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Happiness at Work: Why Your Company Culture Can't Do Without It

Nov 09, 2020

Young creative team working together in casual officeIf your employees are unhappy at work, they will underperform and spread negativity to those around them—including your clients and customers. Given that people share bad customer-service experiences more often than good ones, having unhappy employees is neither advisable nor sustainable.

The upside of happiness at work

By contrast, if your employees feel supported, energized, and connected to a larger purpose, they'll go out of their way to make your customers happy. All of this translates into higher profits and what authors Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles called "raving fans."

Take Trader Joe's, for example. There's a reason most of us prefer the Trader Joe's experience to a store I'll call Treetop (a now-extinct grocery store from my Midwestern childhood). For one thing, shopping at Trader Joe's is an experience. They hire happy people and find ways to keep them happy. 

Here's a simple definition of happiness at work, three key components of happiness at work, why they matter to your company, and simple tips to weave happiness into your company culture—happiness that lasts, happiness that benefits both people and profits.

What is happiness at work?

Happiness at work is much more than a feeling, an event, or a set of experiences. It's the underlying belief that I can be successful here. I belong. My work matters and so do I. To go back to our Trader Joe's example, one of their secrets is they encourage their employees to be themselves

Can I be myself at work? Can I give my best? It is hard to imagine a better litmus test for happiness at work. 

Why happiness at work matters to your company

"The real question of leadership is this: Are you making things better for the people who follow you?" John Maxwell

Yes, there are numbers to meet and goals to fulfill. Self-expression has to serve a common purpose. Moreover, happiness at work means different things to different people, including different people at your company.

But nearly every employee would agree that when they are allowed to be themselves, to bring their ideas and personality to the workplace ...

  • they produce better work
  • they're more creative and engaged at work
  • they're more willing and able to problem-solve
  • they're more likely to stay, which means lower turnover and reduced expenses

3 key drivers of happiness at work

Purpose at work

We human beings are wired for meaning. We need to know that our work matters: both the work of our company or employer, and our own contributions.

Simply put, if you want your team to care, show them what business your company is in. Help them see how they contribute. Even better: Help them also understand how their co-workers contribute.

As an example, early in my career when I went to work at a publishing company, my employee orientation included job-shadowing with people in nearly every department. Without this experience, I would have missed the subtleties of how each department contributed to my role and how my role contributed to theirs. Having this information from Day One informed my interactions and decisions. 

Help your team members develop an understanding and respect for how they contributeand how their co-workers contribute. When it comes to team-building, there simply is no substitute for this step.

Autonomy at work

Once your team knows what's expected, you're ready to grant more autonomy on the job. How? By letting them determine when they get the job done (within reason, of course), how they get the job done, and where they work.

Is this foolproof? No. But if one of your goals is increased employee engagement, autonomy at work is one of  the most surefire ways to achieve it. The more you can give your people a say in how their work gets done, the more they will bring creativity to their work—and greater commitment

Fun at work

Fun at work is last on this list, for good reason. "Fun" needs to spring from a foundation of accomplishment and teamwork. Then again, given that we spend a significant part of of our waking hours working, having fun at work is not too much to ask. 

Jack Welch said it best in his book Winning

Celebrating creates an atmosphere of recognition and positive energy. Imagine a team winning the World Series without champagne spraying everywhere. And yet companies win all the time and let it go without so much as a high five. Work is too much a part of life not to recognize moments of achievement. Make a big deal out of them. If you don't, no one will.

Company culture without fun at work is a missed opportunity.

9 "Fun at Work" tips from my wonderful assistant

  1. Create happiness-boosting traditions with co-workers 
  2. Celebrate wins
  3. Ohh, perhaps even celebrate the failures? But in a different way. Kind of like how the coach always takes the baseball team for pizza whether they win or lose. That's in some kind of movie I think. 🤷‍♀️
  4. Competitions/games (but be aware/respect that some people do not enjoy competing and/or games)
  5. Happiness meetings - meetings that aren't work goal oriented and more so an open discussion about how the company can be a more enjoyable place to work
  6. Create an environment that allows employees to talk about things outside of work - their family, what they did over the weekend, etc.
  7. Hand-written notes - even in a physical office, I think employees tend to send emails to one another. How about switch it up and write a hand-written note or get up and walk down the hall to have a real conversation with your co-worker?
  8. Celebrate employee birthdays and work anniversaries 
  9. Have a "release" room - I feel like this could be just about anything...kind of just depends on what the employee needs it to be. There could be mats, etc for employees to use for stretching/yoga. Possibly games, tv, music.

3 simple steps to increasing happiness at work

Now that you know the value of happiness at work, a simple framework to create it, here are three practical steps to infuse your company culture with more happiness at work:

1. Eliminate the obstacles

For example, if your company culture is marked by lack of communication, all the fun-at-work initiatives in the world won't make a difference. If anything, they may breed cynicism. As a company leader, ask yourself (and your team) what gets in the way of joy and fulfillment at workand start there. 

2. Get your team involved

Who doesn't appreciate being asked their opinion? Make your company culture known for harnessing the talent of the team. How? By devoting time at the start of every staff meeting to "How can we improve?" Or setting up a dedicated meeting on a regular basis, exclusively for this purpose. 

Whatever system or methodology you choose, the point is to make it an ongoing practice, as opposed to a one-time event. Please don't assume people aren't interested.

3. Set the tone and example

"Don't try to be perfect; just be an excellent example of being human." — Tony Robbins

Happiness at work is a decision. As the leader, you get to model your expectations. You get to be a source of inspiration for your team—not by being perfect, but by being trustworthy, caring, competent and brave. If that isn't happiness at work, what is?

Ready to have a better company culture?

Reach out to me today to get started.


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