“Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.”—Buddha
“People who are happy in life have an easy time feeling good and recovering from adversity; they have close, supportive social connections; and they believe that their presence in the world matters,” writes Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, on the Greater Good Magazine. Similarly, she defines happiness at work as “feeling an overall sense of enjoyment at work; being able to gracefully handle setbacks; connecting amicably with colleagues, coworkers, clients, and customers; and knowing that your work matters to yourself, your organization, and beyond.”
Several studies have confirmed the strong link between happiness and productivity. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor mentioned that “we can fully utilize our intellectual powers when we are feeling confident and happy. In a happy state of mind, creative ideas flow in and we are better at problem-solving and decision-making.” Caleb Papineau, director of global marketing at TINYpulse, revealed the following statistics: Happy people are 31% more productive and three times more creative; happiness improves business profitability by 147%; 75% of individuals leave their jobs because they are unhappy with their boss rather than the job itself; and the loss of productivity among workers cost around US$1 trillion globally in 2017.
Science has proven that happiness multiplies creativity and innovation, builds positivity and enthusiasm, reduces stress, fosters well-being and a healthy life, increases likeability and relationship building, and enhances loyalty and commitment to groups. At happier workplaces, people are also more helpful to each other and more supportive during difficult times. These happy places, therefore, report less turnover, lower health care costs, fewer accidents, more efficiency, greater shareholder value, and higher customer loyalty and business growth via word-of-mouth endorsement. Cary Cooper and Ivan Robertson, authors of Wellbeing: Productivity and Happiness at Work, asserted that companies invested in promoting a happy workforce are making the difference. What really keeps happiness levels high within an organization is its well-being culture: One that values people, trusts them, manages them by praise and reward, treats them with compassion, enables flexible work and provides work-life balance. They said: “It is not about sushi for lunch and massages at your desk, it is about how bosses treat those that work for them.”
Google is an example in this matter. Following its innovative decision to allow its engineers to spend 20 per cent of their time pursuing their passion, they implemented in 2008 the famous “jolly good fellow” role in Silicon Valley, with the aim to spread happiness across the organization. "If you are a company leader who says employees should be encouraged to exercise, nobody looks at you funny. The same thing is happening to meditation and mindfulness, because now that has become scientific, it has been demystified. It's going to be seen as fitness for the mind," said Google's first jolly good fellow man Chade-Meng Tan. Since then, employee happiness became a key metric for the company, as well as for other organizations following their lead. Even before that, in 1999, the French fashion brand Kiabi established the role of chief happiness officer, a role that appears frequently listed on LinkedIn today. But more important than creating the role it is to become it, commented Duena Blomstrom, speaker and author of Emotional Banking, “literally the entire purpose of any leader ought to be to religiously check and better the level of happiness of their people. That's if they want to succeed. Do it because ‘it's right’ or do it because ‘it's profitable’ or better yet, do it because of both those reasons, but if you want to see results, first be the chief happiness officer your team deserves.”
So, what are the keys to happiness at work? Emiliana Simon-Thomas mentions four fundamental keys to happiness at work: purpose, engagement, resilience, and kindness. Each pillar can be strengthened on personal, social, and structural levels at work through individual exercises and activities, the development of key social skills, shifts in leadership style, organization-wide initiatives, or changes to company policies.
1. Purpose: We feel purposeful at work when our everyday behaviors and decisions are aligned with our values. As individuals, bringing passion and purpose to work means connecting what we do to what we believe in and care about. Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz explains, “we want to see how our progress is tied to meaningful, important, and self-transcendent impact in the world.”
2. Engagement: We feel engaged when we are joyful, curious and immersed into what we are doing. This are three ways to increase engagement at work: infuse playfulness, creativity, and humor into routine tasks; give people ownership over their day-to-day schedule and professional development; and avoid multitasking, encouraging downtime to help people relax and recover.
3. Resilience: Is the ability to manage challenges at work with authenticity and grace. The most promising technique to increase resilience is mindfulness, focusing on the present moment with a non-judgmental acceptance of what is. Companies can weave mindfulness into their overall climate.
4. Kindness: We are happier at work when we connect to our innate tendency towards kindness, infusing our thoughts, feelings, and actions with care for others and genuine social bond. Being kind at work involves treating others with dignity and respect, extending empathy and compassion, practicing gratitude, and constructively managing conflicts.
Alexander Kjerulf, leading expert on workplace happiness and the author of Happy Hour is 9 to 5, says the key to happiness at work comes down to results and relationships. Results comes from having the resources, skills, training and time to do a really good job, but also from one’s attitude and care towards the quality of work we deliver. Workplaces that promote the feeling of result usually encourage people to offer and receive praise and recognition, celebrate success, and help each other boost everyone's performance. On the other hand, good relationships determine the sense that we belong and the feeling of doing great work together with great people.
People are likely to feel happier when they have other happy people around them, but finding happiness at work does not depend solely on the outside. Rather, there is a lot we can do to enhance our inner sense of happiness: keep our workplace tidy, practice mindfulness, workout, offer and receive generous feedback, do one task at a time, help our colleagues, choose our responses wisely, invest time in our relationships, be flexible and kind.
Happiness at work, like happiness in life, is a fundamental human aspiration and, thus, the most attractive benefit a workplace can offer. A well-being organizational culture will foster a happy workforce, and a happy workforce will not only determine business success, it will inevitably result in a massive shift to love and kindness within the boundaries of the company and the society it serves.
Written by Paula Arellano Geoffroy for Together Abroad.