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The Secret to a Happier Workplace

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Science has transformed workplace happiness from a nice-to-have to a compelling imperative, but it needs to start with alignment, positivity, and progress.

What comes to mind when you imagine what a happy workplace might look like?

A company full of optimists who are always smiling no matter what’s going on around them. A bunch of employees enjoying a game of pool or lounging in fun spaces. Or is it a group of workers that are driven by meaningful work and are always ready to positively contribute to those around them.

Unfortunately, many companies think mostly in terms of the first two examples when they think of bringing happiness into the workplace – as either something that is untenable or a luxury. But, as science has given us a greater understanding of happiness, it has become less of a luxury and more of a business imperative, leading to a range of positive outcomes.

First, we need to start with what it means to be happy and how that impacts behavior at work. Although there is a component of seeking pleasure, thinking solely in those terms tends to limit the richness of what it means to be happy. In fact, WorkHuman speaker Shawn Achor suggests happiness is much more about “the joy you feel striving toward your potential” and your ability to have a positive impact on those around you.

In more philosophical terms, this utilitarianism perspective emphasizes finding happiness by bringing the most good to the widest number of people. Happiness shifts from seeking pleasure for its own sake to finding pleasure in meaningful contributions. Who wouldn’t want to have more of that at work?

Organizations also benefit from the happiness of employees. A whitepaper on the science of happiness summarizes research that has found happy employees are 85% more efficient, 50% more purposeful in accomplishing their goals, and are 10X less likely to take sick leave. Bottom line: happy workers tend to be more productive, hard-working, and resilient.

To realize these benefits, organizations must first focus on strengthening the alignment between the work that individual employees do and the broader purpose and mission of the organization. Alignment, alongside the cultivation of a more positive outlook and opportunities to make progress, can establish a strong foundation for employee happiness.

Strategies and programs that can touch upon all three drivers will be most successful in encouraging a happy workforce, by increasing alignment and by building positivity. A social recognition solution is one example, where employees’ successes can be celebrated in a timely and frequent manner and a wider culture of appreciation can be built over time. A recent report from the WorkHuman Research Institute found that recognition makes 86% of employees both happier and also more proud of the work that they do.

What strategies do you think will help contribute to a happier workplace?