What is Happiness at Work? Posted on 19 Aug 20:18 , 0 comments

What is Happiness at Work?

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mel Telecican of the Customer-Centric show.

We talked about how the principles I teach about happiness and productivity relate to her audience of SME's in customer service and hospitality.

It was a fun conversation because I respect the work Mel does and I enjoyed the challenge of taking our work- which is usually delivered at corporate levels- into the realms of customer service and hospitality. (Listen here)

During the interview Mel asked me a question that I often struggle to answer on the spot:

"What can businesses do to help their employees be happy at work?”

Research has shown that happiness leads to success. It is one of the key principles we teach in our program but giving someone a quick answer on how to be happy as a sound bite is something I struggle with.

That's because the subject of happiness at work is both simple and complex. 

It’s as simple as deliberately setting your attitude to happy, and behaving accordingly. It’s complex because different things make different people happy at different stages of their life.

I know there are people out there who are struggling and I have no right to tell them, "just be happy" without knowing what's going on in their lives.

I promised myself after the interview that I would write to you about the subject of happiness but it wasn’t until I got a phone call from one of the heads of our Executive Search business, Simone Mears, that I sat down to write.

Simone had just come from a client where they’d discussed the question of “what does it mean to be happy at work?” They both agreed on one thing:

It’s not about fun.

Simone explained to me that the declaration of independence gave Americans the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. At that time happiness related to spiritual fulfilment but these days it is interpreted by many as a mere superficial pleasure.

In the context of the 21st century workplace, happiness is about undertaking work which is meaningful and fulfilling, being measured by output and not input.

It's about alignment of values between employee and employer.

It's also about being given the flexibility to produce results without being impeded by inefficient systems, outdated technology and thinking.

Our workplace productivity research which we released in 2015 told us that:

“Happiness leads to productivity twice as much as productivity leads to happiness.”

This is why one of the first things we do when we coach clients is get a clear definition of what happiness means to them. Together we set weekly targets to do more of the things that make them happy.

The flow-on effect is improved concentration, greater creativity and innovation and better relationships.

Here are four things you should know about happiness at work:

1. Happiness leads to success.


One of my favourite experts on happiness is Nic Marks. He has some great Ted Talks, two of my favourite quotes from which are:

“Miserable people do miserable work..."

"Being okay at work is actually not okay."

This is why we tell people to prioritise things that make them happy rather than try and fit them in after they've done "productive work". Your work is much better when you're happy while doing it.

If you’re a CEO encourage a culture of flexibility and measure employee success based on results (rather than hours worked).

At an individual level schedule in time for activities which make you happy before your week, month or year fills up with other priorities.

2. We are happiest when we are clear on our purpose

One of the most successful companies at implementing a “happiness strategy” is Zappos. The company purpose at Zappos is providing happiness to customers, clients and vendors. This approach saw Zappos being acquired by Amazon for a figure of $1.2Billion in 2010.

At an individual level being clear on our purpose is about understanding why we do what we do, and why we work where we work. If our job aligns with our purpose, we are more likely to be happy at work and if it doesn’t, we aren’t.

As a leader it’s about hiring people whose purpose aligns with your company purpose. It’s also about taking every opportunity possible to communicate the company purpose (why we do what we do) at every opportunity.

Here’s where I get a bit brutal.

If you’re not working for a company that aligns with your purpose, it’s time to look for other options. If you have people working for you who are working against your purpose, it’s time to help them find other opportunities.

As Simon Sinek says:

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we do care about is called passion.”

3. Happiness comes from creating the time and space for “flow”


We are happiest when we are working on tasks that we love, and tasks that we are good at. Those two types of tasks aren’t always the same tasks. You can love something you're not good at, and be good at something you don't love.

Every job includes tasks we don’t enjoy. If we want to be happy at work we should do everything we can to make sure the majority of our work requires us to execute on tasks we are great at and/or enjoy.

We need to choose the right work and learn how to minimise distractions so we can create opportunities to get into a state of "flow".

By developing habits which allow us to be efficient and effective we create the space and time we need to engage in work which puts us in “flow”. We lose track of time because we love what we are doing.

It’s hard to get into this state in a busy environment with ringing phones, too many emails and meetings but it is possible. Create boundaries around reactive tasks and block out time to focus on high value work.

You should be aiming to focus on proactive tasks at least 60% of your week.

If you're a business leader this means that you are encouraging good team habits and you have appropriate systems and processes in place so everyone can work as efficiently and effectively as possible.

4. Focus on what you can control

My experience as a meditation student and teacher requires me to tell you that happiness comes from mindfulness.

Yes...I know I'm being simplistic again but the next time you find yourself in a place of misery I want you to stop and focus on your breathing.

We experience anxiety when our mind races into the future, worrying about what's coming down the pike.

We experience depression when our mind dwells on something that has happened in the past whether it's recent or distant.

When we focus on the present we are focussing on reality as it is. This mindset shift allows us to identify what we can control.

Taking your awareness back to your breath is the fastest way to ground yourself in the present.

I could write another few thousand words about the importance of focussing on what you can control. But let me just say this, when you focus on what you can't control you are just putting yourself in misery. Focus on what you can control and you are taking back your power.

Happiness at work can be as simple as “being happy”.

Set yourself up for success each morning by front-loading your day with things that make you happy and hold on to that feeling all day long.

If you’re a business leader and haven’t seen our previous article on How to Build a Productive Culture I’d also recommend reading it as you’ll learn more practical tips on how to encourage your team to be happy and productive at work.

The pac executive team have been helping our clients build productive and successful teams for 11 years. If you are looking for a partner to help your team achieve optimal productivity call me for a free consultation on 03 96029890 or email me.


Cholena Orr
pac executive
D + 61 3 9602 9890