At first sight the answer to this question is obvious. It has been argued that employee happiness is one of the driving forces which lead to desirable positive outcomes at work, some of the most valuable being:

  • Being more productive, achieving more and, importantly, achieving some sense of pleasure from this.
  • Enjoying better well-being. Feeling confident in yourself – having a sense of self worth.
  • Having a positive outlook. Whilst accepting that in work there will be setbacks overall you see the opportunities at work and in life rather than the threats.

What exactly is employee happiness?

If you Google search the term, you may come away confused. Explanations range from ideas of sheer joy and elation through to enjoying pleasant experiences and avoiding unpleasant ones.

The alternative view is that happiness is about living life in a full and satisfying way. Some will use the term contentment. This carries the suggestion that happiness is not an end in itself but is a state which recognises that every day is an opportunity to learn and do something better and that all life is a journey which can take us progressive more positive places.

An important early contribution to understanding motivation and happiness was the work of Abraham Maslow. He depicted intrinsic motivation as a pyramid with 5 levels. Individuals ascend the pyramid until they experience a sense of being complete, self sufficient and being valued. Maslow called this Self Actualisation

Dweck in her work on the Growth Mindset also usefully points to a specific form of communication which has an impact here – praise and the nature of praise. She showed that giving praise – particularly praise for successes achieved through hard work rather than ability – had a big impact on the positive mindset of individuals.

So although there are many descriptions of happiness, they are mostly centred on some core themes:

  • A sense of personal growth
  • A sense of achievement
  • A sense of belonging and being part of something worthwhile
  • A sense of feeling good about what I do

Can we develop happiness?

The short answer is yes but there are three (perhaps more) components – the organisation, leadership and the employee.

The Organisation’s responsibility is to ensure that it commits resources to this and aligns its strategies, policies and practices to do this. If it combines the twin goals of happiness and productivity it should at least ensure that employees are provided with an environment and conditions where they can succeed.

Effective Leadership is the means by which the organisation connects with employees at the human level. Highly effective leadership is almost always a function of three clusters of behaviours (or competencies):

  • A Determination to Deliver – providing purpose, commitment and focus.
  • Engagement with Individuals – attending to the needs of individuals to be able to feel competent and confident in their capability to contribute and be worthwhile
  • Engagement with teams – not only in the traditional sense of my departmental or office team but equally in the sense of the whole organisation being a high performing team.

If the Organisation and its leadership are doing their bit then the employee response can be a factor. Some employees enter in development activity willingly and enthusiastically, others do so reluctantly.  Organisations can provide development through training and coaching, the employee can do some of this for themselves. After all it benefits them wherever they are.

Development activities fall under 6 broad themes:

  • Self awareness – to what extent am I happy and content, What can I do about it?
  • Positive Thinking – removing or dealing with negative thoughts and learning how to see opportunity and not just threats
  • Visualisation – using your head to envisage opportunity and the positives
  • Anxiety Control – dealing with panic moments and big setback’s
  • Attentional Control – learning to focus on what is important and maintain that focus
  • Goal setting – prioritising planning and organisation so that I can achieve.

These are all enablers which can be incorporated into a range of programs or into coaching activities which are designed to achieve real outcomes.

How do we assess happiness and why would we do that?

Assessing happiness enables us to know where to direct our development activity – on potential weakness.

One way to do this would be though employee or culture surveys. This can give an insight into how happy individuals are working in the organisation from a number of angles.

Another option is to use a psychometric measure to perhaps dig more deeply into the organisation and its employees. The Mental Toughness Questionnaire – MTQ48 is particularly useful in this area. The 4 Cs measured map directly to prevailing models of happiness.

In summary, It is important we finally realise the economic and social importance of happiness. It is emerging as a key element of individual and organisational development. It is not a fad, the underlying ideas have been recognised for a very long time. As the world of work becomes more challenging, content employees will always respond better than unhappy employees.

Doug Strycharczyk, CEO AQR International & Professor Peter Clough, Manchester Metropolitan University