The Value of Happiness at Work, And How to Boost It

Is Happiness Part of Your Corporate Culture?

In the modern knowledge economy, human resources represent the key intangible assets that differentiate businesses from their competitors.  This is the perspective constructed by sociologist Peter Drucker when he noted that the most valuable asset of the 21st century institution would no longer be production equipment, but knowledge workers and their productivity.

Employee efficiency and talent determine the pace and growth of organisations. Each individual possesses a different skill set and experience that cannot be easily replaced once they leave. It is therefore no shock that the leading lady of global cosmetics, Mary Kay Ash, stated that a “company is only as good as the people it keeps”.

The key question is how to keep and nurture the valuable human assets that form the foundation of your business’s success. In other words - how do you enable happiness in your company?

How Do You Define Happiness in the Workplace?

The concept of happiness at work started gaining traction as recently as a few decades ago, along with drastic shifts in the industrial sector.

Evidence from psychology links better employee performance to happiness. From day-to-day health, productivity and career advancement to boosting your company’s bottom line, happiness is a precursor of success rather than an outcome.

But how can we define such a subjective thing as “happiness”?

In their edX.org course The Science of Happiness, Dacher Keltner and Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas paint the following picture of happy people:

They 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.

For these two scientists of happiness, the concept does not denote a momentary emotional state, nor does it allude to something attained through a series of positive experiences. Rather, Keltner and Simon-Thomas view happiness as an “overarching quality of life that is rich in a variety of emotions, even including episodes of anger, sadness, and stress”. Central to their concept of happiness are situations that fuel a deeper sense of purpose and result in more meaningful connections with others.

When it comes to work, happiness then relates to feeling an overall sense of enjoyment that allows individuals to calmly handle setbacks, connect with colleagues and clients, and appreciate the purpose of their work. In their research Keltner and Simon-Thomas have found that happier workers are healthier and more driven, creative, productive and innovative. Happier workplaces in turn report less employee turnover, lower health costs, fewer mistakes and workplace accidents, and greater employee loyalty and business growth.

Having defined happiness and established the benefits to businesses, how can we go about instilling a culture of happiness within organisations?

Keltner and Simon-Thomas outline Four Key Pillars for us to work with.

The Four Key Pillars of Happiness at work

1. Purpose

Why are so many people dissatisfied with their work even when receiving healthy compensation?

According to Barry Schwartz, we want to see how our progress is tied to meaningful, important, and self-transcendent impact in the world, rather than just a paycheque. This is a sense of purpose, which, according to Kira Newman, can be cultivated by “upholding our values or making people’s lives better”. David Ulrich, professor of business at the University of Michigan, takes the view that successful organisations enable their employees to be completely fulfilled by finding meaning and purpose in their work experience.

Therefore, rather than merely focusing on financial incentives to encourage performance, provide an environment in which workers can cultivate personal hope, which in turn creates value for customers and investors.

2. Engagement

Keltner and Simon-Thomas reveal that a majority of working people around the world feel disengaged from the work that they do.

They recommend three ways to boost engagement:

  1. By introducing playfulness, creativity and fun.
  2. By giving people more ownership over their day-to-day schedule, tasks, and professional development, and offering opportunities to learn and grow.
  3. By adopting a less rigid work schedule and making the office an immersive workspace where employees can engage with what they do to the point of losing-track-of-time.
3. Resilience

Resilience denotes the ability to handle, adapt to and bounce back from setbacks. It is not a preventative set of actions, but rather a tool set with which to manage challenges. On the one hand, a workplace can cultivate employee resilience by constructing an environment where workers learn to stay in the moment and deal with setbacks intelligently. On the other hand, when workers are given the opportunity to detach from work, whether at home or on holiday, they become more capable of handling stress and building their resilience on their return to the office.

4. Kindness

Keltner and Simon-Thomas note that “we’re happier at work when we tap into our innate tendency towards kindness — orienting our thoughts, feelings, and actions towards care for others and genuinely supportive social bonds”.

When organisational architects instill values such as treating others with dignity and respect, extending empathy and compassion, practicing gratitude, and constructively managing conflicts, kindness becomes the cornerstone of a culture of happiness in the workplace.

Inject Happiness Into Your Corporate Culture

The benefits of injecting happiness into your corporate culture are clear. Humans are not merely assets but people with wants and aspirations. While some of these needs can be satisfied by money, many can't.

Building a work environment on the foundation of purpose, resilience, engagement and kindness can buttress your business’s potential for success and help to ensure that you retain the valuable skills that positively impact your bottom line.

Now, how central a concept is happiness in your workplace environment?

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