the impact of happiness at work, there is growing evidence to suggest that happy employees are more efficient, get on better with their colleagues and stay with the organization for longer. Once such measure of happiness has been produced by the iOpener Institute.

The myths about happiness in the workplace

Interestingly, there is also evidence to suggest that the more emphasis we put on generating happiness at work, the more pressure we are putting on already stressed out employees who are likely to feel like ‘failures’, if they aren’t able to live up to the happy ideal.  To avoid this, anyone who is responsible for developing happiness initiatives at work should educate themselves on the pros and cons of the happiness effect to fully understand the myths about happiness at work which are highlighted in this informative article in HBR.

Here’s some tips for anyone responsible for the happiness agenda at work:

  1. Everyone is responsible for generating happiness at work. Each of us can help or hinder our team, peers, and colleagues through our behaviours. Keeping in mind that everyone wants to be happy, and keeping an open mind, even when disagreements happen is a great way to avoid conflicts getting out of hand. If you haven’t ever offered the olive branch to a colleague before, maybe now’s the time to do it and see how much happier you both feel afterwards.
  2. Happiness means different things to different people. Watching cat videos makes me happy but it may not be your thing. Organisations need to adapt and vary their initiatives and ensure that individuals are given the choice when it comes to participating in specific happiness initiatives. That choice may also be not to participate at all.
  3. It’s all about creating the conditions for happiness. That means ensuring that the company culture supports the generation of happiness and that leaders are also capable of bringing out the best in everyone. Leaders have the most significant opportunity to impact the happiness of their teams and it is up to the organisation to ensure that the right people are in those leadership roles and given the necessary support to do great work.
  4. It’s ok to be angry sometimes. Remember that each one of us have our off days and sometimes, no matter how good our intentions, we say and do things that upset other people and we feel anything but happy ourselves. At times like this don’t beat yourself up for not being the happiest person in the office. Notice your strong emotions and just allow them to be there. The sooner you can accept them, the sooner they will start to simmer down.

I hope everyone feels less stressed about happiness having read this.  If not, go get yourself a Lollipop, or whatever treat does it for you.