Happiness at work became a popular business concept when companies discovered that happy workers are more productive and consequently companies’ profits rise. Following this, the flood of books, consultants and workshops about how to make people happy was inevitable. The only problem is that when you work too hard on being happy, then the chances are that your level of discomfort and even sadness are likely to rise. “Essentially, when happiness becomes a duty, it can make people feel worse if they fail to accomplish it”, write Spicer and Cederstrom in HBR.
Happiness is such an elusive concept to define and measure that many researchers in the field spend a lot of time arguing about the concept, its definition and the way it is measured. One stream of thought is that the happiness “movement” places the onus on the individual or in the workplace on the worker. For example, if you are unhappy then just change your attitude, meditate, appreciate what you have and then everything will be alright and you will work harder. Other writers talk of the detrimental effects of “being happy” on social justice movements, organized labour and other history changing organizations. If everyone would have focused on being personally happy then four hundred thousand people would never have taken to the streets in Israel demanding social justice, the results of which are still being felt today.
A happiness edict that descends from the top management is doomed to fail – you just cannot order or demand happiness.
In spite of the tough geopolitical neighborhood and malfunctioning political culture, Israel consistently makes the top fifteen happy countries list. Is it the sunshine? The closer family ties? The feeling of a common cause and destiny? It is hard to say although I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with government policy.
Am I in the happiness business? People who plan to be miserable on company “fun” days generally have to pretend to be happy or not show up. At Tuval the work we do is always connected to an organizational goal and having fun is just one of our tools, part of the setting. Often the discussions are serious, emotional and sometimes difficult and painful, all part of group development. Curiously, even after a day when there were some tough discussions and disagreements, people will say that they are satisfied with what transpired. Do they enjoy playing rough or can happiness come about from a feeling that the team progressed, that some tough messages were delivered to management, that team members learned a little of the stress their colleagues are under and some other not-so-happy stuff?
Just like humour, happiness does not suffer analysis well. It is something most of us desire – yet as with most things – is difficult to attain, surprising when it happens and is usually temporary. When working with teams in the work place, the focus is on what stops them from being happy. Removing these happiness barriers often demands time, taking risks, speaking up and making changes – not exactly your regular happy activities.
Here are five things that I have learned can make people at work happy:
- Meaningful work that makes a difference.
- A boss that listens, coaches, communicates the vision, helps when needed, pays attention to the individual and all the other things that people want from bosses.
- An acceptable amount of pay and benefits.
- Enjoyment from the tasks that are carried out.
- Being with people that they like at work and supportive team members.
You can probably guess the things that make people unhappy.
Here now are some of the things that make me happy at work:
- New and challenging projects with a twist on what I know how to do.
- Working with clients that I have known for years and keep coming back.
- A couple of people to chat with around the water cooler.
- Working with a new client and hitting it off from the start.
- Being busy.
- Work that takes me outdoors.
- Occasional peak efforts coupled with quiet troughs – the tension before, the satisfaction afterwards.
- Illouz, E: Here is How Psychology Can Ruin Social Protest”
Ha’aretz Magazine, 2015
- Spicer A, & Cederstrom, C: The Research We Have Ignored About Happiness At Work, HBR, 2015